‘South Park’ Creators Break Down ‘Sassy Justice,’ Their Deepfake Video

‘South Park’ Creators Break Down ‘Sassy Justice,’ Their Deepfake Video
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‘South Park’ Creators Break Down ‘Sassy Justice,’ Their Deepfake Video

‘South Park’ Creators Break Down ‘Sassy Justice,’ Their Deepfake Video

Like so many different issues on the web, the viral video “Sassy Justice” appeared too good to be true when it began exhibiting up on tv after which on the web earlier this week. Offered as a neighborhood information broadcast from a station in Cheyenne, Wyo., the video is hosted by a reporter named Fred Sassy, who seems to be a lifeless ringer for President Trump — if he wore an inexpensive swimsuit and a white wig and spoke with a campy accent.

Sassy conducts what he claims is an interview with Al Gore and spars with the unscrupulous proprietor of a dialysis middle, who appears to be like an terrible lot like Mark Zuckerberg. All of the whereas, he warns of the hazards of deepfakes: subtle computer-generated photographs which were manipulated to appear to be acquainted individuals participating in actions that by no means occurred and talking phrases they by no means uttered.

In fact, “Sassy Justice” itself is an elaborate sequence of deepfakes — beginning with its host — designed to mock leaders and celebrities whereas calling out the dangers that such movies pose to our understanding of fact and actuality.

And though its creators didn’t instantly determine themselves when it first appeared, the video is the handiwork of skilled satirists: Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of “South Park,” and Peter Serafinowicz, the actor and voice artist.

As these collaborators defined in a latest video name, “Sassy Justice” is partly their try to teach their viewers about deepfakes and demystify a doubtlessly terrifying topic.

“Earlier than the massive scary factor of coronavirus confirmed up, everybody was so afraid of deepfakes,” Stone stated. “We simply needed to make enjoyable of it as a result of it makes it much less scary.”

The challenge can be their approach of immersing themselves within the know-how — to see what it could do as an artwork kind and in addition to salvage the funding they made in a deepfake characteristic movie that was shelved because the pandemic unfold.

As Parker stated, “It actually is that this new type of animation for individuals like us, who prefer to assemble issues on a shot-by-shot degree and have management over each single actor and voice. It’s an ideal medium for us.”

Serafinowicz, a star of TV reveals like “The Tick” and “Miracle Employees” and of movies like “Shaun of the Lifeless,” has additionally constructed a formidable roster of movie star impressions he has carried out on British sketch reveals and political satires.

However the voice of President Trump, he stated, has proved troublesome to grasp. “Paradoxically, for anyone who’s so exaggerated, it’s virtually unattainable to do an correct impression of him, Serafinowicz stated. “There are such a lot of enigmas wrapped up in that man.”

Taking a special strategy, Serafinowicz created a sequence of viral movies during which he changed Trump’s voice with numerous inventory accents and voices he carried out, together with Refined Trump, Cockney Trump and Sassy Trump.

He additionally began experimenting along with his personal deepfake movies, although he discovered it troublesome at first to seek out respected instructors on the web. “There’s a little bit neighborhood of deepfakers who had been virtually completely utilizing it to place celebrities in porn movies,” he stated. (Finally he discovered extra conscientious trainers and discovered to make use of open-source code.)

Serafinowicz (who has voiced characters on “South Park”) started working with Parker and Stone on a script for a full-length deepfake film; within the spirit of comedies like “The Nice Dictator” and “Dave,” it will chronicle Fred Sassy, a mild-mannered character who appears to be like like Trump and who unintentionally will get drawn into the president’s administration.

The filmmakers — who financed the challenge independently with the intention of discovering a distributor later — created a studio they known as Deep Voodoo and employed a workers of about 20 deepfake artists and technicians. They started preliminary work on the movie earlier this yr, hoping to complete it earlier than the presidential election and earlier than Parker and Stone needed to begin new episodes of “South Park.”

Only some days of preliminary filming had been accomplished when the pandemic compelled a halt to the manufacturing in mid-March. “All people’s like, the Covid factor may delay us per week,” Stone recalled. “And we’re like, how are we going to outlive that? We had been already up in opposition to it.”

After their shock and disappointment subsided, and after Serafinowicz hurried house to London, the three of them had been decided to not let their time and vitality go to waste. That they had their deepfake crew, the Fred Sassy character and a few props that had already been created for the movie (like his information van, which had value them $30,000) — why not create a TV present for him as an alternative?

With Parker in Los Angeles, Stone in New York and Serafinowicz in London, they spent the following a number of months remotely writing and producing the 15-minute “Sassy Justice” video, using their deepfake artists to digitally graft well-known faces onto footage they shot of themselves.

They recruited their very own members of the family into the challenge: Serafinowicz (whose characters embody Fred Sassy, President Trump and Michael Caine) drafted his spouse, the actress Sarah Alexander, to play Julie Andrews, whereas Parker (who performs Gore) solid his 7-year-old daughter, Betty, as an eerie, childlike model of Jared Kushner.

Segments had been rewritten and jokes had been fine-tuned on the fly because the staff continued to determine the deepfake course of. However when Parker bought to see himself digitally altered to appear to be Al Gore, he stated, “It was the primary time I had laughed at myself in a very long time.”

Parker added: “I at all times hate watching myself. Even with ‘South Park,’ I’ve an ideal picture of what it’s going to appear to be in my head on a regular basis. However on this, there have been moments the place we felt like youngsters in our basement once more.”

To Parker and Stone, the expertise additionally reminded them of “The Spirit of Christmas,” their 1995 home made quick movie that grew to become a viral sensation in a extra primitive age of the web and paved the way in which for “South Park.”

Channeling that very same vitality, they paid to advertise the “Sassy Justice” video this previous weekend on Wyoming tv (together with a commercial on CBS’s broadcast of the NFL recreation between the Denver Broncos and the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs), on local radio, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle newspaper and on billboards. None of those advertisements absolutely defined what “Sassy Justice” was.

“You understand there’s at the least six or seven super-high individuals in Cheyenne who simply misplaced their minds,” Parker stated. “To us, it’s virtually price it.” He, Stone and Serafinowicz additionally tipped off a number of shut buddies and business friends in regards to the video.

Expertise ethicists, public-policy advocates and journalists have been sounding the alarm bells on deepfakes for years, and Congress has held hearings on the topic amid considerations that the quickly bettering know-how may very well be used to affect monetary markets and elections, or in any other case threaten nationwide safety.

(Preserve this in thoughts as you’re watching a extremely exaggerated sequence in “Sassy Justice” that presents a faux interview between Chris Wallace and President Trump, the place the president seems to have a stroke and tells Wallace, “I’m a horrible individual. I’ve led a horrible life.”)

The “Sassy Justice” creators stated that they trusted their viewers to determine what’s actual and what’s manipulated, and to grasp that every thing of their video is obtainable to entertain, to not deceive.

Whereas they acknowledged the doubtless treacherous energy they’ve at their disposal, the creators stated that their selections are guided by no matter they suppose is funniest.

“There’s something anxiety-producing about it,” Stone stated. “You may name it an ethical query — we name it a comedy query. Simply ripping one thing off and making an attempt to idiot anyone for greater than a second, we’ve got no real interest in that.”

Parker added, “What we need to do is put Mark Zuckerberg in a turkey swimsuit.”

Serafinowicz stated that he thinks of deepfake know-how as a high-tech type of make-up or costumes — merely one other ingredient that he can use to boost his appearing.

When he performs one in all his impersonations, Serafinowicz defined: “I think about myself wanting like the person who I’m doing. Now that’s change into actual. It’s like carrying essentially the most reasonable masks attainable. When it really works, it’s simply startling. It’s like magic.”

The “Sassy Justice” creators stated that they had spent “hundreds of thousands” of {dollars} to make the video, together with the preliminary investments to provide the halted film and arrange the Deep Voodoo studio, although they declined to specify the precise value. “It’s in all probability the one most costly YouTube video ever made,” Parker stated.

Now that they’ve spent that cash and created “Sassy Justice” as a proof of idea, they’re contemplating what they are going to do subsequent with the challenge, whether or not they return to their unique movie thought or proceed to provide it as a tv present.

Regardless of who’s president subsequent yr, Parker stated {that a} “Sassy Justice” sequence may proceed to lampoon “no matter’s occurring on the planet, though I feel Trump will stay an excellent character for a very long time, regardless.”

Within the meantime, Parker stated, “We’re ready for Steven Spielberg to name us and say, hey, we’d like your deepfake firm to make my film.”

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