‘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 displaying 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 useless ringer for President Trump — if he wore an affordable 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 seems to be an terrible lot like Mark Zuckerberg. All of the whereas, he warns of the hazards of deepfakes: subtle computer-generated photos which were manipulated to seem like acquainted folks 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 reality 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 means of immersing themselves within the expertise — to see what it might 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 folks 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 Useless,” 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 someone who’s so exaggerated, it’s virtually inconceivable to do an correct impression of him, Serafinowicz stated. “There are such a lot of enigmas wrapped up in that man.”Taking a unique method, Serafinowicz created a sequence of viral movies wherein he changed Trump’s voice with varied inventory accents and voices he carried out, together with Subtle Trump, Cockney Trump and Sassy Trump.He additionally began experimenting together with his personal deepfake movies, although he discovered it troublesome at first to seek out respected instructors on the web. “There’s a bit of group of deepfakers who have been virtually solely utilizing it to place celebrities in porn movies,” he stated. (Finally he discovered extra conscientious trainers and realized 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 could chronicle Fred Sassy, a mild-mannered character who seems to be 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.”Just a few days of preliminary filming have been accomplished when the pandemic pressured a halt to the manufacturing in mid-March. “All people’s like, the Covid factor may delay us every week,” Stone recalled. “And we’re like, how are we going to outlive that? We have been already up in opposition to it.”After their shock and disappointment subsided, and after Serafinowicz hurried dwelling to London, the three of them have been decided to not let their time and power 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 price 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 subsequent 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 embrace 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 have been rewritten and jokes have been fine-tuned on the fly because the workforce continued to determine the deepfake course of. However when Parker bought to see himself digitally altered to seem like Al Gore, he stated, “It was the primary time I had laughed at myself in a very long time.”Parker added: “I all the time hate watching myself. Even with ‘South Park,’ I’ve an ideal picture of what it’s going to seem like 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 do-it-yourself quick movie that turned a viral sensation in a extra primitive age of the web and paved the best way for “South Park.”Channeling that very same power, they paid to advertise the “Sassy Justice” video this previous weekend on Wyoming tv (together with a business on CBS’s broadcast of the NFL recreation between the Denver Broncos and the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs), on native radio, within the Wyoming Tribune Eagle newspaper and on billboards. None of those advertisements totally defined what “Sassy Justice” was.“You recognize there’s not less than six or seven super-high folks in Cheyenne who simply misplaced their minds,” Parker stated. “To us, it’s virtually value it.” He, Stone and Serafinowicz additionally tipped off a couple of shut pals and business friends concerning 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 expertise may very well be used to affect monetary markets and elections, or in any other case threaten nationwide safety.(Maintain this in thoughts as you’re watching a extremely exaggerated sequence in “Sassy Justice” that presents a pretend interview between Chris Wallace and President Trump, the place the president seems to have a stroke and tells Wallace, “I’m a horrible particular person. 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 know that the whole lot 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 someone for greater than a second, we’ve little 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 expertise as a high-tech type of make-up or costumes — merely one other component that he can use to reinforce his appearing.When he performs one in all his impersonations, Serafinowicz defined: “I think about myself trying like the individual that I’m doing. Now that’s develop into actual. It’s like sporting probably the most practical masks doable. When it really works, it’s simply startling. It’s like magic.”The “Sassy Justice” creators stated that they had spent “thousands and thousands” of dollars to make the video, together with the preliminary investments to supply the halted film and arrange the Deep Voodoo studio, although they declined to specify the precise price. “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’ll do subsequent with the challenge, whether or not they return to their authentic movie concept or proceed to supply it as a tv present.Regardless of who’s president subsequent yr, Parker stated “Sassy Justice” sequence may proceed to lampoon “no matter’s happening on the earth, though I believe 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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