Clone That Smile, Digitally

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Clone This Face

Researchers have figured out how to track the facial expressions of one person and map those movements onto a digital image of another person's face in real time. The result is something like a digital video puppet, which psychologists say may reveal something about human nature.


Up next, Flora Lichtman is here with our Video Pick of the Week. Hi, Flora.


FLATOW: What do have you got for us, today?

LICHTMAN: We have a kind of a creepy one. Its sort of - it seemed sort of related, instead of multiple personalities you have one personality and multiple faces.


(makes blowing sound)

LICHTMAN: Scary wind?

(makes blowing sound)

FLATOW: Ill do the wind dance.

LICHTMAN: So, imagine this. You have all these personalized ticks, right, on your face. You move your mouth a certain way, you move your eyes a certain way. Now imagine those on someone elses face. Researchers have figured out how to clone your facial expressions and then transplant them, digitally, onto someone elses digital face. Its sort of like a digital video puppet


LICHTMAN: being driven by a real person.

FLATOW: So, as the real person is speaking, the puppet is speaking.


FLATOW: Along with that person.

LICHTMAN: Absolutely. So, it looks like youre youre talking but there are someone else who is sort of making those gestures with your words coming out of their mouth.

FLATOW: Wow. And its all digitally done.

LICHTMAN: Its all digitally done. You might be thinking, you know, why?

(Soundbite of laughter)



(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Why do this? Why go through all this trouble?

LICHTMAN: Well, Barry-John Theobald, who is the guy who, one of the guys who developed this technique, is interested in taking text and then creating a digital person who will say it. So, thats sort of his main goal.

FLATOW: So youd be able to type text in and that

LICHTMAN: And then create a digital avatar who would say this.

FLATOW: avatar or whatever, would be speaking it so you get more lifelike.

LICHTMAN: Right. And this is like step one on that process.


LICHTMAN: But psychologists are interested in this too, as a way to study human behavior. So that the idea is that you can put real people in conversations with these, kind of, digital avatars and then you can change things like the persons gender.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: So you can have a man driving a womans face.

FLATOW: So you could study the gender differences then

LICHTMAN: Right. And the idea is, you know, how do we respond to a woman who is - has sort of a mans facial expression.

FLATOW: And on our Web site at, Im way amazed that how good the renditions are - right, the faces?

LICHTMAN: Yeah, I mean, this is a kind of amazing thing the psychologist Steven Booker(ph) said that he hes run this experiment on 130 people. And of those 130, only three people noticed there are something a little off about these avatars.


LICHTMAN: Which is kind of amazing.


LICHTMAN: So, its worth going a look and see if you can decode

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: the avatar from the real person.

FLATOW: Can you tell which one is the real? And, of course, this, who knows where this kind of research, the video part of it might wind up in the movies or films or where they want to really recreate?

LICHTMAN: Yeah, I think that is related to this.


LICHTMAN: This is a 2D version but the 3D versions are even more sophisticated.

FLATOW: All right. Well, you can see Floras Video Pick Of The Week at our Web site at up there in the left corner. Also we have a whole archive of our other video picks of the week. Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: Thats about all the time we have for our program. Have a great weekend.

Im Ira Flatow in New York.

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