A Day in LA With the Deepfake Artists Trying To Make the Digital World As Real as the Physical One

Andrew Fiouzi
Andrew Fiouzi is an editor at dot.LA. He was previously a features writer at MEL Magazine where he covered masculinity, tech and true crime. His work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Long Reads and Vice, among other publications.
Terry Crews, Simone Cowell, and Howie Mendel
Courtesy of America's Got Talent

The Palisades Village is a 125,000-square feet outdoor shopping center designed to look like a luxurious resort town in a Bond movie. The pathways are cobblestone. The lights are outfitted to look like gas lamps. Every restaurant serves Italian food.

Rick Caruso, L.A. mayoral candidate and the architect behind the project and myriad other “faux-Italian” shopping centers, is well known for this sort of architectural theme: Cloning the riviera for the American imagination. But Tom Graham, the CEO of Metaphysic, an artificial intelligence company creating synthetically generated versions of real people, is unimpressed.


“This place is weird,” he says, pointing to a patch of grass with a sign that says “Don’t Walk on the Grass.” “Why can’t you walk on the grass?”

Graham is temporarily in Los Angeles along with Chris Umé — a VFX artist and the founder of Metaphysic. They’re getting ready for “America’s Got Talent” semifinals. Last month they wowed the judges with their hyperreal Simon Cowell avatar who sang Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration” live on air.

Colloquially this type of content is better known as deepfakes. But, Graham says, what they’re developing at Metaphysic, “is sort of beyond.” Take, for example, their work with Miles Fisher — the most famous deepfake actor the world has ever known. Fisher is a Tom Cruise impersonator and the face behind @deeptomcruise. By now, you’ve probably seen Fisher as Cruise jumping over Keegan-Michael Key. Realizing there’s bubblegum inside a lollipop. And putting his arms around Paris Hilton.

To achieve this hyperreal effect, Metaphysic uses a neural network that’s patterned after the human brain. In the simplest terms, their technology processes data via an adaptive computing system that improves continuously. In the case of @deeptomcruise, this network inputs every image of Tom Cruise to output his every expression. His every wrinkle. The way Cruise’s eyebrows furl when he talks.

Again, the concept of deepfakes is hardly a new one. But Ume’s fakes aren’t typical. When I first saw one, it took more than a few Google searches to convince my brain that the real Tom Cruise has never wrapped his arms around Paris Hilton. And that he’s not actually on TikTok.

@deeptomcruise

@deeptomcruise

When jokes fly over your head 😂✌️@Keegan-Michael Key

With millions of views, an appearance on 60 Minutes and featured in every publication from Vice to Today, the ersatz Tom Cruise is the face of Metaphysic’s technological capabilities. The computational magic trick, however, is also just the tip of the iceberg.

Metaphysic’s ultimate vision is to create a metaverse “so real that if after a month you tried to distinguish between the memories you made in the digital world you wouldn’t be able to distinguish them from the physical one,” says Graham. In short, he adds, “we want to make the content more important than the format.”

But here at the frontier of artificial intelligence, there’s a shadow following the deep-learning robot. Most notoriously, is the issue of deepfake porn. Reddit has already had to ban two different synthetic media subreddits (the most recent ban was instituted this past June) according to Unite.AI because so many “People kept requesting deepfake porn.”

“I think the most fundamental problem of the misuse of AI-generated synthetic media is the erosion of the public's trust in all online media,” says Siwei Lyu, director of University of Buffalo’s Media Forensic Lab and the founding co-director of the university’s Center for Information Integrity (CII). “By creating illusions of an individual's presence and activities that did not occur in reality, deepfakes can cause actual harm when they are weaponized.”

For instance, Lyu says, “a fake video showing a politician engaged in inappropriate activity” could sway an election. Or, he adds, “a falsified audio recording of a high-level executive commenting on her company’s financial situation could send the stock market awry.”

As such, says Wael Abd-Almageed, a research director at USC’s Information Sciences Institute, “if we want to continue to use artificial intelligence to create synthetic content, which is a fact of life, at least we need to create a signature or watermark to identify that the data is fake.”

Graham says Metaphysic has every intention of “bringing awareness to these issues.” But, he adds, “the technology is moving forward either way.”

Graham insists, that the issues around hyperreal, AI-generated content is a concern held primarily by people 60 or older who find themselves inside their social media feedback loop.

“We’ve looked at this,” he says. “And people who use words like ‘fear,’ ‘scared,’ ‘future,’ are all older people who share news clips about deepfakes on Facebook. Most people under the age of 40 have a very different understanding of this stuff. Millennials and Gen Z can really see its potential.”

To be clear, so does Lyu.

“For instance, used in the movie and advertisement industry, these technologies can lead to a significant reduction in cost and improved flexibility,” he says. Or, he adds, “to create multilingual versions of the same video.”

Metaphysic is not making any money from their deepfake Tom Cruise videos, but the technology they’re developing is key to the soon-to-be $824 billion industry they’re a part of. For now, Umé says his interest in hyperreal AI-generated content goes beyond the financial. His roadmap for Metaphysic is, more than anything, penned to Metaphysic’s larger philosophy:

“If you perceive something to be real,” says Graham. “Is it any less real?”

On a patch of grass on the outskirts of the Palisades Village, TikToker Larsen Thompson begins teaching Fisher the moves for the early summer viral dance “Jiggle Jiggle.” This is the first of four @deepTom videos that the crew will shoot today. Later, Fisher will sample some ice cream. Then he’ll flirt with a Russian influencer before singing with pop-music singer-songwriter Dudley Alexander.

Of course, the version of each performance you’ll see will not feature Fisher at all. You’ll only see Tom Cruise.

Fisher, a natural performer, picks up the TikTok dance quickly. Umé begins filming the action with his iPhone. Meanwhile Graham is busy managing the interests of one of Metaphysic’s AI-generated avatars that’s scheduled to appear in “America’s Got Talent.”

The team makes it all look easy. But Umé and Graham insist that developing their hyperreal content takes a lot of work.

Applying Tom Cruise’s face onto Fisher’s, Umé says, “is more than just pushing a button.” To that end, Umé describes the technology the way a 19th-century pictorialist might have: weaving his AI-generated content from a scientific to an expressive medium.

According to Graham, this approach distinguishes Umé from the growing number of people working in synthetic media.

“Chris is a perfectionist,” Graham says, adding that although “there are nine or 10 companies in the synthetic media space, no one possesses the same level of attention to detail as Chris.”

Ironically then, it’s Umé’s human touch that separates his model from face-swapping apps like Reface. And web-based platforms for creating videos with AI avatars and voices like Synthesia.

Ultimately, Umé says, his goal is to create such an immersive experience that he’s personally able to sit at his kitchen table and have breakfast with his grandmother who lives halfway across the world and to really feel like she’s right there with him, in the room.

Adding, “I want to be able to save that memory and share it with my grandkids.”

Simon, Terry, and Howie Sing "Nessun Dorma" on Stage?! Metaphysic Will Stun You | AGT 2022

🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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