How BRIGHTNIGHT made Depzman's Life Cut Short - a Deepfake music video aiming to change minds
Promonews - 11th Nov 2022
Deepfake is a magnet for controversy. But what if the technology could be used to make a positive impact? Elliot Lee and Rory Peyton-Jones aka BRIGHTNIGHT have done just that with a video that brings a young rapper back to life to highlight the tragic consequences of knife crime.
In the video for Life Cut Short, the grime artist called Depzman stands in a disused church addressing the camera with impressive confidence, rapping about his childhood and his career - and the day he died.
The fact is that Depzman - otherwise known as Joshua Ribera - was a rising star in the London grime scene when he was stabbed to death, at the age of just 18, in 2013. But now, he has been brought back to life, via the eerily convincing power of Deepfake tech, in the video for a new track, Life Cut Short.
Depz talks to camera, addressing a new generation who love grime - and leaves them with no illusion about the tragedy of his entirely avoidable demise. With knife crime having taken so many other young lives in the UK since his death, this is a film that uses technology that is often regarded as controversial in order to send a powerful, positive message, with the intention of preventing further tragedies.
The film was commissioned by The Joshua Ribera Foundation, the charity that combats knife crime in his name that was founded by Alison Cope, Depzman/Joshua's mother; and also by SBTV, whose founder Jamal Edwards was integral in the creative conception before his death earlier this year. And since its release its been featured on BBC News and shared by leading grime artists Jaykae, JME and Skepta.
It was devised by Elliot Lee and Rory Peyton-Jones, a creative team at the ad agency McCann London, who also directed the video, under their directing alias, BRIGHTNIGHT, through Intergalactic Studios. Lee and Peyton-Jones were inspired to find a new way to talk to young people about knife crime through culture. But it was a long time in the making - a full three years from conception to delivery.
That began in earnest with the writing and recording of the track, and recreating the voice and recognisable flow of Depzman. Midlands’ rappers ShadowCV and T-Roadz ghost-wrote the lyrics with support from Alison Cope - inspired by Depzman’s life and music, emulating the cadence and style of his rapping - and the track was produced by music company Native Music.
Birmingham producer PhazeFX produced the instrumental in the style of grime from 2013 style with a 140bpm grime beat complete with choir sounds and melancholy piano. To bring the vocal to life a base recording was manipulated by Native Studios to recreate Depzman’s voice, combining samples, different voices and autotuning. They also reached out to Depzman’s old crew, Invasion, to make sure it was authentic, resulting in a sound that matched Depzman’s voice just before he died.
We spoke to Elliot Lee and Rory Peyton-Jones about how they approached the next challenging stage of the project - creating the visuals to match the music, and their reasons for using Deepfake technology.
Technology can always be used in a good or bad way. We think it’s important to showcase the good side of what can be achieved.
PROMONEWS: At what point did you get involved in the project?
BRIGHTNIGHT: We were involved from the very start of the project. Coming up with the idea, to delivering the final music video. It was an extremely daunting task to initially present this to Alison (Depzman’s Mum) being such a sensitive idea around her son. However her resilience, bravery and belief in this concept kept us going for three years!
When was it decided to go the Deepfake route? It's often surrounded in controversy, so were you involved in that discussion?
To be honest Deepfake seemed the only viable solution. For a few reasons. Being a charity project the budget was very limited (if any), and we just felt a CGI version of Depzman wouldn’t deliver the level of realism that we needed. This had to feel like he’s returned from beyond the grave.
Over the three years of the project, Deepfake technology had grown exponentially and a couple of Deepfake artists were really pushing the boundaries of what could be done. For us technology can always be used in a good or bad way, and we think it’s important as directors and creatives to showcase the good side of what can be achieved.
To create a compelling Deepfake you need to have lots of footage of the person you’re looking to copy.
Technically speaking, what were the challenges here? What footage or material did you have to use to create Depzman for the video?
The main challenges were definitely making sure we had enough data points of Depzman that we could feed into the deepfake AI system. Many of his old freestyle videos were 720p or lower, some maybe pushing HD.
Luckily our deepfake artist MagicofBarca would send us tests regularly in order to make sure his system was learning. Overall from videos and old photos we managed to get over 22,000 different frames that were good enough to use and map against our body double.
How did the footage that you had of Joshua/Depzman impact upon the shoot?
Technically the shoot was actually fairly simple. When Tom [Ringsby] & Rhory [Danniells] at Intergalactic found the church location we knew aesthetically that would do the heavy emotional lifting in terms of set design and art direction.
We wanted the video to have the feel of an old SBTV freestyle - a rapper simply performing to camera but with added gravitas provided by the location of the weathered church. To achieve it we needed a body double for Depzman who could lip sync the lyrics and mimic Depz’s characteristic movement, down to the movement of the head and hands. A hard but necessary job to cast.
Then Paddy [Cartwright] our wizard DOP was aware that we had to keep everything fairly stationary and no crazy camera moves to make sure the deepfake would stabilise in post. It was a really fun but challenging task as he usually likes to shoot things with loads more energy. He felt that shooting everything on 25mm and on a gimbal with just a slight bit of floaty movement would be enough to give the film interest, but again always aware of not interfering with the Deepfake process.
Above: Alison Cope, anti-knife crime campaigner and mother of Depzman, appears in the Life Cut Short video, introducing the Deepfake version of her son.
Alison Cope's resilience, bravery and belief in this concept kept us going for three years.
Was it a difficult process to make a convincing likeness of him? Have you done anything like this before?
No we’ve never done anything like this before. One thing that was important was we had to shoot our body double in three different types of lighting - natural, dark and spotlight. Capturing loads of stills and 360 footage around his face and body was key. What’s so great about the technology is once you capture your double with the desired light, then the AI tries to replicate this - which again is why we were keen to use deepfake over building a digital CG version of Depz to simulate that extreme level of realism.
Who else was involved in the creation of the VFX?
MagicofBarca, one of the top YouTube Deepfake artists is the man behind the technology.
Is there a 'key ingredient' in making a good DeepFake?
Data sets. In order to create a compelling Deepfake you need to have lots and lots of footage and imagery of the person you’re looking to copy. It’s the difference between when you see the really badly done versions that are shaking and falling off compared to the ones that look exactly like the person.
The video has been shared widely by some top grime artists. What are your hopes for the project?
Grime music and Deepfakes are both artistic mediums that have received a lot of criticism in the press but music, including Grime, can be an incredibly powerful tool to tell stories and tap into emotion. And Deepfake video is yet another filmmaking tool that can be used in many ways. In this case both have been used to make something powerful, positive and provocative. Hopefully it will save lives.
• More from Intergalactic Studios here
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Promonews - 11th Nov 2022