Saturday, 26 December 2020

Deepfake Queen: The Making of our 2020 Christmas Message

With risqué jokes about Harry and Meghan, the Prime Minister and even Prince Andrew it's a Christmas message that is likely to send many a Brussel sprout down the wrong way.

And to add insult to injury, Channel 4 has used advanced digital technology to give the impression the Queen herself is delivering the broadcaster’s now traditional ‘alternative Christmas message’.

The broadcast uses ‘deepfake’ technology to superimpose the voice of an actress onto a manipulated film of the Queen appearing to address the nation.

The result is an unsettlingly accurate impression of Her Majesty making jokes about Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, leaving Britain, and the risk of getting pregnant posed to NHS staff who treated Boris Johnson for coronavirus.


Channel 4 creates ‘deepfake’ Queen for alternative Christmas message


Broadcaster claims stunt will highlight dangers of misinformation


Adam Forrest



A digitally-created “deepfake” version of the Queen will deliver Channel 4’s alternative Christmas message and offer a stark warning about misinformation and fake news.


The artificially-rendered monarch will appear to share her thoughts on the departure of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew and his connection to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.


The fake Queen, played by actress Debra Stephenson, will also be seen performing a TikTok dance routine and revealing her penchant for “Netflix and Phil” with her husband the Duke of Edinburgh.


The broadcast will also appear to show the Queen telling viewers: “On the BBC, I haven’t always been able speak plainly and from the heart. So, I am grateful to Channel 4 for giving me the opportunity to say whatever I like, without anyone putting words in my mouth.”


Deepfake technology has become increasingly prevalent in recent years and can be used to create completely manufactured video content of high-profile figures – most notably of former US president Barack Obama.


The end of the message will show the artificially-created images disappearing to reveal the green screen used to manufacture images of Buckingham Palace and show it was in fact Ms Stephenson playing the Queen.


The actress said: “I have an intense fascination with deepfake technology. For years I have studied people to impersonate them for TV, but now I can truly become them. As an actress it is thrilling but it is also terrifying if you consider how this could be used in other contexts.”


Many royalists have expressed their outrage at the idea on social media, calling it a “disrespectful” way to treat the Queen. “How dare they,” tweeted Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage.


However, the director of programmes at Channel 4, Ian Katz, claimed the this year’s alternative message had been designed to act as a “powerful reminder” of misinformation. “Deepfake technology is the frightening new frontier in the battle between misinformation and truth,” he said.


“This year’s alternative Christmas address – seemingly delivered by one of the most familiar and trusted figures in the nation – is a powerful reminder that we can no longer trust our own eyes.”


The deepfake video, devised by special effects creatives at Framestore, was directed by William Bartlett. “With Channel 4, we wanted to create a sequence that is hopefully entertaining enough that it will be seen by a lot of people and thereby spreads the very real message that images cannot always be trusted,” said the director.


Channel 4’s alternative Christmas message airs opposite the BBC’s broadcast of the Queen’s official annual televised message to the nation. It has previously been delivered by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, actor Danny Dyer and The Simpsons.

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