It’s hard to feel connected to someone who’s gone through a static photo. So a company called MyHeritage who provides automatic AI-powered photo enhancements is now offering a new service that can animate people in old photos creating a short video that looks like it was recorded while they posed and prepped for the portrait.
Called Deep Nostalgia, the resulting videos are reminiscent of the Live Photos feature in iOS and iPadOS where several seconds of video are recorded and saved before and after the camera app’s shutter is pressed. But where Live Photos is intended to be used to find the perfect shot and framing that may have been missed the exact second the shutter was pressed, Deep Nostalgia is instead meant to bring still shots, even those not captured on a modern smartphone, to life.
The conversion process is completely automated. Users simply need to upload a photograph through the MyHeritage website where it’s first sharpened and enhanced to not only improve the quality of the final animation but to also make it easier for the deep learning algorithm (created by a company called D-ID) to do its thing. The orientation of the person in the photo is analyzed to determine the direction of their head and eyes are looking, and then a matching driver video—a modern recording of a face making movements as if it were posing for a photo—is selected to guide how the photo is animated.
The results are eerily lifelike, and manage to preserve the aesthetics of the original shot to help sell the effect of this video being recorded when the actual photo was captured. Deep Nostalgia does have some limitations, however. In a photo with multiple subjects, users are asked to select just a single person they want to see animated because the tool, at least in its current form, can’t bring the entire shot to life. The animations are also limited to the subject’s head and neck. If it’s a shot of them playing tennis, you’re not going to see them taking a swing at the ball.
The MyHeritage website does require users to sign up before they can use Deep Nostalgia. But once that’s done, you can animate up to five different photos for free. After that, you’ll need to pay for a subscription to bring other friends and family back to life. Is it a little creepy? Yes, but at the same time, it’s another fascinating application of AI and deep learning that feels straight out of science fiction. And while the service is limited today, it’s not going to be long before AI is going to be able to bring an entire photo to life, so a static moment at your grandparents’ wedding could easily become another family home video.
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)