CAA Metaverse Officer Joanna Popper On Deep Fake Technology

Ahead of her appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show this Thursday in Las Vegas, Deadline talked to CAA Chief Metaverse Officer Joanna Popper about preparing the organization and its clients to be metaverse ready, and the significance of the agency’s recent investment (through Connect Ventures, an investment partnership with New Enterprise Associates) in Deep Voodoo, the artificial intelligence startup formed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

“AI technology is here and moving fast, and will only move faster,” Popper tells Deadline. “It is important for entertainment executives to understand this technology and its potential.”

DEADLINE Can you briefly explain your role as chief metaverse officer?

JOANNA POPPER I see the metaverse as the future state, or the next evolution of the internet. This role helps our company and our clients get ready to maximize these opportunities.

DEADLINE Why should your clients be open to the opportunities in the metaverse?

POPPER Today, there are opportunities to build new creative IP, to connect with audiences and community, or create brand and product awareness or connect offline and online experiences to build engagement and drive revenue. I’ll give a couple of examples. Anthony Hopkins is an artist. It’s his hobby of him, the way that he relaxes. So he spent about nine months working with a company called Orange Comet to create beautiful NFTs. He spent months and months looking into the field, understanding it, and connecting with other big collectors. He dropped the NFTs after engaging with the community and building with Orange Comet for months. There was so much demand that the platform that he dropped them on, OpenSea, shut down. And then when it came back up, he sold them out in seven minutes. The NFTs depicted all of the iconic characters that he played throughout history. It was deeply connected to the career that we know him for.

DEADLINE So are CAA clients coming to you and saying, ‘can I play in this space?’ Or are you still having to educate them about the opportunities?

POPPER I’d say it’s a mixture. There are clients on the forefront who have been the first movers in this space. And then there are clients who are really metaverse curious and we are strategizing on the best plan for them. And then there are others for whom they’ll let others go first and jump in when they’re ready. I’m gonna give another example. The Chainsmokers worked with a company called Gamefam to create a Roblox world. They created both a concert that you could attend as well as a virtual world that would be evergreen. You can come in and be there whenever you want. You can make your own concert or do your own backstage tour. It became the number one-rated brand music world. Within the first month or so, 24 million people came in there. It would take a year for The Chainsmokers to do arena tours to reach that many people. One of the things this provides is that connection to fans and community. It allows people who may or may not have access to a non-virtual concert to have deeper access.

DEADLINE You will be speaking about AI in Hollywood at this week’s CES conference. What’s the message you hope to convey?

POPPER We have been using AI for years in our personalization recommendations, voice assistants, and chatbots, and now generative AI technology is here. This provides opportunities for entertainment companies and executives who recognize its importance to collaborate with technology leaders to create what it will mean for our industry. Working with ethics-led creators and groups who respect talent and creators’ work will be important to help define the industry and impact. As I mentioned earlier, we believe that talent and creators have the right to choose where and how their name, image, likeness, and work are used across all platforms, own their digital rights and receive appropriate compensation for it. I believe there will an agreement worked out for these rights, the way there was with YouTube and Content ID.

DEADLINE What is Deep Voodoo, and can you talk about CAA’s investment in it?

POPPER Deep Voodoo is quickly establishing itself as a leading synthetic media technology platform. They combine machine learning and synthetic media or deepfake technology to support production in innovative ways that are faster, but also more cost effective than traditional CGI and VFX technology. The company was formed by Matt and Trey because they needed this technology in their own content creation pipeline. Connect Ventures led the investment in Deep Voodoo and will provide access to CAA and NEA resources to support the company and their machine learning engineers, producers, and technologists.

DEADLINE Does Deep Voodoo create generative AI?

POPPER Generative AI means artificial intelligence that can generate new content, rather just analyzing or acting on existing data. So yes, they create generative AI. Generative AI has been in the news a lot with ChatGPT hitting over a million downloads in a week and Lensa AI, the number one downloaded app going viral on social media. That application takes your photos and then the AI ​​transforms them into cool-looking avatars of you. Those are two examples where AI hit consumer mainstream. What we are doing and what we’re excited about is synthetic media technology being used for film, TV, music, commercials, gaming, or in the metaverse. Let me give you an example. If the storyline calls for an actor to appear in different ages, today there are a number of ways you could do that. You could have different actors play that character over time. You could use VFX. Synthetic media technology makes it possible to have that actor — who may be 20 today — look 40, or visa versa. You can use this technology to make that happen through AI, machine learning and face replacement.

Here is another example: If the actor isn’t available for the reshoots a director needs, you can have a stand-in for the actor and then use this technology for face replacement and still get the job done in the needed timeline. If you wanted the actor to speak in a different language, you could use AI to create an international dub that sounds like the actor’s voice speaking various other languages. On the music side, you can produce concerts and musical experiences creating a fun immersive environment both with artists who are with us or as legacy work. This has been done with CGI or with VFX, but this synthetic media creates an ability to do it with very high-quality in a more cost effective and efficient way.

DEADLINE How many companies like Deep Voodoo are out there? Do you anticipate more like it to launch soon?

POPPER There are a handful of leading companies we are working with and we are following this field very closely as it continues to evolve.

DEADLINE Deepfakes attracted the worst kind of attention in the early years because of their use with hoaxes and all sorts of ugliness. Just last month, a deepfake of Morgan Freeman resurfaced on social media that had people worrying once again about the tech’s political implications.

POPPER These are all important concerns. We recognize that this technology will impact our industry in important ways and we want to have a seat at the table to help steer and guide its impact in the most ethical and talent-friendly way.

DEADLINE Is there anything about this evolving technology that actors should fear?

POPPER One of the things that’s really important to us, and at the core of this, is that every person has the right to control the use of their own name, image, and likeness and be free from non-consensual exploitation. This field is very new, it’s very early, and it’s moving very, very fast. So, we are working closely with partners like Deep Voodoo, who are very talent-friendly and ethics focused, who are focused on consent and rights of the actor and at the cutting edge of using synthetic media tools for storytelling that in a way that’s increasingly important for production. The role of the actor and performance is still very important with the use of this technology. We see it as a way to augment an actor’s work. Synthetic media technology can give directors and actors more opportunities to create fantastical characters, make-up, a scar or something specific on the face; to speak another language; or to time travel and engage with people from another era as seen in the recent Nike World Cup commercial. In some cases, it can give the actor back some time. As another example, some actors have done commercials where essentially their synthetic media double did the commercial rather than the actor traveling around the world. In those cases, the brands were thrilled to work with that talent and the actors were really excited about the monetization opportunity and to be part of something that’s cutting edge and groundbreaking. What’s really key here is working with companies that align in their values ​​and belief every person has the ability to control their own name, image, and likeness, and not be exploited without the actor’s consent. For us, working with those companies is important.

DEADLINE Talk about CAA’s work with Soul Machines. What does it do?

POPPER Soul Machines is a client and we’re helping them build their entertainment division. This area is so new, it’s moving so fast, and there are huge opportunities for talent to monetize in this area. They’re working with Carmelo Anthony, Mark Tuan, Marilyn Monroe, and Jack Nicholas’s teams on AI-generated ‘digital twins’ who can have real-time, face-to-face conversations. We recognize there are really important steps we have to take to protect the talent, and we are working with companies charting the way in technology and that are ethically-led and talent-friendly. That is our main goal as the industry continues to grow and migrate. There’s a lot more to eat. Stay tuned.

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