Mihaela Mihailova | Acting Algorithms: Animated Deepfake Performances in Contemporary Media

This is an Archive of a Past Event

From the moving Mona Lisa deepfake created by the Moscow Samsung AI Center to the (re)animated life-size digital avatar of Salvador Dalí who greets visitors at the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, algorithmically generated performances are becoming integral to emerging media forms. As products of the collaboration between tech researchers, coders, animators, digital artists, and actors, as well as the labor of the (often deceased) makers of the original works, such amalgamated, multi-modal performances challenge existing definitions and conceptualizations of acting in/for the animated medium, along with notions of authorship and authenticity. Additionally, they expand the disciplinary reach and relevance of the subject, highlighting the necessity of thinking through contemporary digital animation’s relationship with data science and machine learning in order to better understand its ever-growing variety of non-filmic permutations.  

At the same time, fan-made deepfakes, ranging from movie mashups to unauthorized pornographic edits, further complicate the aesthetic and legal landscape of animated algorithmic performance. Juxtaposing these amateur, free, often low-quality videos and images with the commissioned, well-funded works described above reveals fascinating tensions between the institutional implementations of deepfakes and their popular use on online platforms.   

This talk explores the application, dissemination, and ontological status of deepfake performances across a variety of contexts, including digital artworks, viral videos, museum initiatives, and tech demos. It interrogates the practical, ideological, and ethical implications of their means of creation, including the digital “resurrection” of deceased individuals, the repurposing and rebranding of centuries-old artwork, and the superimposition of actors’ faces onto footage of other performers’ roles. It asks the following questions: who (or what) do these animated performances belong to? What new terms and approaches might be necessary in order to fully evaluate and account for their complicated relationship with existing theories of acting? How are they shaping—and being shaped by—contemporary animated media? 

About the Speaker

Mihaela Mihailova is Assistant Professor in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University. She is the editor of Coraline: A Closer Look at Studio LAIKA’s Stop-Motion Witchcraft (Bloomsbury, 2021). She has published in Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, [in]Transition, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Feminist Media Studies, animation: an interdisciplinary journal, and Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema.  

This event is generously co-sponsored by the Stanford McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Image credit:The Zizi Show, A Deepfake Drag Cabaret