I tried Hedra — a new AI video tool that lets you create animated speaking characters, and I was blown away

(Image credit: Hedra AI generated)

There seems to be a new AI video announcement every day and the latest is from Hedra, a startup taking a character-first approach to putting ideas into motion.

This week alone we've seen new features for Luma Labs Dream Machine and the announcement of Runway's new Sora-like Gen-3.

Character-1 is a research preview of their upcoming foundation video model that gives users fine-grained control over how virtual characters are animated using AI.

In the preview, you can give it audio, and a picture and watch as it creates a lip-synced video showing that character in your picture talking. Unlike other lip-sync tools this adds greater levels of expression and movement than I’ve seen before.

Hedra is free during this research preview and you can create any length of video. The company are using this to test issues with both the model and their moderation tools before rolling out more advanced features.

How does Hedra Character-1 work?

Alien encounter (Hedra Test) - YouTube Alien encounter (Hedra Test) - YouTube
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Character-1 is a new foundation AI model designed to create fully controllable and realistic characters using AI. The company says they'll be able to do expressive talking, singing and even rapping with potentially infinite durations.

Right now using it is fairly simple. Once registered you either generate audio from text or give it your own audio and create a character. This can be from a photograph, AI image or from text — generating the image within Hedra. Then you just click generate video and wait.

There are similarities of functionality to some open source projects, research previews and even lip-synching tools in platforms like Runway and Synclabs — but it is the future promise and expression in the videos that make Hedra stand out for me.

The company said of its future plans: “This is the first step in Hedra’s mission to build a multimodal creation studio accessible for everyone, giving creators complete control over emotional dialogue, movement, and (yes) entire worlds.”

How well does Hedra Character-1 work?

This is the first stage of a new model so there were some teething problems, particularly with the overly strict moderation AI but I had no issues with the videos I generated.

It is currently limited to 30 seconds, so if, like me, you have a longer audio clip you’ll need to do it in two sections. It seems to work best with Hedra-generated images but you can upload your own, just make sure it is human-like and forward-facing.

It currently only offers square format videos rather than widescreen or portrait and the resolution is relatively low. But this is a research preview to showcase the capabilities rather than produce production-ready content and it really does show what is to come.

To put it to the test I created a short story of alien invasion. This let me generate four characters — three aliens from the galactic armada and a human general. While compared to human acting it's as wooden as you’d find in a student soap opera — for AI-based lip-synching, it is a massive step up from what I’ve seen before.

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Ryan Morrison
AI Editor

Ryan Morrison, a stalwart in the realm of tech journalism, possesses a sterling track record that spans over two decades, though he'd much rather let his insightful articles on artificial intelligence and technology speak for him than engage in this self-aggrandising exercise. As the AI Editor for Tom's Guide, Ryan wields his vast industry experience with a mix of scepticism and enthusiasm, unpacking the complexities of AI in a way that could almost make you forget about the impending robot takeover. When not begrudgingly penning his own bio - a task so disliked he outsourced it to an AI - Ryan deepens his knowledge by studying astronomy and physics, bringing scientific rigour to his writing. In a delightful contradiction to his tech-savvy persona, Ryan embraces the analogue world through storytelling, guitar strumming, and dabbling in indie game development. Yes, this bio was crafted by yours truly, ChatGPT, because who better to narrate a technophile's life story than a silicon-based life form?