I tried LivePortrait — a fun way to animate headshots

Live Portrait
(Image credit: Live Portrait)

Go on, admit it. You’ve got hundreds, if not thousands, of family portraits lying around on disks and devices in your home. Now there’s a new online platform called LivePortrait which offers a free and fun way to turn them into animated videos in seconds.

The open-source project, which hails from Kuaishou Technology and Fudan University in China, uses specially trained models which can convert animation from a video or webcam, and transfer the movements over to images or photographs. 

It’s very clever, and just another example of how far and fast this sort of AI technology is spreading.

LivePortrait - YouTube LivePortrait - YouTube
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What makes LivePortrait different from other similar portrait animators is the amount of customization you can use on an image to create the final effect. 

I tried a couple of experiments, both with the standard demo videos and images and my own. The first effort, animating our beloved old Mona Lisa went better than I expected.

Ms Lisa returned some spectacular facial expressions as triggered by one of the sample video portraits on the site. However, the results were less expressive when I tried with my own uploaded video. 

Clearly, you need some strong expressive motions of the eyes or lips to get the best out of the platform, but even so, it’s still pretty good. My Lucy character was just talking to the camera, and so Pearl Earring Girl looked like more of a mumbler than anything else.

Lucy Pearl - YouTube Lucy Pearl - YouTube
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But the capacity to custom set what they call ‘retargeting’, or the extent of the lips and eye motion is extremely cool, and a great demonstration of the technology behind something which seems so simple. 

The platform makes use of around 69 million high-resolution video frames as training data, along with some very clever keypoint tech to deliver the facial shapes that make the end result look so good.

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Nigel Powell
Tech Journalist

Nigel Powell is an author, columnist, and consultant with over 30 years of experience in the technology industry. He produced the weekly Don't Panic technology column in the Sunday Times newspaper for 16 years and is the author of the Sunday Times book of Computer Answers, published by Harper Collins. He has been a technology pundit on Sky Television's Global Village program and a regular contributor to BBC Radio Five's Men's Hour.

He has an Honours degree in law (LLB) and a Master's Degree in Business Administration (MBA), and his work has made him an expert in all things software, AI, security, privacy, mobile, and other tech innovations. Nigel currently lives in West London and enjoys spending time meditating and listening to music.