Laughter is the best medicine. This old adage is still incredibly relevant even in contemporary times. Humour certainly proved to be the best medicine for me for dealing with the most challenging crisis faced by the world since the Second World War – the COVID-19 pandemic. Cooped up in my home with uncertainty looming large, humour trumped hope in keeping my spirits buoyant; humour derived from hilarious and creative memes. Some of these memes even transcended to the level of pure comic genius, and AI-based face-swap app Reface helped create some of them.
Ukraine-based Reface hit the map when Elon Musk tweeted an image created with its technology. That’s when the team realised that “they were onto something big.” After understanding the potential of a face-swapping tool for images, the team evolved its technology and moved from images to GIFs and eventually videos.
After officially launching, Reface-based content went viral all over the world. “The wave of refaced Ariana Grandes and Jack Sparrows flooded TikTok, Instagram and Youtube. 1M installs. 2M Installs. 10M installs. But wait for it. This is where the story went crazy. Britney is refacing, Snoop is Refacing, Miley, Justin. It looks like the whole world is obsessed with the thing we created,” says the company.
Since its official launch in January 2020, Reface app has been downloaded over 70 million times. And, the startup has raised $5.5M (€4.53M) in its seed round of funding led by Andreessen Horowitz.
Apart from Andreessen Horowitz, Reface has also secured funding from lead angel investor TQ Ventures, along with other prominent angel investors. From the gaming sector, Ilkka Paananen, CEO of Supercell and David Helgason, founder of Unity Technologies, participated. Scooter Braun, managing partner of TQ Ventures, and known for managing top pop stars like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande; Adam Leber, a manager to Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus as well Uber investor, are the investors from the music industry.
From the film and content creation industry, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and Peter Serafinowicz (via Deep Voodoo); Bryan Baum and Matt Kives, founder of K5 Global and (whose clients included Bruce Willis, Jesse Eisenberg and Eric Stonestreet); Natalia Vodianova, a model, philanthropist, and actress.
The round was also backed by investors from the tech scene including Josh Elman, ex-investment partner at Greylock Partners and boards of Medium, Operator, Musical.ly and Jelly; Sriram Krishnan, investor and former Product at Microsoft, Facebook, Snap, and Twitter.
According to the company, it plans to use these funds towards its aim to reinvent the way people interact with content. Reface strives to build the first social platform of dynamically personalised media content empowered with machine learning technologies. It also plans to continue to work with renowned content holders by providing celebrity partners with creative digital marketing solutions.
During its early stage, the startup was backed by tech entrepreneur and angel investor Sergey Tokarev.
Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) is a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that claims to back bold entrepreneurs building the future through technology. Founded in 2009 by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, the firm claims to be stage agnostic, investing in seed to late-stage technology companies, across the consumer, enterprise, bio/healthcare, crypto, and fintech spaces. According to a16z, it has nearly $16.5B (€13.6B) in assets under management across multiple funds.
The tech behind Reface
According to the company, Reface app allows users to snap a picture of their face and apply their likeness to any number of celebrities, without needing any after-effects or VFX knowledge. Users can export their creations to a multitude of formats, including animated GIF and standard video formats, and share them with friends on social media.
In order to to achieve realistic images, the startup uses advanced machine learning methods, including GAN (generative adversarial network). Explaining the tech behind Reface, its CBO and co-founder, Dima Shvets tells Silicon Canals, “We created one universal neural network to swap all possible human faces. Our technology is able to change facial features with just one photo of the person, which is specially converted into face embeddings – an anonymised set of numbers that describes the features of a person that distinguishes him/her/them from other people.”
“To achieve realistic images, our technology uses advanced machine learning methods, including GAN (generative adversarial network) – the only technology to date that can achieve high resolution in the generation of images,” he further explains.
Rebranding to Reface
Founded by Roman Mogylnyi, Oles Petriv, Yaroslav Boiko, Denys Dmytrenko, Kyrylo Syhyda, Dima Shvets, and Ivan Altsybieiev, Reface was formerly known as Doublicat.
Talking about the reason for the rebranding, Shvets says, “To be honest, users (now we call them with the tenderness – refacers) helped us a lot, they used the term “reface” often, and it became a new verb in their dictionary which was associated with our app. Also, users made mistakes while googling Doublicat by calling it Duplicate app or DoublikatE app, so we’ve decided to stick to Reface app as it’s simpler and more understandable.”
According to Shvets, Reface has both B2B and B2C models. “We got a subscription for advanced users, and also we collaborate with different brands and celebrities by helping them to engage with an audience. We’ve collaborated with John Legend, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber.”
He also talks about the company’s recent collaboration with sustainable fashion brand Ksenia Schnaider. It created a digital show for their new collection by replacing 3 models faces with 20 synthesised faces during an online fashion show. “It was a good example of how AI can make fashion shows safer for models and designers. Also, as Ksenia Schnaider team mentioned, such technology gives them particular creative flexibility. Here is a video of how it looked,” says Shvets.
Deep concern about Deepfakes
In this age of misinformation and fake news, there are growing concerns regarding the potential abuse of deepfake to spread misinformation and mislead people. We asked Reface about how it plans to address these concerns and what measures are being taken by the company to do so.
Shvets claims that Reface is not a deepfake app, and asserts that it’s a face-swap technology. He believes that the most famous examples of deepfakes were used for manipulation. That’s the reason why technology is perceived negatively. “We want users to associate our app with a tech that powers the next generation of fun, art and entertainment.”
“The whole world is working on the deepfake detection to minimise its possible negative use, and Facebook and Google have a strict policy regarding it. The exception is using technology to create parody content, which Reface does,” he further adds.
Talking about the measures taken by the company to prevent potential misuse, Shvets says, “With Reface, people can create only low-quality GIFs or short videos that are checked before publishing in the app. When we give more access to the technology, we’ll be defining and blocking content such as political speeches, porno etc. Also, we’ll ban the possibility to upload pictures of some categories – politicians, for example.”
“We developed a digital watermark that is invisible for users but readable by our system. As soon as we give more access to a technology, everyone will be able to check if the video or its piece was made with Reface or not. We want to show the example that you can give access to,” he explains.