Why Animating Old Photos Can Be Disturbing

It's not quite perfect

Key Takeaways

  • The new online software Deep Nostalgia lets you animate old family photos.
  • Some users say that the videos produced by the website are disconcerting. 
  • The music site Classic fM created a montage of famous composers brought back to life.
Two old-timey photos hanging on a wall.
Caspar Benson / Getty Images

A new online tool that lets you animate old photos is creeping out many people who try it. 

The artificial intelligence-powered Deep Nostalgia software is winning fans who are trying out historical photos. It’s meant to bring old family photos to life. But the software also is causing a lot of uneasiness as dead people seemingly twitch back to life.

"Having seen the photo for a very long time as a still, and then it’s suddenly able to move can come as a bit of a shock to a person," Carla Diaz, co-founder of Broadband Search, said in an email interview.

"The animation movements also don’t look entirely natural. Seeing an image of a real person move, but in a way where something looks slightly off, might cause people to feel uncomfortable." 

Your Pictures Come to Life

Online genealogy company MyHeritage offers Deep Nostalgia to create the illusion that a still photo is moving. The AI-boosted software takes videos of facial movements. then uses them to animate any picture you choose. 

It’s easy and free to upload a photo. You just need to sign up for a MyHeritage. The software enhances the image, animates it, and creates a gif. 

“With the push of a few buttons, people are figuratively coming back to life,”

"The remarkable technology for animating photos was licensed by MyHeritage from D-ID, a company specializing in video reenactment using deep learning," the company wrote on its website.

"MyHeritage integrated this technology to animate the faces in historical photos and create high-quality, realistic video footage." 

Across the web, Deep Nostalgia’s release has been causing people to reanimate photos of everyone from long-lost relatives to historical figures. The music site Classic fM created a montage of famous composers brought back to life.

My Heritage put together a video showing Abraham Lincoln discovering his family history on MyHeritage. "We started off with an iconic black and white photo of Abraham Lincoln, colorized it, and used the same technology and added some enhancements, including speech," the company wrote on its website. 

But Twitter user Living Morganism wrote, "'Deep nostalgia' can turn old photos into moving videos, and I can't decide if it's amazing or creepy af." 

The technology powering Deep Nostalgia isn’t new, but the MyHeritage website makes it more accessible to users, privacy expert Heinrich Long said in an email interview.

"I have been experimenting with this kind of AI for years, and the software that Deep Nostalgia is using is some of the best out there," he added. 

However, the software’s effects can be disturbing for many, especially those who haven’t experienced how AI can manipulate photos, Long said.

The software changes an image just enough to allow for animation, but doesn’t fill in additional elements. "This software only uses what it has available within the original image to make changes, which is why we still have a ways to go until the animations are truly believable," he said.

Finally, a Use for Your Old Photos

Mitch Goldstone, the CEO of photo scanning site ScanMyPhotos.com, said in an email interview that 35% of all new photo scanning orders being placed with his company are now from people trying to preserve their decades-past pictured for uploading to the My Heritage app.

"It solved the most significant question we get," he added. "What's next after photos are scanned?"

A wartime photo of a Morse code communicator.
cjp / Getty Images

He said that none of his customers has complained that the results from Deep Nostalgia are disturbing. "Technology is more about reinventing the past. It's mesmerizing, magical, and emotional," he added. 

Goldstone said he hopes that Deep Nostalgia will help people connect with their past. "With the push of a few buttons, people are figuratively coming back to life," he added.

"AI is causing people to track down their ancestors and long-gone relatives’ photographs to see them again in a whole new interactive way."

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