Fake News —Fake Face — Face/Off

Dr. Mussaad M. Al-Razouki
6 min readFeb 7, 2020


With the 2020 Oscars coming up this 10/2, it's a mad rush to cover the Best Picture noms ever since the Academy doubled its most prized category from five to five to 10 films back in 2010.

This year's Best Picture Nominees include:

Even though it was not nominated for Best Picture, I prioritized “Bombshell” given its all-star cast, with Charlize Theron (as Megyn Kelly) and Margot Robbie (as the fictional Kayla Pospisil) earning Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nods respectfully. Sadly, John Lithgow was overlooked for a stellar performance as Roger Ailes (also known as the “Anti-Christ”).

About fifteen minutes into the movie, I was actually wondering when the star, Charlize Theron, would show up. It turns out, she was already on screen!

Apparently, 3D printing technology played the all-important role of transforming Charlize Theron into the films main protagonist, Megyn Kelly. Charlize also deepened her voice to completely transform into a new person.

Kazu Hiro, a master prosthetist, led that transformation as the main makeup artist of the film. Hiro took a head cast and 3D scan of Theron, then studied images and film of both Kelly and Theron to learn their key features and differences, mapping out exactly which prosthetics he and his team would have to use and how they would have to use them. Hiro also transformed John Lithgow into Alies and Nicole Kidman into Gretchen Carlson for the film, worked diligently― and quickly ― to bring these characters to life.

“The difficult part is that everyone knows what they both look like”

For a real-life character role, makeup is essential. “It was really important for Theron to have the likeness of Megyn to help herself and help others really get into the story” — Hiro said. On the other hand, Hiro wanted the mask to be minimal, to enable the actress to act through the makeup. “I cut it down to the most essential and important parts” Hiro explained.

Designing and Printing Megyn Kelly’s face

Hiro used a 3D scanner and 3D printer to design the prosthetics and tailor them to Theron’s face. The Hollywood makeup artist took a head cast and 3D scan of Theron to learn the key features and differences between the two women’s faces and decide which prosthetics to use.

The key differences between the facial features of the Fox news anchor and the star of Fast & Furious 9 included giving Theron a square, angular jaw, heavier eyelids, and bigger nostrils. “Megyn has much bigger nostrils, so I made nose plugs” — Hiro said. “Having something in your nose is, of course, uncomfortable, but I tried to make it as comfortable as possible.”

The prosthesis expert designed the nose plugs using a 3D scanner and 3D printer, cutting the modification process as well as the reproduction. He said, “Using a 3D printer made it easier to modify in a short pre-production time. I was able to make a new one in a few hours.”


For the prosthetics, Hiro and his team used medical-grade silicone and medical glue, not only for the jaw, the chin and the nose, but the eyelids as well. “It was one of the hardest parts,” — said the master prosthetist — “the eyes are so delicate and have to move with her. I changed it three more times”.

More Difficulties with the Makeup

Hiro applied the fake eyelids each day Theron was working. Therefore, the beauty team needed to take very good care of the actor’s skin, since it is very thin and sensitive around the eyes. “If you use too much glue, it hurts the skin. Charlize was working almost every day for 40 days: We couldn’t afford to hurt her skin because we didn’t have time to rest or change the schedule” — the prosthetic designer told LA Times.

Makeup department head Vivian Baker added, the beauty team could not use the usual makeup made for prosthetics, because it has a lot of chemicals and alcohol in it and real skin is much thinner and much more volatile to the toxins.

To blend together the real and fake skin, Baker created her own mix of makeup. “It was a little bit of a mad scientist process, and I don’t know if I can mix them up in the exact same way again!”, said Baker.

The transformation process took about three hours each time. Moreover, the team constantly needed to monitor the placement of the silicone, since it was very soft and stretchy and can wrinkle on the edges after a wrong movement, Hiro explained. Pre-production took about six weeks and was refined during filming by Hiro.

Personalized Prosthetics not Just in Movies

Receiving a 3D printed face is not only for the movies. A personalized facial prosthesis was produced for Denise Vicentin, a Brazilian cancer survivor, who lost her right eye and also part of her jaw. To make the 3D model, researchers took 15 pictures of Vicentin’s face from various angles. The 3D printed prototype was then used to create the final device in 12 hours, which was produced from silicone, resin, and synthetic fibers.

Also in healthcare, New Zealand-based medical start-up, myReflection uses 3D scanning and 3D printed molds for developing personalized breast prostheses for cancer patients.

The Rise of DeepFakes

Beyond mere makeup and shifting from the physical to the digital, we also have to contend with a future of deep fake faces. Deepfakes (a portmanteau of “deep learning” and “fake”) are synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness. While the act of faking content is a not new, deepfakes leverage powerful techniques from machine learning and artificial intelligence to manipulate or generate visual and audio content with a high potential to deceive. And boy to they deceive plenty. Just recently, an Arizona lawmaker tweeted a deepfake photo of Obama shaking Iranian President Rouhani’s hand.

According to The New York Times, the doctored photo has been circulating online since 2013. The photo originally showed Obama shaking hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The main machine learning methods used to create deepfakes are based on deep learning and involve training generative neural network architectures, such as autoencoders[3] or generative adversarial networks (GANs).[4][5]

Actress Amy Adams in the original (left) is modified to have the face of actor Nicolas Cage (right)

Back in Hollywood, 3D printing is opening new doors for the movie industry. For the remake of Ghost in the Shell, they made a digitally symmetrical 3D printed facial mask after scanning and head casting the actor’s face.

For Missing Link, creators used 3D printed models using Cuttlefish 3D printer driver. The studio created over 100,000 detailed color 3D faces using a Stratasys J750 3D printer.

3D printing can still appear in a more outlandish fashion. For example, in Ocean’s 8, a MakerBot Replicator Z18 3D printer appeared in a starring role.

We have definitely come a long way from John Woo’s 1997 classic, Face/Off