A playful video of ducks on a city street is doctored. Should we care?
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You may be one of the millions of people who has seen this video since it was first posted online on May 4. The footage begins with a group of ducks walking in the streets of Sarrebruck, Germany.
When they come to a pedestrian crosswalk, they stop at a red light and set off again when the light turns green. The video was made by a German advertising agency, who did a very good job making it look real. That’s right: the duck video was doctored.
On some Facebook pages, the video by the Ed Saarland advertising agency has garnered close to two million views.(On one page, it had even reached more than 20 million views, but that page has since deleted the post.) This silly video makes fun of the stereotype that Germans love to follow rules by showing that even the country’s ducks obey traffic lights.
The ducks’ movement
If you look closely, you’ll see that in two separate instances in the video, the ducks move without walking. Instead, they seem to slide.
Check out this excerpt, in slow motion, to get a better idea.
This shows us that the ducks were probably added into the original video.
FRANCE 24 reached out to Roy Peker, a video artist who specialises in special effects and is based in London. He analysed the video and said that the ducks were added in to the original footage, and that they are in fact an animation.
There are a few different aspects that jump out at me. The ducks’ color is a bit off from what it should be, the darks aren't matching, their shadows don’t seem right and overall the animation of the ducks isn't too great.
The ducks’ shadows
The shape of a shadow depends on the height of the object and the angle of the light source. You can use a formula to figure it out.
Using the software Forensically Beta, we put a filter on certain parts of the image, which allows us to add light, thus enabling us to compare the ducks’ shadows with the shadows of the urban landscape.
The result is pretty clear: the two men, the posts, and the tree all have very faint shadows, which are barely visible. The ducks, on the other hand, have darker, thicker shadows.
That means that the light shining on the ducks comes from another source than the light on the backdrop. If the ducks were inside, it would be possible that there was another light source – like a spotlight – but it is quite unlikely in this video, which was filmed outside in broad daylight.
The quality of the image
There’s also a third element that clues us in to the fact that this video was doctored. Using the same software, we put another filter on the image. It starts by completely reducing the quality of the video, so all you see is a black screen. Then, you can slowly increase the quality of the image, which means that the higher-quality images appear first.
If you compare the shadows of the ducks with the ducks themselves, then you will see that they are the same quality. They are different, however, from the other elements of the image. In a normal video, all of the elements should have the same quality. The ducks and their shadows are full of little white dots, unlike the other elements.
So, we can conclude that the ad agency filmed a video at a stop light with an actor pretending to comment on the ducks’ movements. Then, the ducks were added to the video and animated in a way to make it look like they were part of the original image.
“A specialist in visual effects or even a student could create these kind of effects”
As soon as I saw the video, I knew that it wasn’t real. It’s not badly done, but probably any visual effects specialist would notice that the fake [elements]. Making this kind of video isn’t easy to achieve at all. Those who made it had many things to consider, like creating a hand-held camera movement which is what will make you think the video is real, but this is actually very difficult to do perfectly.
This video is meant to make people laugh and to get clicks and, thus, money for the company that made it. But it shows that it is possible to fool the public with doctored images: a person who knows how to use the right software or any student studying visual effects could manipulate footage and easily trick an audience.
Ordinary people that are not in the visual effects profession probably wouldn’t be able to get anywhere close to something like this, but I do believe that students of this profession might be able to get a similar result to this using software such as Nuke or After Effects, which cost money.
Peker added that it takes experience to notice that this kind of video has been doctored, and that you need to have seen a lot of manipulated images to know what you are looking for.
The larger question this video raises may be cause for worry: will we someday see a video that has been doctored in this way and that potentially leads to serious repercussions, for example in a conflict zone?
France 24 tried several times to contact the agency that published this video, without success. In an interview with a German media outlet that had pointed out the video was fake, Sven Herzog, a member of the agency, just said that it served as “a good educational video about road safety.”