I saw a video of a Morgan Freeman Finger Painting on YouTube.

enter image description here

Could this be a real video showing how someone actually created that painting?

I think it's fake. I think he started with a photo, then kept mucking it up with finger painting until you end up with a blank screen, basically making this video in reverse.


Original photo of Morgan Freeman

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    Real 100%. This is what painting looks like. I never work up to photo realism, but my own drawings progress virtually identically. I think "normal people" don't really apprehend what spending 200+ hours on a drawing really gets you. Personally, I have never spent more than about 20. I will note that some of the strengths of the image are products of blur filters and brush textures, which is a lot different from working up such things "from scratch".
    – horatio
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 16:24
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    Does it matter? Best case scenario is, it's a paint-by-numbers. Does paint-by-numbers show artistic prowess? Creativity? Talent? I think not. 200+ hours simply shows the guy has way too much time on his hands and no creative skills.
    – Scott
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 17:12
  • Yes, it could be real. It could also be fake.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 19:39
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    With the use of the word "presumably" you are doing as much assumption in the artists favor as other are against it, Rob. I don't respect CNET any more than I would "Tony's blog of electric stuff". CNET has proven themselves incorrect on many, many, many occasions. Remember.... Just because it's on the internet, that doesn't make it true.
    – Scott
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 10:02
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    I think it is important to point out that the question is not is this real but could it be.
    – horatio
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 15:12

2 Answers 2


Short answer: in the 200 hours (!) quoted, this could be done by any reasonably skilled graphic artist * by using an app with layers and layer opacity, adding the photo as a layer, and "tracing" it, zooming in super close on each detail then zooming out to take screenshots that make the final video. Alternatively, it could be done with difficulty by a very skilled artist copying from the photo.

It shouldn't be surprising that it's done on an iPad app - people do photo-realistic images with pencils or paints (example), whereas a good art app on any modern system has zoom, layers, undo buttons, colour pickers...

* That doesn't mean it'd be "easy" - you'd need plenty of experience with the software, general art skill, a good eye, absurd amounts of patience and a spare 200 hours that you're happy to spend creating something that already exists... but you wouldn't need the Stephen Wiltshire-like unique talent that people credit that guy with.

Long answer:

Re. theories like that he erased a painting to reveal the photo: this would be harder than just painting it. For example - how would you remove only the white hair tips from a beard, leaving everything else untouched, leaving no tell-tale marks? It'd be easier to not cheat - brush on some hairs then touch it up.

This could be done with the only "tricks" being:

  • The guy has a lot of time on his hands. It says 200 hours - like an hour a day for over half a year. That's enough time for this level of detail (for someone talented, skilled and very very patient!).
  • It's an animation made from a series of screenshots. Between the screenshots, there would be a lot of zooming in, zooming in further, switching between layers, undoing, re-doing, colour picker, etc etc. None of the detail would be painted while zoomed fully out.
  • Good judgement and a good eye. Copying from a photograph isn't too hard so long as you a) have a very good eye for detail, which judging by his other work, this guy does, and b) you have a lot of time and patience.
  • Lots and lots of hard work and patience. Maybe that's what people struggle to believe!
  • Possibly also, digital tracing:

    • For example, he might have the photo as a layer, each level of detail as a layer, and then when working on a particular detail (such as beard hair tips), he hides all the other layers, puts the opacity of the photo down, and "traces" that detail on a layer above it

    • Traditional artists who do photo-realistic drawings and paintings often use a technique similar to this, putting the original through a projector (or, in the olden days, a camera obscura) and then basically tracing the projection.

    • This would be like that, but much easier. It could be seen as cheating - though personally I don't see the point of re-creating a photo anyway, the photo already exists... and accurate tracing is not much different to the camera obscura trick which plenty of acclaimed artists are believed to have used (e.g. Canaletto)
    • Tracing like this could be a good learning exercise for an artist, since you would systematically notice every tiny difference between your work and the original. You'd learn a lot about what details your eye normally overlooks. To me this seems more worthwhile than what could otherwise be described as the world's slowest copy & paste...

Regarding the "Wow it's photo-realistic yet it's done on an iPad!" reaction - while it's not an ideal tool, people have for years created photo realistic paintings with canvas and a box of paints, which would be much more difficult. ProCreate (the good art app on iPad) has unlimited zoom, undo, layers... all things traditional artists didn't have.

I'm surprised that he chose to do all this with a finger (or more likely, a stylus) when he could have used a pen tablet like a Wacom or a Galaxy Note, but even taking that into account, he's still got many advantages over traditional artists.

I also imagine the 200 hours would have been less painful with a tablet on the sofa or train or wherever than sat at a desk...

Still find it hard to believe? Okay. Suppose you can't imagine how someone could paint such a lifelike mole on a face. It's such a small detail!

Now imagine the task again, but you've zoomed in so far on the photo that this one mole completely fills the screen. You're building it up one layer at a time. You've done the overall shape: your current task is to trace every dimple, pore and shade in dark tones. Then, in another layer over that, you're going to trace every light highlight and reflection.

Then you're going to use a button to toggles between your whole painting and the photo so you can spot any tiny differences and details you missed, and if necessary, add another layer to trace them. Any time you can undo, or erase a mistake you made in one layer without touching any other layer.

You don't even need to mix paint - the colour picker tool can pick the exact colours from the photo.

Suddenly it doesn't seem so hard - just time consuming.

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    I sometimes use a pencil upside down: I wrap the eraser end in tin foil to about half-way up, secured with tape, and burnish the end smooth. Makes it conductive so the capacitive screen can sense it. It is soft and smooth enough that it does not harm my screen (so far).
    – horatio
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 16:27
  • I have found original photo of Morgan Freeman moviepilot.de/files/images/0486/8182/Morgan_Freeman.jpg - it appear every hair is the exact same shape. Every freckle. Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 16:55
  • Yeah that's the photo he worked from. It says so on the description of the video: "Original Photograph Taken by Scott Gries - scottgries.com " Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 17:00
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    @I'll-Be-Back: you seem surprised that a photo-realistic painting shows all the hallmarks of a photo down to the smallest details. Is that not the point?
    – horatio
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 18:24
  • If he did the "digital tracing" method I described using layers, then it wouldn't be surprising if the photo and image were near-identical - any differences would simply be where he got bored of tracing details. Mau Horng posted a link to an overlay comparison he made showing several very small differences which was deleted for some reason: tiny differences would make sense if the guy did 200 hours of tracing then finally got bored. Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 10:02

It is fake.

In fact, at the end of the job, he is just erasing the paint, revealing the original painting that is under. Where people think that he is actualy adding final details. Done. The planet si fouled. :)

You can check other works of the artist and you can see that none of them is like that. In some video tutorial, the artist revealing that for the details is using the "technique" were erase some paint and blend the work with the origina photo details.

In this Morgan Frieman "panting" case.... the artist erased everything painted, not just some detail areas.

Also, you can compare original photo with the "painting" and you will see that there is not even one pixel difference betwen them.

  • Can you add links to the "some other video" mentioned, and if possible images of zoomed side-by-side high-detail areas (e.g. hair) of the photo and painting to support "you will see that there is not even one pixel difference betwen them"? Also - to clarify - is what you are suggesting that the first 80% of the video is real, but the final steps leading to the final image are just erasing the painting to show the photo? Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 13:05
  • And you'd be wrong: cnet.com.au/…
    – Rob
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 14:35
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    @rob: I don't really see that link as any sort of validation of the process used by the artist. It reads like a press release.
    – horatio
    Commented Dec 4, 2013 at 16:05
  • @horatio CNET is a respected tech news magazine with actual journalists that interviewed the artist. Presumably they did enough background checking to have found out if it was a fake. At least far more checking than this poster did.
    – Rob
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 1:44

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