Video of child-snatching eagle an animation-student fake

An image-forgery detection authority concludes a dramatic video of an eagle trying to carry off a child isn't real but instead is partially computer generated.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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A screen capture from a fake video of an eagle briefly snatching a child.
A screen capture from a fake video of an eagle briefly snatching a child. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Alas for those excited by a video seemingly showing an eagle's unsuccessful attempt to carry off a child: it's not real.

"A shadow analysis revealed some pretty severe inconsistencies," said Kevin Connor, president of Fourandsix, an imaging forensics specialist. "It appears to be a fake."

Just as Fourandsix was digging into the matter, a Montreal school said animation students were behind the video. It "was made by Normand Archambault, Loic Mireault, and Felix Marquis-Poulin, students at Centre NAD, in the production simulation workshop class of the Bachelors degree in 3D Animation and Digital Design," a statement from the center said. "Hoaxes produced in this class have already garnered attention, amongst others a video of a penguin having escaped the Montreal Biodome."

Fourandsix co-founder Hany Farid has made a name for himself using a collection of methods to discern when imagery has been faked or modified. A shadow analysis looks to see if all shadows in an image could be traced to the same light source, in this case the sun.

"You can clearly see that these shadows are not consistent with one another. The most likely scenario is that the baby and eagle are computer generated and were inserted into a real-world scene," Farid said in a blog post today. "Because this scene is outdoors and illuminated with a single light source (the sun), there is no physically plausible explanation for this inconsistency in shadows."

The video was posted on YouTube yesterday and so far has been watched more than 2.7 million times. Skeptics pounced on the video, though, scrutinizing it for problems.