Deus ex machina: Animation, artists and solving the generative AI problem

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Images by jallen and Pete Linforth | Pixabay

“Where’s the outrage? Where’s the litigation? Either all our hard work is protected, or none of it should be.”

Generative artificial intelligence creates content using “neural networks”, which learn from an increasingly large database. Public images, social media and news articles are some of the content that’s fed into the machine, creating a smarter and more efficient bot every time it learns something.

One or two clicks could turn into Johnny Cash performing “Barbie girl” or create a photograph of Steve Hofmeyr singing into a barbecue sausage; however, it’s used for more than fun and amusement – deepfakes, fake news and industry losses lie on the other side of the devil’s bargain.

Animation, art, photography and journalism feel the impact of generative artificial intelligence. Browsers and word processors have “AI assistants”, and free websites can generate images or videos in seconds. Protecting against artificial intelligence is a real concern.

Generative tools like DALL-E and Sora (respectively for images and video, both designed by OpenAI) have unleashed artificial intelligence in art and entertainment.

  • Do professionals have something to worry about?
  • Does playing with generative AI just fan its flames?

Here’s what generative AI means for animation and artists.

Content feeds the machine

Machine learning – how networks add their information – uses everything that’s fed into a database. Search engine Bing feeds user responses back into the system, aiming to make the AI assistant smarter every time. Content feeds the machine, and if you’re wondering, algorithms can pick up almost any public content.

China released the world’s first cartoon created entirely by generative AI, Qianqiu Shisong, in February 2024 (Chinese state broadcaster airs country’s first AI-developed animated series ( Hollywood has already felt the ripples of AI, too. Actors and other professionals opposed the “Zombie Clause” during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. This clause defined contractual phrasing that allowed studios to use artificial intelligence. Fran Drescher was quoted saying that “artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions”.

Roald Dahl practically saw the future in 1954, writing The great automatic grammatizator: an author is forced to sign into a generative AI contract or starve refusing it. Reddit threads for copywriters echo an eerie real-life similarity where authors have been fired for quicker, artificial site content. Unregulated, unchecked artificial intelligence creates a potential danger zone.

AI and its drawbacks: Limbs and copyright

Artificial intelligence has a long list of professional drawbacks, including its lack of copyright. Because computers learn from an existing database of things, their results aren’t subject to the same copyright laws as real, original art. This is according to a Washington, DC, court ruling that could pave the way for artists’ protection. Its lack of copyright makes artificially generated art less likely to be utilised for any commercial applications.

However, Suzannah mentions its usefulness for non-commercial platforms where copyright is problematic. “It’s cool to convey concepts. Sometimes, I use AI to come up with ‘vibe’ images for scenes.” Since there’s no intention of commercial use, there’s no need to accidentally infringe on artistic licence for a game night or performance.

It can be a great visual tool, but there’s a sharp edge anywhere it’s used to replace artists. “AI can be a tool to fill in gaps where artists can’t, but AI can also completely write your song (and use your voice). AI could also be used to write your lyrics.”

Zombie clauses and the postmortem Tupac hologram concert at Coachella illustrate where its use becomes problematic. Suzannah also notes: “Use AI to write a whole song, and I think it’s cheating.” Artists everywhere agree, worried that computers threaten their salaries or clients.

A tool called Nightshade works in artists’ favour. Images run through Nightshade will automatically corrupt an artificial intelligence image that tries to steal it – and many visual artists are starting to use it for automatic work protection.

Generative AI has been used to create a full horror movie from cult horror movies. Results are eerie, but that’s because they’re beyond B-movie bad in almost every way.

“AI art always gets limbs messed up,” adds Suzannah. She’s right, but limbs aren’t the only thing computers are getting wrong. The technical reason is that AI doesn’t understand them, according to BuzzFeed News and Decrypt.

It’s a phenomenon that spills into other fields, too, from recipe generators to chatbots. A Pak’nSave recipe generator suggested an “ant poison sandwich” and “bleach cocktail” when prompted with various ingredients. Like creating hands, generative AI missed something that a human wouldn’t have. In 2016, Microsoft halted their generative Twitter chatbot “Tay” when the system started spewing slurs fed into its database.

Limbs, dialogue, humour, sarcasm and copyright explain some of AI’s drawbacks – but also give commercial platforms and artists means of making sure that human art stays superior to computer-created work.

Animation SA

Isabelle Rourke is the chief enabling officer at Animation South Africa, a non-profit organisation representing the interests of professional animators, responded to our questions regarding the impact of AI on their industry.

“The local industry cannot overlook AI due to its significant impact on our production pipelines in both the short and long term. Many studios are currently experimenting with AI, while others have begun implementing AI-assisted systems,” says Rourke. She is clear that computer intelligence is here and now. “AI is present, and rather than fearing it, we must acknowledge its impact (and potential), and adapt accordingly.”

There are ways, says Rourke, in which AI can enhance productivity without replacing people or artists. “AI has enabled our production team to complete tasks, such as clean-ups, in a fraction of the time it would have taken several people – now it is achievable by an AI prompt engineer.”

Rourke says: “A concerning negative impact is job loss, which is alarming as we aim to foster industry growth.” She points out a potential worst-case scenario, where AI manages the entire supply chain, and says that “innovative approaches” can keep creatives going.

Animation South Africa encourages innovative, local intellectual property. “By increasing the number of writers, illustrators, art and technical directors, as well as producers, we can develop more intellectual property.”

The more art, the less AI?

“Innovations in the pipeline are designed to mitigate the impact of AI and to de-risk these first-time series producers, making them more attractive to investors,” says Rourke.

Artificial intelligence doesn’t yet outperform simple human creativity. Invest in people, whether you’re buying new books or weird art.

Scott Sava speaks: What artists can do about AI

Scott Sava is an artist, animator, illustrator, director, writer, and producer. His graphic novel Animal crackers is available on Netflix, starring the voice talents of actors that include Sylvester Stallone, Ian McKellen and John Krasinski.

He also created The Guild, an epic story that reads like a modern LARP (Live Action Role Playing) comic.

Sava also has his thoughts about generative AI.

First, he admits that AI and generative art can have purpose: “What AI is able to do in replicating real artists is absolutely amazing. It’s so good at it. And I get it. If you’re someone who does not want to put the time into learning how to make art, and you want to dabble with AI, go for it.”

Yet, Scott also says that it is time to stop at “dabbling”, nothing more, because AI is still based on real artists’ work.

“We should never see AI-generated images used for anything but fun,” says Scott. “No T-shirts, no prints, nothing that would ever be used to replace real art and real artists. If we can agree on that, we’re good.” 

Scott says that corporations would be quick to act where trademarks are harmed. “Is it okay to generate Disney AI images? Harry Potter AI images? Corporations would never allow it (for profit).”

Artists, he says, should do the same.

He suggests that artists stand together against commercial AI usage. “Where’s the outrage? Where’s the litigation? Either all our hard work is protected, or none of it should be.”

See also:

Kopiereg, billike gebruik en kunsmatige intelligensie

Die simfonie van silikon: Die impak van kunsmatige intelligensie (KI) op musiek

In die beeld van die Skepper: ’n kykie in die toekoms van Kunsmatige Algemene Intelligensie (KAI)

Hou KI ’n bedreiging vir skrywers in? | Etienne van Heerden Veldsoirée 2023

Tien etiese en praktiese gebruike van ChatGPT vir akademiese skryfwerk in Afrikaans

KI skep talle uitdagings en vrae vir wetenskaplike publikasies

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