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Everybody's Talkin': AI

Mar 31, 2023

Everybody’s talkin’ about AI since fantastical selfies spread all over social and chatbots like ChatGPT began contributing to the conversation, but what are they saying?

If you’re not all caught up on the happenings, luckily, a bajillion publications are pitching in; The New York Times came in hot this week with the pop-up newsletter equivalent of AI for dummies, which I’ve voraciously consumed. Every morning, I’m ready to spew the latest with a nuanced understanding comparable to fan favorite Clark in Good Will Hunting.

If that reference didn’t hit home, Clark’s haughty regurgitation of others’ perspectives ultimately leads to the iconic “How do you like them apples?” line cheekily delivered by Matt Damon.

I digress, and don’t worry; I’ve no intention of plagiarizing today. But while we’re on the subject, is AI pulling a Clark?

Not quite, but since generative AI relies on referencing others’ work, the question of copyright and giving credit where due has been a hot topic. Art notoriously resides in a fuzzy gray area when it comes to litigation–abstraction does not pair simply with a courtroom.

So is AI generating, reinterpreting, or stealing? The New Yorker article “Is AI Art Stealing From Artists?” sheds some light–I recommend it. If that’s too on the nose, check out this Document Journal post or this Vice article to learn more about the debate.

Now, AI’s been around for a while with a foothold in tons of industries, but only recently did it begin to take the creative world by storm as new technology wriggles into human spaces thought untouchable.

While some people are wary of quick, ill-thought-out adoption and encourage people to at least “reckon with AI” before becoming dependent, others see ready potential in it as a tool for inspiration and augmentation (if used responsibly and respectfully).

With tech titans now calling for a pause amidst a fractious surge in development and an open letter pushing for a full shutdown, citing “profound risk to society and humanity,” we’re left to wonder at these not-so-tiny implications.

So everybody keeps talkin’. Some people are freaked. Some people are excited.

Image generators like Midjourney, Lensa, and DALL·E aren’t exactly the AIs frightening theorists, but they are part of a network that may be getting ahead of itself. What do you think?

The role that AI can and should have going forward, specifically in motion design and animation, is a question we LOVE to ask our creative guests on Ideas in Motion.

Read their enthusiastic, considered, and unfazed perspectives below.

* BTW, for kicks, I prompted ChatGPT to generate this whole intro. What I got back was arguably an improvement on what you just read but presented with decidedly less personality.

The following conversations have been edited for clarity and brevity. Note that older conversations are reflective of a since-evolved landscape.

One Size Does Not Fit All” (7/29/22)

With Motion Designer Julio Michelon

Audience: What do you think about DALL·E and other AI-generated art?”

Julio: What do I think? I think based on what I've seen with Midjourney, it's pretty insane. I signed up and was using it for, like, half a day, and I immediately started paying to have a whole month to play with it.

Adrian: Same.

Julio: It's crazy. And I just love throwing ridiculous prompts at it. Like, everyone on there is doing cool stuff, and I'm just writing completely bizarre stuff ‘cause I want to see if it can interpret abstract thoughts. I think what I said the other day was, "house music, eating a donkey." Like, what does that look like? I wanna see what the AI does. But what do I think of AI-generated content? I think it's very interesting. I don't think it's ever gonna replace the art world.

I think it's gonna replace a lot of stuff that requires a more practical approach. Maybe some concept art, storyboarding, mood boarding, anything that you're like, “Okay, you know what? I can throw what I need into this AI, and it's gonna generate something similar to what someone else would do in three days, and it's gonna cost me $10 a month or whatever.”

I feel like there's too much value in the art world and the story behind what an artist has to offer and their experience and the nuance of what they're making. That's why you hire artists because you want their specific vision. You don't want a mishmash of a pool of images that are being interpreted by code, which is very interesting, but that's not the point.

I don't think it can replace. And I think that I got that feeling the moment everything became so easy. After a week of using it, I was like, it's just too easy. It doesn't have hard work.

I mean, I know it does. I know that the system is insane. And the engineers that created it are like- it's just crazy. But it's missing in some way, the artist that worked on it for six months, and that's what you got, and that's how long it took because it's a painting-

Adrian: Right, there’s a famous Miles Davis quote. He said it's not about the note; it's not about the piece of art. Right? Anybody can play the same piece of music. Like 80% of the world can pick up something and play it. But it's the 20% of how you play it that gives you your signature and your swagger, and that becomes everything. And that's the human part. Yeah, anyone can type an engineered prompt into the system and get back a thing that's made from a pre-trained set of still largely biased image sets that give you a thing. But ultimately it's like, I could just walk in and if I can show you something that you've never seen before, that's it. That's unique because literally, no one else can think of it.

Julio: Yeah.

Adrian: So, same page. I think it's great as a tool. I think it's got a lot of potential in some sectors to be a great asset for idea generation and get the creativity flowing. But I agree that it's the human element of, “Hmm, I think I wanna tell this.” Who knows, maybe one day it'll do that. But as of today, right now–

Julio: I mean, I think it's part of the larger conversation about tech and the time we live in. We don't know how to deal with a lot of it. For example, social media is a shit show because we don't really- sorry, can I say shit?

We don't really know. We've created a thing that we don't know how to deal with. It's affecting the way we communicate; it's affecting our politics, blah, blah, blah. But I think this hyper-growth of tech is gonna give more and more value to what's uniquely human. At the risk of sounding cheesy, human uniqueness and expression are gonna become ever more valuable because of tech. Because you won't find it in tech. You'll find a way to replicate it. You'll find a way to expand upon it because, hey, this thing can spit out an amazing image in literally 30 seconds when it would take an artist at least four hours or six hours or whatever.

But is it ever gonna be human? I guess the day the answer to that is, “Probably,” then we can cross that bridge. But for now...

The Craft is in the Details” (10/14/22)

With Scholar Art Director Liam Elias

Liam: I just never see it as you know everything and then you stop learning, ‘cause you kind of have to innovate every single time and prove yourself, especially in a digital world where the content is starting to feel very similar. And now you have AI as another tool and originality is almost like a word that's very carefully used because everything's derived from other things.

But I think that just like trusting yourself and pushing yourself and just being humble and nimble about everything. It's the way to really get ahead and be a healthy designer.


Audience: What's your take on AI and how does that play into the future of animation?

Liam: It's like the million-dollar question that everyone's trying to figure out. I don't know. I like everybody when it came out, used it for like two weeks and it was like the most amazing thing and-

Adrian: Then you panic a little bit?

Liam: Yeah, you think it's gonna take over the jobs and everything and it's, it's really cool. Like I'm always open to new tools and it's really cool that you can just make something out of words.

I put a prompt in to see what a character looks like and it’s very similar to what I thought in my mind. But I love doing that and making a folder out of 'em and just having a library of my characters and the stories. But, I think AI is just super powerful for people who are not very technical or that don't have the skillset yet.

You can literally take something and make it look like a painting and then you're using Photoshop as a base. Actually, we were literally just talking about this, my creative director yesterday made this crazy good portrait of a kid and he painted over and did some adjustments but it looked like a legit painting.

I feel like with pitches when you have so little time, it can be great. Sometimes you don't get really great results. But if it's something that you're on a time crunch and even just need inspiration and something to help you visualize a project, I think it's awesome.

I don't think robots are gonna take over our jobs ‘cause unless they teach them how to be sentient and have their own artist’s intent…

Adrian: Yeah.

Liam: I think we're gonna stay designers ‘cause we still need to solve problems and deal with people and when AI can deal with people, then we are not in a good place.

To Make or To Manage” (12/09/22)

With CVLT Creative Director Dino Qiu

Adrian: Have you been following all the developments of AI in the creative field in the last year?

Dino: Oh yeah, yeah, I've been doing that. Midjourney and stuff.

Adrian: Yeah. Midjourney, and what's the new one? Uh, ChatGPL or whatever. There's all this talk of the doom of the creative industry, right?

Dino: Mm-hmm.

Adrian: They're like, oh no, the computers are coming and all these things. Right? Do you think that's the case?

Dino: Do you think that's the case?

Adrian: Do I think? No, I think-

Dino: I don't think that’s the case.

Adrian: I think it's gonna be another great tool for ideation, for sketching, for cranking out some interesting ideas that you hadn't thought about, but that connection of, this could work, this could work, and this could work, and then getting the client to understand, and ask themselves existential brand questions…I don't think that a computer will ever do that.

Dino: No, definitely. I think it is a great inspiration tool. Pinterest is another tool that you can use just for inspiration. You can try different things. You can visualize, you can force yourself to think differently. That's the beauty of it. I think that's really an interesting tool to use. But I don't think it will ever replace artists, client management, or sales skills. Also, the artwork itself. I think making, there's a certain beauty in crafting, the process itself is mentally very different.

If you spend 10,000 hours on one thing, there's a certain philosophy in you that you can understand and that you can apply to other things. It's not like push a button, and immediately a new masterpiece appears to you, and you become a master. That is not–that's a different process.

Experience is not replaceable.

Adrian: Yeah, exactly. The joy that we all get from that experimentation phase...

Dino: Yes.

Adrian: They're good at factual things, but that abstract level of why does this bring me joy? There are times and a place when you have 20 minutes to make something, to get out to present to someone who just needs to understand your idea. And so to quickly be able to show them a general idea like, “Look at this,” that I think is great.

But it definitely lacks the depth of a creative challenge.

Dino: The soul, it doesn't have the soul in it.

What Goes Around…Comes Around” (01/20/23)

With Senior Animator Mark Phillips

Adrian: There's that fun train of like new tool changes workflows. New context and new legislation change the industry. The animation cycle has come and gone, like in style, not in style, in style, not in style. And now we've got A.I.

Mark: Now we’ve got artificial intelligence.

Adrian: The talk of the town.

Mark: Oh my gosh. It's the whole town.

Adrian: Yeah, this is the first time that a non-human element is introduced into the cycle.

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Adrian: Right? And we start to see studios that are saying, you know, it's been all over Instagram and everything. People have been like, oh, now I'm losing bids because someone presented an entirely A.I. generated pitch deck.

Mark: Mm.

Adrian: And then you get into, but that data set was based on other artists’ work. The big question, Mark is AI; it was always assumed that it was gonna come in and first it was gonna take the blue-collar jobs. And then it was like, we're gonna automate everything. Then it's gonna take the white-collar jobs ‘cause we can auto-invest and auto-write content, and we can auto-predict the markets, and everyone always said, "Oh, it'll never come for the creatives because we're humans and like, our little hand touch and whatever."

Mark: We have a smooth collar that's just a raggedy t-shirt, you know?

Adrian: Yeah. I think even Jack Ma, you know, billionaire mind, he said years ago, which is actually a funny exchange between him and Elon Musk, where he basically said like, why are we teaching people to do math anymore?

We should focus people on empathy and creativity ‘cause that's what the machines will never come for; that's what the machines can't do. Fast forward to mid-2022 to now, and the big scare tactic is that AI's coming for all the creative jobs.

You've got Midjourney, you've got DALL·E, you've got, you know, ChatGPT. I'm curious to hear what your thoughts are on that. Have you had any experience with using it in any capacity?

Mark: I mean, I've used it just to, you know, you type in like “M&M butt,” you know, and then see what comes up on Midjourney or whatever. I've just messed around with it. I've seen people really posting hard like this is something I generated with AI. And I mean, I guess in that sense it's pretty harmless because it's just a tool to help you think of things, and you're like, oh, maybe I didn't see this that way.

Adrian: But then, does any of that impress you ever?

Mark: No, I think that's something we have against AI is that art is inherently like we are expressing ourselves, and you can tell it to do something, and maybe you'll get five options that you're like, oh, this one is the crying kitten that I wanted to express my Monday. You know? I think it's probably just gonna be something we'll have to adopt.

But I think at the end of the day, humans inherently just connect with other humans and what they want to say. And that's gonna be the thing that keeps us coming back to human creative things. Maybe we will get into a weird hybrid AI thing.

I mean, AI kind of looks like shit right now? I dunno if we can say that on YouTube. We're more than 10 minutes in, right?


Mark: I think when it comes down to artists and stuff, especially when it's very deliberately trying to, you know, I like this artist, I'm gonna type in their name and get a picture of me, I think that gets a little weird because I mean, that person probably should have a say, but I don't know.

It's a very gray area too because everyone just kind of references- you're just kind of a Voltron of references that make you an artist. So, maybe it's just a little easier for the AI to do it?

Adrian: Yeah, because normally when you walk into a project, or you approach a new brief, the first step is, maybe I'll write three lines of like this is my general idea. Cool. And then, you jump into mood boarding, which has become a standard practice globally for any creative project. As you pull references, basically, you're trying to help your client understand the picture that you could paint without committing to, “Okay, we need a million dollars to show you what you're gonna see.” So, you inherently pull things from other things, you know, no idea’s original, et cetera. And you find ways to pull these ideas together into a new concept or new expression of that. Right?

Mark: Yeah.

Adrian: And so whether it's a person that took a photograph and you put it in the deck, or it's a person that doodled something and uploaded it to Dribbble, and you pulled that in, or if it's an AI that created an image and now uses reference, it’s arguable that we're already doing that with every other tool we have.

Mark: Exactly, I agree. We use Google instead of having the AI find it for us. I mean, there are certain animations, certain music videos, movies, or whatever that come up at least once every two years in some animation deck. You know, they're like, “Oh, have you seen this Tame Impala video or the A-ha music video from the eighties? Or-”

Adrian: At first, when I saw what Midjourney was doing and what it was capable of, I was a little bit concerned. Like, oh man, this is really gonna take us out. I actually did a few projects over the course of the last year with a heavy leaning on Midjourney for asset creation.

Mark: Okay.

Adrian: The animation is still done by myself and the team, and comping is still a thing, but you know what happens when you use a Midjourney generated thing and then you, like, blur it a little bit and use it as a texture, and then you make that move? It gives you a really wild appearance that you wouldn't have come up with, or you maybe would've reached after like 20 days of experimentation.

So, there is a really cool aspect to using; I mean, I don't think it's really any different than computer-aided design in general, right?

Mark: Yeah.

Adrian: Like, there's a plugin now that does that thing for me. Admittedly, I actually think that a lot of the responsibility falls onto the artists, like as a community.

Mark: Mm-hm.

Adrian: Two tiers, actually. I think it falls on the artist to be responsible for how we use the tool. And then I also think it falls on the companies to be responsible in how they allow the use of the tool.

Mark: Yeah, I agree.

Adrian: I don't see a world where we can't all coexist happily. Of course, that's not how Terminator starts, but you know?

Mark: Uh, definitely not how it starts.


Adrian: So with these new tools, the ups and downs of business, new players coming in and out, do you have any personal tips and tricks, strategies to navigate when those changes come up? Nobody likes change in general, right? And every time there are these giant upheavals, it’s like, “Oh shit, I have to go learn a new thing.” You have to readjust how you present your portfolio or the client that was there, they're out of business. Like, streamer studios cutting animation, and all of a sudden, studios are under and gone. So how have you navigated that in the past?

Mark: I think it's something that being an animator you've just navigated from the beginning of our profession. There'd be jobs where I get hired on, and I'm like, I have no idea how this software works. I have to learn it by Monday. You know? And so you just kind of scramble, and you figure it out, and maybe it's just to a more extreme degree now. But, I think you gotta learn as you go and hope for the best, you know? And I think as long as you're driven and you want to be doing it, I don't think that's too big of a problem outside of just all your other responsibilities as a human being.


Adrian: And again, just come back to the AI conversation, that's something that the machine will never have. The machine never questions, well, I'm not gonna say never, but currently, the machine does not question why it's doing what it's doing.

And I think that that may be the hook of that human element that we all relate to and we look back to, and we're like, "Oh, that's a great illustration. And I know that's an original."

Mark: Yeah. And these artists, people gotta be like getting their stuff out, and just ‘cause there's AI out there doesn't mean that they're gonna stop doing that, you know?

Adrian: Yeah.

Mark: And I think that's really what's gonna help us survive until it gets too hot.

Adrian: If you were teaching an AI right now how to draw Mark Phillips’ signature style, what would it be?


Adrian: Is this turning into a butt?

Mark: Yeah!

Adrian: This is a Mark signature.

AI learning how to draw like Mark Phillips.

The Eye of the Beholder” (2/03/23)

With TikTok Senior Motion Designer Jae Bae

Adrian: But it's almost as if in that search for a less polished, authentic experience, if that's what you're now gonna start identifying as human, AI is making these beautiful things that are super high polish, super, everything. So is it creating a bigger gap? Like what are your thoughts on that? Between, we used to associate this with being human, and now we start to see this as associated with a machine...and humanity is looking for a more human side and a less polished side.

What are your thoughts on where AI fits in, and how do you think that'll impact what you're currently doing?

Jae: I think eventually it's gonna be more about the concept than the actual output and how it's gonna look. Cuz AI can, right now, do whatever we ask them to. They can create amazing illustrations, or they can, you know, there's an AI to do animation. They can literally do anything, like they can replace me any second. But I think it comes down to what you come up with, like the concept of the animation. So it's gonna be more about the idea itself than execution.

Adrian: That's an optimistic point of view, and I love that. I think thinking about it as the artist is still the piece that's gonna make it unique, based on their experience and their point of view-

Jae: Yeah, I've been using AI creation tools to create some mood boards and mockups and stuff like that, but you still need to tell them what you want to see, and then you can use it as a great tool. I don't know how far they're gonna go in the future, but as of right now, I think it's not super written for people who have ideas. It might be hard when you're starting out and you are a level one animator or designer ‘cause you are still in the training area where you are learning the tools and AI; they could do it very fast. So I don't know. That could be scary, but I think eventually, we'll learn how to avoid that. We'll find our human niche.

Bespoke Freelance Workflows” (3/03/23)

With Senior Motion Designer Lori Samsel Hamasaki

Adrian: That is the big looming question mark in the industry.

Lori: Yeah. AI is fun. There's a tool I really like in AI that's called Gong Gong (GauGAN) or something that you paint landscapes with colors so you can be like pine trees here, rocks in the sky. I like to do that. You can paint letters; you can make typography out of nature. So that's a fun tool. I find that really hard to direct, though. I like a little more control over my projects than what I've been able to achieve through AI. So right now, I'm just using ChatGPT to write my cover letters ‘cause I've never been good at it.


Lori: But yeah, always learning. AI's a lot of fun. It's really conceptual. It gives me ideas.

Adrian: It's fascinating because, you know, AI, in a way, is one of these new generative tools. I'm of the idea, I'm actually not particularly afraid of it destroying the industry. Like so much of the buzz around it, it's no different than when the computer was invented or the calculator was invented, and all of a sudden accountants were like, ah, it's gonna take my job. And it's just like, I can say for a fact that my accountant will never be replaced by a calculator.

I'm like, no, no, no. I need a human here because I can hold you accountable when something goes wrong.

Lori: I'm a hundred percent positive that AI cannot do my job.


There you have it.

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