Does Artificial Intelligence Pose a Threat to Creativity and Animation?

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Artificial intelligence… scary huh? For the past few years, the world’s most pre-eminent scientists have issued stark warnings about AI and its potential impact on society.

Professor Stephen Hawking said that the creation of powerful artificial intelligence will be “either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity.”

But surely even the most capable computer can’t match the artistic individualism of the human brain…or can it?

So far, AI has helped write pop songs, mimic the styles of famous painters, and even assist the production of a movie trailer.

Does this mean artificial intelligence will soon be used for animation and motion graphics too?

Artificial intelligence and creativity

Despite the fact that AI is already being used in creative circles, it remains more of a research and development tool.

For instance, the advertising industry uses the machine learning abilities of AI to sift through audience data and better inform campaign decisions.

“[AI] is not being creative per se,” says Josh Sutton, Publicis.Sapient’s head of artificial intelligence.

“It’s understanding that ‘if I show these kind of things to a person, I can evoke this kind of response.’ I hate to say it, but it’s rules-based — a lot of our emotions are rules-based.”

This doesn’t mean AI will always play second fiddle in the creative process.

Just like humans, AI has the power to gather inspiration from different sources, recognise patterns, and combine them to form new outputs.

This is especially true of deep learning technology, which uses a ‘generative model’ to mimic the data it’s given.

As Jason Toy, CEO of deep learning startup Somatic explains: “If you feed it thousands of paintings and pictures, all of a sudden you have this mathematical system where you can tweak the parameters or the vectors and get brand new creative things similar to what it was trained on.”

Artificial intelligence and animation

It’s not impossible to imagine how a computer could look at several paintings, decipher their similarities and differences, then create a comparable piece of art.

But what about the living, breathing world of animation and motion graphics?

Well, AI is already making its mark here. The Midas Creature tool from startup Midas Touch automates the process of animating 2D characters.

Artists and designers input instructions to an automated engine, while the software interprets the character to make it move.

Another example comes from the University of Edinburgh and Method Studios, who developed a machine learning system that feeds on motion capture clips showing various kinds of movement.

When it receives a request from the user, the technology uses an algorithm to determine the right animation, which also takes the scene’s terrain into account.

This ‘phase-functioned neural network’ may have been designed to portray more natural human motion in video games, but it could quite easily be applied to other disciplines too.

You may struggle to argue against the impressiveness of these developments, but as for its impact on artistic expression, not everyone is happy…

When showed a similar type of technology, developed by Dwango Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki was visibly disillusioned.

“I strongly feel that this is an insult to life itself,” said the man behind movies such as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro.

“I feel like we are nearing to the end of times. We humans are losing faith in ourselves.”

A strong sentiment indeed. But Miyazaki’s remarks could be an indication of AI’s future role in creativity and animation.

AI, creativity, and animation in perfect harmony

The cold, computerised heart of artificial intelligence may struggle to form a strong bond with emotional and empathetic humans.

When it comes to art, illustration, and animation, many people are more taken aback by the creator’s reasoning or rumination rather than the artefact itself.

“So much of what we think about art is humans communicating to each other,” says Jon McCormack, an artist and Professor of Computer Science at Monash University.

“As soon as you bring a computer into the mix, suddenly you’ve got a non-human entity trying to fulfil the role that used to be occupied exclusively by people.”

Even if AI reaches the point where it can think for itself creatively and produce pixel-perfect animation, a lack of resonance with the audience may be its ultimate downfall.

For the time being at least, AI will remain an informer and collaborator; a technology to improve certain processes, but ultimately leave artistic craft to human endeavour.

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