Vimeo – This charming short puts the “art” in artificial intelligence

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What do you get when you combine an AI image generator, a 98-year-old woman named Lillian, and Harry Potter? The result is ‘HAIRY POUTER,’ a short film from director Chris Carboni that layers increasingly whimsical AI-generated imagery with commentary on the classic novel from a very funny nonagenarian.

“Lillian is my grandmother,” says Chris. “She and I have always had a very close relationship and I’ve been recording her giving reviews for probably 10 years.”

When AI image generators began to take over the internet in mid-2022, Chris saw the stars align into a new project that could leverage his hours of audio and help him explore his relationship with this emerging technology. “I had a lot of conflicted feelings about [these generators] and I was looking for an opportunity to learn about them a little bit,” explains Chris. “At the same time, I was talking to my grandmother who just finished reading ‘Harry Potter,’ which I had purchased for her as a birthday gift.”

From there, the film came together at warp speed with a nimble crew – “my grandmother and my wife and our sound designer and composer, that was the full team” – and the rest is (futuristic) history. As the capabilities of AI continue to evolve at a breakneck pace, we caught up with Chris Carboni to talk all things art and artificial intelligence.

The imagery in this video is incredible. What did you use and how did you get it to give you these results?

Chris: So we used MidJourney, back in its first version. We started with entering in Lillian’s words unedited and seeing what it would generate based on just the quotes from the interview. We really liked the art style that it had come up with through just a few rounds of regenerating images. So, I wrote down some hallmarks of the art direction based off this image that it had produced.

I think the first image we got was Ron with his really wafting hair, and he looked amazing. I think it was sort of shoulders up, and he clearly didn’t have a shirt on. He just looked like this beach god. And then when we had a shot of Harry and Ron together, it posed them almost embracing each other and we were like, “Oh, this is wonderful.”

We let the AI really come up with these interesting interpretations, and when we hit on one that we really liked, we guided it to follow that thread, so that it would be consistently entertaining and just easy to follow.

What was it like applying AI to this very human story?

Chris: At the time I made this film, I had a fair amount of concern [about AI]. But I certainly enjoyed working with it for this project. I think that was a good use case for the project because the use of AI was fundamental to the story.

That’s what made it feel fun and interesting and special. It was kind of about the clumsy but charming relationship between AI and humans. It wasn’t a project where we chose to not spend a budget on an illustrator and tried to use artificial intelligence instead. It was a project where the use of artificial intelligence was foundational for the storytelling.

How do you feel about AI entering the creative space?

Chris: There’s certainly something compelling there, but it’s gotten obviously so much more complicated since now these generators are so ubiquitous. Their potential has been unleashed, and expanded into all of these different use cases. So, the topic has become a lot more complicated than I feel like it once was in terms of my own understanding and feelings about it.

I think that anybody in a creative space is going to have to figure out what this means for their work, and adapt to recognizing that things are probably going to change. And with that change will come opportunities to do incredible new things, but also the automation of a lot of the craft we as artists love. It does make me a little sad, if I’m being honest. I worry about art being devalued and commodified further than it already is.

Would you use this technology in your work in the future?

Chris: Well, I love using AI to enhance my emails and as a sort of personal assistant capable of answering questions, explaining complex ideas, and handling rote tasks. In terms of creative work though, I don’t fully know. I certainly don’t want to use it in a way that would replace human artists on my teams. I believe that the results would not be as good.

So much of what makes our work great comes from collaborating with other people. A project produced from start to finish using AI is reliant on prompts from one person’s brain. In some cases that might be okay, but more often than not, productions benefit from a team of specialists working together, each bringing their own unique expertise and creative insights to the table.

The most compelling use cases I see are for generating early ideas and kickstarting the creative process. Maybe for raising funding for a project and showing some initial concept work to get something off the ground. But for animation, you need so much control over the minutiae of a scene, both for creative and production-related reasons. That level of control is likely on the way, but it’s certainly not there yet.