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Now & Next: Is AI the future of movie-making? – in partnership with The Economist

Posted on 2 February 2024

Last year, the American actors’ union SAG-AFTRA went on the longest-ever strike of its history over labour disputes, partly related to new technologies like AI and digital recreation. But is AI something to fear, or is it a new tool that will revolutionise movie-making? 

Is AI the future of movie making

What if text prompts enable anyone to make any type of movie or even an entire box set.  That’s the promise of AI.

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
Someone will make a movie just with your phone that will be watched by hundreds of millions of people.

So could this become the future of the movie-making business.

Is AI the future of movie-making?

…in the great movie studios complicated…

In the country that popularised film a new generation of start-ups believe they are laying the foundations for a massive disruption to the movie-making world.

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
Let me show you how it works.  I want to start with a simple one which is text to video.

By using generative AI companies like Runway can create videos in seconds that would normally take a visual effects artist days.

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
Let’s do a sky with clouds, I can chose directions on style or cinematic choices or angles that I want to preview.

I really like this one, it seems like the light is coming out of the clouds.  The AI is taking the image and now generating a video out of that.  The AI is basically able to take that language and create consistent realistic and accurate videos that represent what you are writing.  You can see now the clouds are moving, the sky is turning a bit darker, a storm is coming.  These are short clips of four seconds that have just generated text but I also put them together in a small clip so let’s see how that looks.

The AI is able to predict how objects might move.

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
You can specify with a brush what objects you want to move within that picture.  In this case I would select just the sky and you can see now the sky is moving, I can select the boat and now the boat is going to move as well.  I can select here a person walking on the street, or the smoke from the cigarette.

Or how things look from different angles.

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
In director mode you can move the camera almost like a video game, top, left, down, up, zoom in, zoom out and use that as a starting point for any story you want to tell.

The AI also allows actors to be transformed with a click.

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
You can use it for generating different worlds.  Basically any world that you want so here in my office in New York but let’s say I want to go to one enchanted fantastical world so just click my fingers like this and I am now using this video plus a text prompt to transport myself into another world.  I can go into an anime world.  So I can do and switch between different universes just by using AI.

Runway is one of a number of companies hoping to make AI integral to the future of the movie business.  So how long will it be before your local multiplex is showing feature films entirely generated by AI?  Or producing an entire box set for a streamer.  Runway’s Founders are reluctant to give a timeframe but they believe it’s a case of when not if.

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
Someone will make a movie just with your phone that will be watched by hundreds of millions of people.  It’s going to change the landscape of film making and the landscape of cinema.

However, it is still early days for this technology in the movie business.  So far perhaps Runway’s most high profile use has been enhancing scenes in big budget films.  Like the visual effects in this scene from the Oscar winning, Everything Everywhere All At Once.  Outside the commercial mainstream artists and film makers are experimenting with shorter films.  Like this one about loneliness directed by Paul Trillo.

…what if we took different routes and if we took our time at different times then maybe things could have been different.

When it comes to blockbusters AI may be best suited to taking over genres like animation and sci-fi.  But what about realist films such as historical epics.  Generative AI has yet to mast the photo realistic video these kinds of films demand.  Some of AI’s output can look more like Salvador Dali than Martin Scorsese.

…I do love that money sir…

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
We are still at the very early stages of the technology.  It’s only a matter of time until you get to a point where you won’t be able to distinguish live action from generated video using AI.

With Google and Meta also working on their own text to video generators, AI could one day prove as transformative to the movie business as sound, colour or even the invention of a camera itself.

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
The camera was one of those moments in time where a technology and a scientific revolution creating a new art form we’re at that work combination and moment in time where we’re about to see a new kind of cinema being born.

Of course a world where video is made by giving text prompts to machines is not for everyone and may sound dystopian to some people.  There are fears that AI could wipe out entire livelihoods, maybe even replace the human stars of the screen themselves.

…they could take your image and do what they want with it.  AI can f...k off…

But those in the business of AI argue it could unleash new kinds of creativity and movie making.

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
You’re not going to become a painter just by having a paintbrush. You are not going to become a filmmaker just by having AI.  The core aspect of the creative process is still about experimentation and these tools are tools for experimenting way faster than ever before.

By making film production more affordable, AI could make the business more accessible and democratic.  There could be fewer Hollywood nepo babies and more opportunities for outsiders.

Cristobal Valenzuela, Co-founded & CEO Runway
AI will change who gets to make movies.  More people out there will have the power of perhaps what big Hollywood studios only have today and so the most important change will be for me, who gets to tell stories and what kind of stories do we get to watch and see.

Tom Wainwright, Tech and Media Editor
The Economist
Hi, I’m Tom Wainwright, Tech and Media Editor of The Economist.  If you’d like to watch more about generative AI and entertainment business, please click on the link opposite and to watch more of our Now & Next series, click on the other link.  Thanks again for watching and please don’t forget to subscribe.

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