A screengrab of Where do grandmas go when they ‘get lost’? by Leo Cannone who won an honorary prize at the festival.
A screengrab of Where do grandmas go when they ‘get lost’? by Leo Cannone who won an honorary prize at the festival.

NEW YORK: Featuring an array of fantastical beings such as mud people and giant grandmothers, an AI film festival is giving a glimpse of the storytelling made possible by the novel technology.

Nearly 3,000 short films were submitted to the festival organised by Runway AI, one of the leading start-ups in the field of AI-powered video generation. The 10 films selected put the filmmakers’ vivid imaginations on display, with their stories set in aesthetically stunning universes.

“There is a perception of … AI-driven filmmaking and creation as having a very specific style,” Runway co-founder and chief technology officer Anastasis Germanidis told AFP.

But each of the selected films “feels very different from the other one,” he said at the festival’s awards ceremony.

3,000 short films submitted to festival

Movie making and animation having grown by leaps and bounds in the past 50 years, past feature films like “Inception,” “The Matrix” and “Loving Vincent” come to mind when watching the AI shorts. But the latest technology allows films to be made on a fraction of a typical movie budget, and by anyone with access to a computer and the software.

With just a prompt, Runway can transform a series of still images into a short video, or turn a photo into a painting.

In February, generative AI leader OpenAI launched its video creation software, dubbed Sora, while Google and Meta are developing their own versions, called Lumiere and Emu, respectively.

Not yet perfect

For his short “What happens to grandmothers after they ‘get lost’?” — a visual tale that explores the whimsical question through the eyes of a child — that won an Honoree prize at the festival, Leo Cannone generated and edited hundreds of images using the AI applications.

“I couldn’t really have (human) characters or dialogue, so that set the aesthetic of the film,” the French director said of his short.

Runway is currently developing something it calls “General World Models,” an AI system that can simulate a real world environment by anticipating how future events unfold in a dynamic setting.

The three Runway co-founders are focused on creating a “common language” for programming and creativity, citing Apple and Pixar as examples.

“For some of the emerging filmmakers like me, it represents a real opportunity to turn the typical model of the Hollywood industry,” said Carlo De Togni, who also won an award at the festival.

“Artists could bring to life some new stories without having the money,” he said, pointing out that some generative AI platforms offered subscriptions for only $30 or $50 a month.

The prospect of such a sea change in filmmaking is so troubling to Hollywood that actors and screenwriters staged a month-long strike last summer, demanding protection against generative AI, among other things.

However, Runway co-founder and CEO Cristobal Valenzuela said automation “really happens all the time, but the jobs themselves are going to change.” “That’s the role of technology — to allow us to change.”

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2024

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