A lot of people are talking about Netflix’s new anime short titled “The Dog & The Boy,” but not for the reason the streaming company might have hoped.
On Wednesday, the company revealed that the short film, developed by WIT Studio, used an artificial intelligence program as part of the creative process.
“As an experimental effort to help the labor-strapped anime industry, we used image generation technology for the background images of all three-minute videos,” Netflix Japan announced on Twitter in Tuesday.
The revelation sparked a backlash from artists on social media, who criticized the streaming company for trying to avoid paying human artists and blamed a shortage of talent.
Some social media users cited a scene from a 2016 documentary about famed animator Hayao Miyazaki, the director behind films like Spirit Away. Miyazaki, after seeing a demonstration of AI-generated animation, said he was “absolutely disgusted” and called the program “an insult to life itself.”
Netflix did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The studios claim that machine learning and AI programs can help them create complex visual effects much faster than before. Rob Bredow, chief creative officer of Industrial Light and Magic, claims in Happiness’s Brainstorm AI conference in December that AI can reduce the time it takes to “swap faces” — like showing a younger Mark Hamill during The Mandalorians season finale – from weeks to mere seconds.
Is there a labor shortage in anime?
The global Japanese anime market will reach $21 billion in 2021, according to the Japan Animation Association. Demon Slayer the Movie: The Mugen Train, on its 2021 release, it broke US records for the biggest opening weekend for a foreign-language film.
And it’s big business for Netflix, the company leading the way in anime storytelling The Hollywood Reporter in 2021, half of its global subscribers watched anime.
Yet there aren’t enough skilled animators to meet the demand for Japanese cartoons. Anime is a labor-intensive endeavor, with around 200 animators required to create one title, according to Nicaea Asia.
George Wada, president of WIT Studio, said Nicaea Asia last year that the industry’s labor shortage is a “real crisis” and that the anime boom means more talent is needed “to keep up with demand.”
Yet the industry is also notorious for low pay and overwork. Illustrators can make as little as $200 a month, and even the best animators can earn as little as $3,800 a month, reported New York Times in 2021, freelancers at some studios reported working 400 hours a month, going weeks without a single day off.
“Please draw it yourself”
Artists complain that image-generating artificial intelligence programs such as Stable Diffusion are trained on image datasets pulled from the Internet without their consent. They also worry that these programs may then copy their artistic styles without compensation.
Earlier this year, three artists filed a class-action lawsuit against the developers of Stable Diffusion and Midjourney, alleging that the generative AI programs were trained on billions of images “without the consent of the original artists.”
Communities in Japan are trying to separate artwork created by humans and those created by AI. Last October, Pixiv, a community popular with Japanese artists, said it would allow users to filter AI-generated work when using the platform. While the platform said it did not want to ban AI work entirely, it acknowledged that “regulations and ethical discourse have not kept pace with the pace of this transition.”
Some creators have tried to dissuade their fans from using AI “For fan art, please draw it yourself,” Natsuiro Matsuri, a streamer with over a million subscribers on YouTube, – asked her fans last October. “I didn’t realize how high quality AI is these days.”
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