DreamWorks Animation founder: “I think of AI as a creative tool”

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Jeffrey Katzenberg, one-time founder of DreamWorks Animation, believes AI will hugely cut down the time it will take to make an animated feature film.

The coming AI revolution will hugely cut down the amount of time and the number of artists required to make an animated feature film – perhaps by as much as 90 percent.

That’s according to Jeffrey Katzenberg, speaking at an annual economic forum held by Bloomberg this week. In it, the host asked Katzenberg for his thoughts about artificial intelligence and how it will shake up creative industries like animation.

The former Walt Disney Studios chairman and founder of DreamWorks Animation certainly knows a thing or two about animated feature films, at least from an executive’s standpoint. At Disney, he oversaw such movies as Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, while at DreamWorks, he was producer of, among other things, The Prince Of Egypt and Shrek.

“In the good old days… it took 500 artists five years to make a world-class animated movie,” Katzenberg said at the Bloomberg New Economy Panel in Singapore, as spotted by Cartoon Brew. “I think it won’t take 10 percent of that. Literally, I don’t think it will take 10 percent of that three years from now.”

Taking Katzenberg’s prediction literally, this would potentially mean that a team of 50 artists could make a ‘world-class animated movie’ in as little as six months – a huge saving in terms of time and budget. The downside, at least for those on the creative side of the industry, is that there’ll be far fewer jobs to go around.

Read more: How Disney sort-of crowdfunded its 80s and early 90s films

Katzenberg, meanwhile, seems upbeat about the possibilities of AI, and repeats the common refrain that it’s a “creative tool” much like any other.

“We went from a pen to a paintbrush, a printing press, a still camera, a movie camera,” Katzenberg said. “These are things that expanded creativity and all sorts of storytelling in extraordinary ways. I think of AI as a creative tool – a new paintbrush or a new camera that has so much opportunity around it.”

Katzenberg also briefly specified how he thinks AI will be used by animators in the future. Rather than use machine learning to, say, speed up the process of inbetweening – that is, drawing the frames of animation that go between two keyframes – he appears to see a future where artists sit at workstations, typing prompts into a piece of software akin to Midjourney.

“You can have access to all of this knowledge, [but] it’s your ability to prompt it that actually produces a result. So prompting is, in fact, going to be a creative commodity across many, many different aspects of storytelling.”

Katzenberg left DreamWorks Animation in 2016. The following year, he became a founding partner of WndrCo, an investment venture that specialises in “transformative growth companies.” Among the firms in WndrCo’s portfolio you’ll find Ambient.ai and Placer.ai – both companies that dabble in artificial intelligence in one form or another.

Whether you like the sound of Katzenberg’s vision of an AI-augmented film industry or not, we’re likely to see how accurate his predictions are in just a few short years.

You can see the recorded snippet of Katzenberg’s AI thoughts below.

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