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‘Made Us Much More Creative’

Because of the 2023 WGA and SAG strikes, a lot of the initial conversations surrounding artificial intelligence in Hollywood has focused on whether A.I. will be used to produce film scripts or recreate performances. But the highly controversial technology is already being used behind the scenes on your favorite television shows, as a tool to help stimulate the creative process. On Saturday afternoon at the ATX TV Festival, a group of craft artists discussed the perils and premiums of AI on their industry, during a wide-ranging discussion on their respective programs.

“We’re very computer-heavy, software-heavy in my art department,” Seth Reed, the production designer on the acclaimed Apple series “For All Mankind,” said during the panel. “So for us, they’re all tools. There’s an AI component to these things [that can help.] It can add textures and do things that seem way beyond what a concept artist would do in Photoshop or whatever.”

Industry Season 3 stars Myha'la as Harper, shown here standing on a bridge on the phone
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 06: Mike Flanagan attends Netflix's The Midnight Club at New York Comic Con on October 06, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Mendez/Getty Images for Netflix)

Echoing comments made by other panelists, Reed stressed that any AI used wasn’t as a replacement for an actual artist’s work. No one was losing their job to AI, they were instead using AI to do their job more efficiently.

“But nobody is really feeling [replaced] by this, it’s all a tool to help you. People are still there,” Reed said. “And believe me, it’s made us much, much more creative. We think it’s [aided] our worlds tremendously in what we’re doing, and I don’t feel threatened in any way. That’s me, personally.”

Still, it hasn’t been a smooth or even universally helpful application.

“I’ve tried [to use AI] unsuccessfully,” Colin Penman, the makeup department head for “Gen V,” said. Penman has tried to get various AI programs to generate various concepts for the imaginative Prime Video superhero series, but instead of producing anything close to what he’s instructed, it’s “two hours later, when I could’ve just put pencil to paper, and I’m still talking to my phone trying to get it to generate something [useful].”

“Sometimes you can look at it and recognize what it’s going for,” Victoria Paul, the production desiner on “Twisted Metal,” said. “Oh, I can see… architecture? [But] everyone is worried it’s going to take our jobs. It’s not going to take our jobs because it doesn’t function — yet. But it will. So I think we need to learn [how to use it.]”

“It’s a tool, as we’re all saying, but for ideas. The [AI’s] ideas aren’t real,” Sharon Gilham, the costume designer for “The Wheel of Time,” said. “The ideas aren’t based on human bodies, they’re based on concepts. So I think it’s interesting, but it’s not there yet.”

Earlier in the week, speaking to The New York Times, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said, “I don’t believe that an AI program is going to write a better screenplay than a great writer, or is going to replace a great performance, or that we won’t be able to tell the difference. AI is not going to take your job. The person who uses AI well might take your job.”

Speaking to the sentiment of the later quote, “Justified: City Primeval” director of photographer John Lindley said, “That, I think, is sort of the long and the short of it. I’ve been teaching myself Midjourney so I can create artwork. I don’t know how to draw, so I couldn’t do that otherwise. But I remember when digital cameras came out, and they said, ‘You’re gonna put a camera on a tripod, hit the on switch, and an hour later there will be a show.’ [But today] I’ve never worked with more people and more stuff.”

“Often the future is unclear, and this particular question is really unclear, but I think as everyone has said, we’ll all use it, and we’ll all use it effectively,” Lindley said. “It won’t replace humans.”

The ATX TV Festival panel featuring each craft artist was presented by Sony Pictures Television and moderated by IndieWire’s Ben Travers. The ATX TV Festival runs from May 30 – June 2 in Austin, TX.



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