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To AI or not to AI?

Updated: May 28

That is the question in the filmmaking industry right now (and probably everywhere else). As with any new technology, there's tension between innovation and tradition, and AI is no exception. In the filmmaking industry, although revolutionary, it's also sparking significant backlash (we still remember the opening title sequence of Secret Invasion).


Filmmakers, actors and audiences are grappling with questions about the limits of AI's role in creative processes. Here are some of the most recent controversies that highlight the debate over AI's place in filmmaking. Where do you think is the limit?


REMASTERING OLD MOVIES WITH AI

AI controversy

Recently, AI technology has been used to remaster classic films in 4K resolution, including James Cameron’s “True Lies”, “Aliens” and “The Abyss”, receiving mixed reviews. Some say that having taken away the grain, among other pristine enhancements, makes everything feel less real, even a bit weird. Which raises questions about the balance between enhancing image quality and preserving the original aesthetic.


However, this kind of backlash is not new. Indeed, in 1998 when “Titanic” was released on LaserDisc and VHS, significant work was done to erase imperfections from the negative. Yet some viewers objected, insisting that the original flaws, like scratches, should remain. Geoff Burdick, an executive at James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, told The New York Times that “there were a lot of folks who said, ‘This is not right! You’ve removed all of this stuff! If the negative is scratched, then we should see that scratch.’ People were really hard-core about it”. So, todays reaction came as no surprise to him.


AI-GENERATED PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL

A24's latest film, "Civil War", released AI-generated posters depicting chaotic scenes. Fans were quick to notice wonky details (such as a 3-door car), raising questions about the impact of AI on real artist who could have done it. Some even called it false advertising, as the images did not appear in the movie. However, a source told the Hollywood Reporter, that “the entire movie is a big ‘what if’ and so we wanted to continue that thought on social — powerful imagery of iconic landmarks with that dystopian realism”, and that is why they did this campaign.



Last year, it was Disney who was accused of using AI to generate a poster to promote “Loki”, although the company later debunked it, according to Mashable.


GENERATED ELEMENTS WITHIN MOVIES

The horror film "Late Night with the Devil" faces backlash for using AI to generate three 1970s-style title cards. Some people on X called for boycott, others claimed that it starts with small things – like three title cards -, but ends up undercutting and underpaying artists. The writer-directors brothers Cairnes responded to the controversy by telling Variety that “in conjunction with our amazing graphics and production design team […], we experimented with AI for three still images which we edited further and ultimately appear as very brief interstitials in the film”.


Left: movie poster / Right: AI card generated ©IFC Films and Shudder


​In another case, AI-generated posters appeared in an episode of "True Detective", sparking discussions about AI's use in background imagery and its impact on the series' authenticity, as Futurism reported.   


Last year, it was Netflix Japan who was under pressure after they announced on X they used background art generated with an AI for an animated short called “Dog and Boy”.


AI GENERATED VOICES

In the 2024 remake of "Road House," allegations arose that AI was used to recreate actors' voices during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. According to Looper, R. Lance Hill, the original writer, filed a lawsuit against Amazon Studios and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, claiming AI was used for Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) to speed up production​. This raised concerns about using AI to replace actors' work (during a strike or not). However, a spokesperson for Amazon refuted the claims.


On the other hand, AI has been used for positive purposes. In 2022, Fortune reported that Sonantic, an AI-based technology company, "masterfully restored" Val Kilmer's voice, which he lost after a two-year battle with throat cancer. However, Paramount clarified that this technology wasn't used in "Top Gun: Maverick", despite rumors to the contrary​ – but they also said the movie had Zero CGI, which… you know​.


AI USE IN DOCUMENTARIES

While some uses of AI in fictional movies may be acceptable (although not without controversy), it becomes a different story in documentary filmmaking, where authenticity is crucial.


AI controversy
Image published by Futurism, pointing out the telltales signs.

Netflix faces criticism for its documentary, "What Jennifer Did", which allegedly used AI-generated images without clear disclosure. Futurism were the first ones to point out the inconsistencies in the images that depict Jennifer Pan's "bubbly" personality. However, in an interview with The Toronto Star, executive producer Jeremy Grimaldi said: “The photos of Jennifer are real photos of her. The foreground is exactly her. The background has been anonymized to protect the source”. Thus, eluding if they used or not AI tools to modify it.


Regardless of it, for those who have tinkered a bit with AI, the images do raise severe questions and the transparency of AI use (or absence of it), crosses a critical line into malpractice.


SO, WHEN TO AI AND WHEN NOT?

The question of whether to embrace AI in filmmaking or avoid it remains a hot topic. While AI has undoubtedly made some tasks easier, sometimes reducing the need for larger production teams, it can't replace human creativity and insight. The backlash against AI by the audience often stems from a lack of transparency or fear that technology will erode the artistic integrity that filmmakers and film lovers value. However, these reactions can drive filmmakers to use AI without full disclosure, leading to greater mistrust, akin to the “zero CGI” campaigns.


So, when should AI be disclosed? In documentaries and other journalistic works, transparency seems crucial. But in fictional films, the line is less clear. Should we require studios to disclose every AI tool used and therefore how it was used? What about other softwares or even machines, like sewing ones? Seems a bit excessive.


Ultimately, the debate over AI in filmmaking reflects a larger struggle between innovation and tradition. But did you know that AI has actually been part of the industry for a few years now?  We only know about it now. In our next article, we’ll delve into the history of AI in filmmaking.

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