By Rachel Metz, CNN Business
“Salt” resembles many sci-fi movies of the 70s and early 80s, with 35mm footage of space cargo ships and gloomy alien landscapes. But while it feels like a throwback, the way it was created hints at what could be a new frontier for making movies.
“Salt” is an original idea by Fabian Stelzer. He’s not a filmmaker, but for the past few months he’s relied heavily on AI tools to create this series of shorts, which he releases roughly every few weeks. on Twitter.
Stelzer creates images with image generation tools such as Stable Diffusion, Midjourney and DALL-E 2. It creates voices mainly using AI voice generation tools such as Synthesia or Murf. And it uses GPT-3, a text generator, to help write the script.
There is also an element of public participation. After each new episode, viewers can vote on what should happen next. Stelzer takes the results of these polls and feeds them into the plot of future films, which he can shoot faster than a traditional filmmaker since he uses these AI tools.
“In my little home office studio, I can do a 70s sci-fi movie if I want to,” Stelzer, who lives in Berlin, said in an interview with CNN Business from that studio. “And actually, I can do more than a sci-fi movie. I can think, ‘What’s the movie in this paradigm, where the execution is as simple as an idea?’
The plot is, at least for now, still unclear. As the teaser shows, it usually focuses on a distant planet, Kaplan 3, where an overabundance of what initially appears to be mineral salt leads to perilous situations, such as somehow endangering an approaching spacecraft. To make things more confusing (and intriguing), different narrative threads are also introduced and, perhaps even, some temporal anomalies.
The resulting films are beautiful, mysterious and disturbing. So far, each movie is less than two minutes, in line with Twitter’s maximum video length of two minutes and 20 seconds. Occasionally, Stelzer will Tweeter a still image and a caption that contribute to the show’s weird and supernatural mythology.
Just as AI image generators have already pissed off some artists, Stelzer’s experiment offers an early example of how AI systems could be disruptive to filmmaking. As artificial intelligence tools capable of producing images, text and voices become more powerful and accessible, it could change the way we think about idea generation and execution, challenging what means to create and to be a creator. While the follow-up to these videos is limited, some in the tech space are watching closely and expecting more.
“At the moment it’s in an embryonic stage, but I have a whole range of ideas about where I want to go,” Stelzer said.
“Shadows of Ideas and Seeds of Stories”
The idea for “Salt” grew out of Stelzer’s experiments with Midjourney, a powerful, publicly available AI system that allows users to feed a text prompt and get an image in response. The prompts he fed generated images he said “looked like a cinematic world”, depicting things like alien vegetation, a mysterious figure lurking in the shadows and a strange research station on a mining planet. laughed at. One image included what appeared to be salt crystals, he said.
“I saw this in front of me and I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t know what’s going on in this world, but I know there’s a lot of stories, interesting things,'” did he declare. “I saw narrative nuances and shadows of story ideas and seeds.”
Stelzer has a background in artificial intelligence: he co-founded a company called EyeQuant in 2009 which was sold in 2018. But he doesn’t know much about filmmaking, so he started learning with software and created a “Salt” trailer, which he tweeted on June 14 without a written introduction. (The tweet did include a salt shaker emoji, however.)
This was followed by what Stelzer calls the first episode a few days later. He has released several so far, as well as many stills and a few short film clips. Eventually, he hopes to cut the “Salt” pieces into a single feature film, he said, and he’s building a related company to make movies with AI. He said it takes about half a day to make each movie.
The vintage sci-fi vibe is partly an homage to a genre Stelzer loves and partly a necessity due to the technical limitations of AI image generators, which are still not good at producing images with high textures. loyalty. For the AI to generate the footage, it creates prompts that include phrases such as “a sci-fi research outpost near a mining cave”, “35mm footage”, “dark atmosphere and beige” and “salt crusts on the wall”.
The film’s look also suits Stelzer’s editing style as an amateur auteur. Because it uses AI to generate still images for “Salt”, Stelzer uses simple techniques to make scenes appear animated, such as shaking parts of an image so that it appears to move or perform. zoom in and out. It’s crude, but effective.
“Salt” goes to college
“Salt” has a small but charming online following. As of Wednesday, the film series’ Twitter account had about 4,500 followers. Some of them asked Stelzer to show them how he makes his films, he said.
Savannah Niles, director of product and design at Magnopus, builder of AR and VR experiences, followed “Salt” on Twitter and said she sees it as a prototype of the future of storytelling – when people actively participate and contribute to a narrative that AI helps build. She hopes that tools like those used by Stelzer can eventually make it cheaper and faster to produce movies, which today can involve hundreds of people, take years and cost millions of dollars.
“I think there will be a lot to come, which is exciting,” she said.
It is also used as a teaching aid. David Gunkel, a professor at Northern Illinois University who watched the films via Twitter, said he once used a sci-fi short titled “Sunspring” to teach his students about computational creativity. Released in 2016 and starring “Silicon Valley” actor Thomas Middleditch, it’s believed to be the first movie that used AI to write its script. Now he plans to use “Salt” in his fall semester communications technology classes, he said.
“It creates a world that you feel engaged in, immersed in,” he said. “I just want to see more of what is possible and what will come out of it.”
Stelzer said he has a “somewhat coherent” idea of what the overall narrative structure of “Salt” will be, but he’s not sure he wants to reveal it — in part because community involvement has already twisted the story in some ways. what he had expected.
“Actually, I don’t know if the story I have in mind will turn out like this,” he said. “And the charm of the experience for me, intellectually, is driven by the curiosity to see what I, as a creator and the community, can find together.”
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