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The Machines Keep Coming

The week of April 29th Runway AI Inc., which makes AI video generating and editing tools, held its second annual AI Film Festival in Los Angeles — its first stop before heading to New York for the week of May 6th. To give a sense for how much the event has grown since last year, Runway co-founder Cristóbal Valenzuela said last year people submitted 300 videos for festival consideration. This year they sent in 3,000.

A crowd of hundreds of filmmakers, techies, artists, venture capitalists and at least one well-known actor (Poker Face star Natasha Lyonne) gathered at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown LA Wednesday night to view the 10 finalists chosen by the festival’s judges.

The films were made with a range of AI tools and were about as wacky as you might expect. In one, a cartoon kiwi bird went on an adventure across the ocean. In another, the modern struggle with anxiety was personified by a man trapped in a house fighting with a meat monster.

The curious, excited vibe of the event was similar to last year. The videos, however, were markedly different this time around. They looked a lot less like experimental films and a lot more like, well, films.

At the time of last year’s festival, Runway was about to publicly release software that would let anyone generate a short video from a text prompt, marking the most high-profile instance of such technology outside of a research lab.

It was evident back then that many filmmakers were just starting to think about how AI might fit into their creative process — whether they were using still images generated with AI or using Runway’s software for editing. Many of the films that year were self-consciously digital. Sam Lawton’s “Expanded Childhood,” used AI image-generation software to extend childhood photos with weird, melty faced characters and sometimes-odd, sometimes-normal-seeming backgrounds. Now, the films look different, as does the industry.

Runway is one of several companies offering text-to-video software. ChatGPT maker OpenAI recently pushed the development of such technology into hyperdrive by unveiling its own effort in the space, Sora. And while Sora doesn’t yet have a release date, OpenAI has given a number of creators access to it, yielding interesting results.

AI has sped up the transition from quirky novelty to a useful tool for filmmakers. The films shown at the festival this week were captivating and strange and cool and thought-provoking.

Paul Trillo, a director and a member of the festival jury was askes, what he makes of the changes to his industry. Trillo is a filmmaker who’s skilled at using a range of AI software, and on Thursday he released the first commissioned music video with Sora to Washed Out’s song “The Hardest Part.”

He knows a lot of his peers are vociferously against the use of such tools, but, for those who are trying them out, he said it indicates they’re moving away from AI as a gimmick.

“I like experimental film,” Trillo said, “but just doing experiments is only interesting for so long.”

courtesy Rachel Metz Bloomberg News

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