TWOAI

From wherever we stand, none of us can ignore the vast impact of AI on artistic practice and the creative industries. Data as Culture invited one of the leading voices in the field, artist, animator, author, curator, and video essayist Alan Warburton, to create a new AI-generated work for ODI Summit 2023. His response, which premiered at the Summit, stunned everyone who watched it. Using technology unavailable before October 2023, the film is deeply insightful and humorous - prepare to make the phrase “Wonder-Panic” a part of your AI vocabulary. Settle down, grab the popcorn, and watch it for yourself below.

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Alan Warburton The Wizard of AI 2023. AI-generated film, 19 minutes, 19 seconds.

AI Tools used: Runway Gen 2 to generate 16:9 ‘AI Collaborator’ video clips; Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and DALLE 3 to generate still images; Pika to generate 3 second fish loops; TikTok for detective speech synthesis; HeyGen to generate AI talking detective head; Adobe Photoshop AI to expand images; Topaz Gigapixel AI to upscale images, and Adobe After Effects to put everything together.

Absolute genius and full of perspective we all need to become comfortable with, one way or another.
- Steven Da Costa
Chairman, Link Digital

About ‘The Wizard of AI’

‘The Wizard of AI’ is a twenty minute, 99% AI-generated visual essay in which a hoodie-wearing faceless ‘AI Collaborator’, voiced by the artist, is our critically incisive guide. Defining this particular epoch as one of “Wonder-Panic”, Alan Warburton takes us on a speeding visual rollercoaster of flawlessly executed visual styles, encompassing histories of comic books, animation VFX and film.

As we journey from the AI candy ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ of new aesthetic or artistic reach, to the lows of recognising the exploitation, erasure and potential redundancy of creative practice, he offers non-judgemental probing and provocative perspectives from both the ‘wonder’ and the ‘panic’ camp reactions. We are introduced to the doom loops of inbuilt bias these systems have been designed to perpetuate, and the complexities of hallucinating a future based on AI models’ creatively suspect backward-compatibility with the past.

Alan Warburton says:

“Generative AI is something that will have a deep and permanent effect on the ‘culture industries’ - by which I mean curators, art institutions, art schools, design firms and so on. It’s not another trend, it’s a tectonic shift in the currency and culture of images that we can’t reduce to ‘deepfakes’ or ‘post-truth’ but to a relationship between humans and images. It’s an epistemological break!”

The tools are inherently problematic, and directly contribute to real conditions of professional and socioeconomic adversity that affect me directly.

“Yet instead of boycotting, I’m playing in the sandbox and seeing what the tools tell me. I do this to demystify and educate, but also because no matter how succulent and seductive an AI image is, the real juice is in analysis, criticism and reflection.”

Man in focus wearing a VR headset with the landscape behind him barren and decayed
Still from 'The Wizard of AI' by Alan Warburton

The making of the ‘The Wizard of AI’

‘The Wizard of AI’ is approximately 99% AI-generated. Alan produced a few thousand images and video clips, using multiple generative AI tools, including Midjourney, DALL-E 3, Stable Diffusion, Runway, Pika and HeyGen. Of those few thousand, hundreds made it into his final film.

Alan says:

“The animation was done over an intense three-week period where the updates to the tools I was using were significant - historic, even. Videos that I generated for inclusion on the 20th October were generated again in early November (just days before the Summit), with improvements in quality analogous to the kinds of improvements we saw in digital cameras between 1995 and 2000. This meant that as I developed the film I was utilising the most advanced generative AI tools, within hours or minutes of them becoming available.”

I hope that I strike enough of a balance between wonder and panic that I can represent good actors on both sides
Alan Warburton, artist ‘The Wizard of AI’

Commissioned by Data as Culture at the ODI for ODI Summit 2023

Credits

  • Written, directed, voiced, animated and soundtracked by Alan Warburton
  • Back to The Futch animation by Ewan Jones Morris
  • Special thanks to Joanne McNeil, Tom Pounder, Hannah Redler-Hawes and Omar
  • Wonderpanic Theme by Sonny Baker
  • Research Assistance from Fabian Mosele
  • Steve Ballmer Genie by Christian Schlaeffer
  • Pretty fishes by UglyStupidHonest
  • In Memoriam images by Alex Czetwertynski

Thanks to everyone who helped with concept development, even if your work was lost in the edit: John Butler, Samine Joudat, Ben Dosage, @dzennifer, Ben Dawson, Alejandro González Romo, @symbios.wiki, Ugur Engin Deniz.

Note: This work is intended to be a non-commercial work of critical/educational/satirical commentary. Under UK law, this is referred to as ‘fair dealing’ and protects the work from claims of copyright. Find out more here.

Clips attribution

  • What is the Internet? (1995) by The Today Show
  • Microsoft Clippy (1997 onwards) web compilation
  • CNN Internet Report (1993) by CNN News
  • Napster Report (2000) by CNN Headline News
  • Tech Events in 2023 Be Like (2023), Verge, featuring footage from META
  • Zane Lowe meets Kanye West (2015), BBC Radio 1
  • Unit 9 AI Workflow (2023) Unit9 Ltd
  • Thanos Snap, Avengers: Endgame (2019) Marvel Studios, LLC
  • for current AI artist clips, please see onscreen attribution

Link to PDF transcript

About Alan Warburton

Alan Warburton is a London-based researcher, artist, animator, filmmaker, writer, curator and critic. He is currently researching digital images and labour for a PhD at Birkbeck’s Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology. Alan’s work — particularly his video essays —have become central to critical discourse around computer graphics and digital image cultures of the 21st century. https://alanwarburton.co.uk