Netflix Uses AI to Generate Anime Short Film – Reactions Follow

February 6th, 2023 Jump to Comment Section 7
Netflix Uses AI to Generate Anime Short Film – Reactions Follow

After the recent release of the short anime “The Dog and the Boy”, Netflix Japan has to deal with quite an amount of backlash on social media. In the three-minute film, Netflix uses AI to generate backgrounds. Let’s take a look at the viral discussion that followed immediately.

The short anime, directed by Ryotaro Makihara, tells a touching story of a boy and his robotic dog who were separated by dramatic events. However, it’s not the storyline everyone is talking about since the movie gained huge attention after the announcement tweet from Netflix Japan. The company mentions in it, that they “used AI image generators for the background images to help the anime industry, which has a labor shortage.” (translated by Google)

A film still showing the landscape which was created as AI background
A still from the anime with the example of a final background. Image credit: Netflix Japan

“Labor Shortage” – Netflix explains how and why they used AI

„The Dog and The Boy“ is currently available to view on YouTube, we embedded it further down below. It also includes credits that show background images from the same scene at different stages of creation. Based on these illustrations, the process goes from a hand-drawn sketch via multiple AI generations to the final result, again revised by hand. The responsible Japanese AI software company Rinna didn’t state exactly which neural network was used for the backgrounds but similar image-to-image generations are possible, for example, in Midjourney or Stable Diffusion.

In the illustration from credits we see "Step 3 - AI Generation"
The illustration of the image generation process in the end credits. Image credit: Netflix Japan

In the official news release, Netflix and the production company WIT Studio explain that this project was meant to show if the latest technology could be used to assist anime background art production.

There are many creators who are working on multiple tasks at the same time, and it is difficult to focus on one. I would like to think of it as a way to give creators time to do creative work.

Hirotsugu Tanaka, director of photography for “The Dog and The Boy”, translated by Google Translate

Among other reasons for this decision stated by Netflix, are the shortage of human resources in the animation industry, creating something unique to humans, and giving artists new tools to work with.

Huge backlash on social media

Immediately after the announcement tweet was posted, Netflix Japan faced massive backlash. The discussion went viral and is still ongoing, already reaching over 3000 replies and 7000 quoted tweets on Twitter.

Needless to say, most of the comments are negative. People argue that there is no real labor shortage in the anime industry and accuse Netflix of just not wanting to pay human artists properly. Some commenters also don’t believe in the official reasoning, writing: “Saying that you’re “freeing up time to focus on creative aspects” is a joke. Creating those backgrounds can be one of the most creatively fulfilling jobs out there.“

Another common argument point is that using AI-based art is unethical. Most AI image generators are trained on human work and create databases without seeking the permission of the original artists. Fair point, considering that even Netflix didn’t credit the artist who sketched the backgrounds in this short film, naming them “AI (+Human)”.

End credits of the film. Image credit: Netflix Japan

Many other commenters also call this approach “a lazy form of art-making” and quote the famous anime director Hayao Miyazaki who once said:

I would never wish to incorporate this technology into my work at all. I strongly feel that this is an insult to life itself.

Hayao Miyadzaki, a quote from a documentary series “NHK Special: Never-Ending Man – Hayao Miyazaki”, 2017

Other opinions and open discussion on Netflix using AI

On the other hand, in replies on Twitter, you may also find positive opinions on that matter. Some commenters think AI tools could be helpful for independent artists and animators who can’t afford large teams. Others congratulate Netflix on leading the way in implementing new technology.

Watch “The Dog and the Boy”

Featured image by Netflix Japan

It’s difficult to argue that AI assistance may possibly speed up production times and open us to new possibilities in animated films and the filmmaking industry in general. But should we use it instead of hiring real artists? Let’s discuss this! Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.


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