AT-X President: AI May Replace Humans in Anime Production
posted on by Jennifer Sherman
Keisuke Iwata, president of Japan's anime television network AT-X, spoke at Tokyo's Digital Hollywood University last Thursday about a possible transition to using artificial intelligence (AI) in anime. With decades of experience in the industry, Iwata said, "It is fully conceivable that anime production processes may be completely replaced by AI."
Iwata has served as a producer for many hit anime such as Pokémon, Prince of Tennis, and Shaman King. He joined the AT-X parent company TV Tokyo in 1979 when it was known as Tokyo Channel 12.
The network president said he believes there is a possibility that AI could replace manual anime production. Human creativity is traditionally seen as key for many processes used to make anime. However, advances in AI technology could change the outlook for future production. Deep learning, a branch of machine learning based on algorithms that model abstract data, is one technique that AI can use to produce detailed work that seems to be the result of human labor.
Last year, several companies such as Microsoft and the Dutch bank ING collaborated on The Next Rembrandt AI project. AI analyzed Rembrandt's 346 paintings to produce artwork (pictured left) in the 17th-century painter's style.
In the future, similar technology might be used to analyze Hideaki Anno's Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shin Godzilla, and other works, for example. AI could then create a perfect "Anno-style" imitation of his art. Iwata believes that AI may come to compete with humans in the realm of creativity.
He said, "AI is already starting to encroach on the area of creation. It seems AI will be able to support things like character design, storyboards, art design, backgrounds, sound production, and color setting. Unlike AI, humans have a 'function that can forget' and can continue to evolve with use of the brain. If [you] continue to discipline your brain, you should be able to demonstrate creativity (that won't lose to AI)."
Iwata had predicted in 2009 that "the global marketplace for Japanese animation will shrink from 2010 onward." Whether or not his prediction is proving true, the anime market is evolving. Current conditions for people working in the industry will continue to play a role in that process.
The anime industry often comes under fire for low wages, poor working conditions, and work hours beyond legal limits for animators. The Japan Animation Creators Association (JAniCA) published a report in 2015 that stated animators earned US$28,000 on average in Japan in 2013. The study also reported that entry-level animators earned US$9,200 per year in Japan. If work conditions remain unsatisfactory for Japanese animators, AI could replace jobs to get around the anime industry's apparent inability to provide for human workers.
On the other hand, Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki described a certain CG animation produced by AI last year as "an insult to life itself." Miyazaki appeared in a special on November 13 about his upcoming CG animation film Kemushi no Boro. In the television special, a CGI team at Dwango Artificial Intelligence Laboratory gave a presentation about an experiment with an animation program that learns via AI. A human model was used, and the program learned to make it move forward at a more rapid rate while ignoring concepts like 'pain.' People like Miyazaki might consider the result an unsettling, zombie-like creature. With Miyazaki no longer producing feature-length anime, it remains to be seen how the industry will respond to his views in the near future.