Unless you’ve been in a deep digital detox, you may have noticed the absolute explosion in Artificial Intelligence chatter lately. So I felt compelled to chime in on my take regarding the effects that AI will have on my industry – animation. As an animator, I’ve kept a close eye on the latest developments and feel like I have a unique and perhaps unexpectedly positive view on the subject. However, before we look to the future it’s important to analyze how we got here.

The evolution of animation has been closely intertwined with technological advancements, ushering in new eras of creativity and visual storytelling. Here are a few examples of how animation has evolved over time and has been essentially catapulted into a thriving industry:

2D to 3D Animation: The early days of animation were dominated by 2D techniques, with hand-drawn images creating the illusion of movement. However, the late 20th century marked a significant shift with the introduction of 3D animation. Pixar’s groundbreaking film “Toy Story” in 1995 was a turning point, using computer-generated imagery (CGI) to bring three-dimensional characters and environments to life. This shift required not only advanced rendering techniques but also the development of new software and hardware to handle the complex calculations necessary for realistic 3D animation.

Increase in CPU and GPU Processing Power: The animation process relies heavily on computational power. As CPU and GPU technologies advanced, animators gained the ability to create more complex and visually stunning scenes. Rendering times, which used to take hours or even days for a single frame, were drastically reduced. This acceleration allowed for greater experimentation and refinement of animation sequences, enabling filmmakers to iterate more rapidly and produce higher quality content.

Motion Capture Technology: Motion capture (mo-cap) revolutionized animation by bridging the gap between real-world movements and digital characters. Early motion capture techniques were often limited and required extensive manual cleanup, but over time, advancements in sensors, cameras, and software improved the accuracy and efficiency of capturing human motion. This technology enabled animators to create more realistic and nuanced character movements, enhancing the overall believability of animated films and games.

Finally we’ve reached the point of Generative AI for animation, which involves AI algorithms, particularly neural networks, that have been employed to create and manipulate animation elements. These algorithms can learn from existing animation data and generate new sequences, characters, and environments. So why are people up in arms about this new technology and how can we accurately predict what the future as an animator will look like?

Let’s talk about the negative effect that everyone is afraid of: unemployment. No doubt, there are some vulnerable skill sets, as is the case with most advancements in technology. I believe that bigger studios will realize that they can generate more concept art using a tool like Midjourney than they could have previously imagined at the hands of “Prompt Engineers”, rather than hire a team of artists. We also will see a decline in roles for environment artists with the advent of tools like Infinigen and Promethean.ai, which can generate 3D modeled environments using text prompts. Matte painting is also becoming more obsolete with a tool from Blockade Labs, which can generate full scale hdri maps with ease. Another tool that will threaten a lot of texture artists comes from withpoly.com, which can generate pretty amazing pbr materials using, you guessed it, text prompts. 

Now that we’ve addressed one of the most notable downsides that AI will have on animation, let’s explore the positive effects of AI.  As scary as it can be to have your livelihood at risk, I think it’s important to always look at the silver lining in these situations. Although we now have tools that have the potential to minimize the value of certain skill sets, they also have the ability to 10x the quality and efficiency of those expertise. For example, a concept artist can now use generative AI tools to get their work within 10-20% of the finished product within minutes, allowing them to fine tune and detail the most important aspects of the piece. Artists have always feared that blank white canvas when trying to come up with ideas. Now we can use ChatGPT to come up with an infinite amount of concepts to explore. In-betweening, the process of adding keyframes between poses, has always been a tedious aspect of character animation. With Cascadeur, you can block out a backflip and the software will interpolate the keyframes, calculate the physics and generate the motion with physical weight and overlap. There’s even a company called Wonder Dynamics that can take footage shot on a camera and replace it with a decently composited character in the scene.

The reason that I’m optimistic about the future of animation and AI is that I see it as another tool in the quiver for professionals, as well as a mechanism for lowering the barrier to entry for beginners. Although there will be layoffs in big studios, there will be hundreds more small studios popping up that have small teams of artists that have embraced AI as a tool. AI will not only streamline the animation process, but it will also open doors to innovative and unexpected creative outcomes. Generative AI tools allow animators to explore styles, effects, and visual possibilities that were previously unattainable or time-consuming to achieve manually. As advanced and impressive as these tools are today, they’re not perfect. They will most likely always need a human eye to fine tune the results and breathe life into the characters.

The history of animation is a testament to the symbiotic relationship between technology and creativity. From the transition from 2D to 3D animation, the exponential increase in computer processing power, the advent of motion capture, to the integration of generative AI, each milestone has redefined the possibilities of visual storytelling, pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved in the world of animation. As technology continues to evolve, so too will the art and techniques of animation, promising a future filled with even more captivating and imaginative experiences. The question isn’t whether AI will take our jobs. The question is how will AI democratize creativity and allow us to push the boundaries on the quality and quantity of the content we want to produce. And that question should be asked by all creators if they want to stay ahead of the game and not be left behind. 


If you’re looking for a animation crafted by skilled creators, harnessing the power of AI to create stunning and professional videos, get in contact with our team 

Written By: Steve Cook, Creative Director @ Fog Coast Productions