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news • 9 November 2023

The Street Finds Its Own Use For Things

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Written by Saint Walker

Dean of Industry Engagement

“The street finds its own uses for things.” (William Gibson, Burning Chrome, 1982)

Whilst it’s good to look ahead and be prepared it’s also important to focus on the here and now. I’m always speaking to industry, and they aren’t talking about AI tech, they’re talking Unreal, Excel, Shotgrid and Nuke skills. These are what industry need more of right now, so that’s where students need to focus their energy. Regardless, it will still be increasingly  important to also have an awareness of AI tech. 

Steadily and surely all these programs (Unreal, Excel, Shotgrid, Nuke, ToonBoom, Houdini) that students use are being augmented by AI, so students will be engaging with AI through their studies by default. Take The Foundry’s Nuke software as an example. It uses Machine Learning/AI where the software learns what you are trying to do and assists you.

The Foundry explains that Machine Learning (ML) helps the artist “get to the final creative faster by removing drudge work.” Nuke’s Copycat plug-in allows artists to train neural networks (a way of processing data similar to the human brain) to create custom effects for their own image-based tasks. In simplistic terms, you feed the software images that train it to know what results you are after. As they state, “Nuke has a full suite of tools to make machine learning accessible, empowering artist and algorithm to work in harmony”.

So as AI is probably coming to you through your studies anyway, you might as well gain an awareness of it now.

Alvin Toffler in his book 'Future Shock' has written about how we are all suffering from information overload, society is undergoing radical structural change and uncertainty; and the need to constantly re-skill. Too right, yes? Sounds familiar? 

Well, he wrote that in 1970. So, this new revolutionary technology is nothing we can’t handle. We are always undergoing huge change. Toffler’s generation would be freaked out about how Word Processing was going to take away jobs. It did, but here we are in a world where everyone has access to digital text, predictive text, Word docs, and more jobs in writing than ever before. The street finds its own use for things.

This notion of AI assisting, or co-piloting, your creativity is increasingly important. We’ve always been suspicious and wary of new technologies. Films about technologies that work and help mankind don’t generally make great Hollywood blockbusters or computer games. Imagine if Arnie the Terminator helped us build cars, buildings, affordable healthcare and international travel. No-one would watch that movie.

But what about Escape? In my last blog I talked about our new AI Working group and mentioned a few ways we are already using AI.

I asked our Dean of Interactive and Real Time, Simon Fenton, for his take on AI. He said, “It can be scary, but it is also amazing. The growth and capabilities of AI are nothing short of astonishing. At Escape Studios we pride ourselves on our industry connections and producing studio-ready talent, and as usual there is a huge amount of hyperbole surrounding this newest of developments. For us it’s about understanding these are changes that can’t go back in the box and we like the term 'Assisted AI' which infers that we use it as a tool and as part of the process. It’s we humans who have the ideas and we humans who utilise the tools to create a body of work”.

Simon also notes “In Games, AI will in the future become part of our creative process. Far from less jobs it will mean smaller studios being able to create more, not just the large AAA studios”.

I always liked the idea that the original derivation of the word 'Cyber' comes from the Greek for 'skilled in steering’ (κυβερνητικός) because that sense of steering will be an important part of our future skill as artists. We will steer this technology via a multitude of tools. We choose the direction we want the AI to go, we filter, we select, we curate, and we will create amazing new images.

(This is the third and final blog about AI in this series. Escape students should keep an eye on the Escape Studios Study Skills page for more developments)