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Alife Alife

Jake Nelson’s solo-animated music video for Slowdive’s single “Alife” is available online, and today’s Cartoon Brew Pick.

Illustrations in shades of grey accompany a story about technology surpassing the capabilities of its creators, manifested in the video as an enormous robot rising to face its hooded summoner. The black and white color palette fits well with the video’s opposing themes like nature vs. technology or man vs. machine.

Nelson is an accomplished animator and vfx professional whose credits include work on Tár and The Grand Budapest Hotel and directing the 2018 short film The Backward Astronomer, which screened at more than two dozen festivals and won awards at the Palm Springs Int’l Animation Festival, Victoria Film Festival, Florida Film Festival, and the Los Angeles Animation Festival.

For the “Alife” video, no label or producers were involved, leaving full creative control with the filmmaker and the band. According to Nelson:

It’s not often you get a creative project without the oversight of a brand or producer. The demands and overhead of the structure often runs counter to the artists’ vision. This was pure artistic vision where the songwriter’s feeling was the most important driving factor.

In the spirit of “Alife’s” narrative, and to facilitate making the video entirely on his own, some of the backgrounds were created with help from the image-generating software Midjourney. Nelson told Cartoon Brew:

I realize that’s controversial, but I will stand by my decision. It allowed me to be nimble and maintain the necessary separation from the craft. The time between idea and actualization was very short. The creative freedom afforded to me by remaining autonomous is a testament to how powerful an artist can be by using all the tools at their disposal. Also, my use of AI is relevant to the core concept of the video. The story is about a creation transcending the power of the creator.

There was still plenty of work left for the filmmaker, as he did everything except provide the music for the video. He explained the advantages of working alone, saying:

Since I filled all the roles of production, the vision wasn’t even diluted to a team. I did everything from storyboard > model > rig > animation > texture > lighting > backgrounds > editing myself, which allowed me to develop the concept and experiment as I worked without having to worry about efficiency of resources.

More broadly, Nelson falls in the AI as a tool camp and doesn’t believe the technology can replicate human creativity or ingenuity.

I don’t think artists will lose their jobs. I still haven’t seen AI with a soul. AI is good at making “perfect” (boring) faces and concepts lacking in sophistication or good taste. I like the fact that to stand apart from AI, artists will now need to portray people with flaws and asymmetrical faces in environments of subtle textures.

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Jamie Lang

Jamie Lang is the Editor-in-Chief of Cartoon Brew.

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