Backflip Backflip

Russia-born Germany-based animator Nikita Diakur’s short film Backflip has made its online debut on the The New York Times.

In the cg short, a digital avatar of Diakur himself attempts to learn how to do a backflip. It has screened at numerous major festivals including Annecy, Clermont-Ferrand, Toronto, and Ottawa.

Back in 2019, we previewed the short and Diakur explained to us:

The film is based on Youtube’s self-improvement culture. You can find typical videos from this culture by searching “how to backflip” or “backflip progression” — there are literally hundreds of videos of people trying to learn. The film will be about a digital avatar trying to learn a backflip through machine learning by studying humans performing it on Youtube. The film is about the ambition of humans and computers and a reflection upon where we stand at the moment.

What Diakur didn’t tell us at the time is that the idea for the film came from his own personal attempts to do a backflip in real life. The filmmaker tried and tried to nail the maneuver, but eventually stubbed his toe and that was the end of his gymnastics career.

“I tried to shake it off, but my mind shifted,” he recently told The New York Times. “The confidence was gone.”

With Backflip, Diakur attempted another ambitious trick. Using machine learning, his avatar would learn how to do a backflip by watching videos of humans pulling off the feat of athleticism. Digital Nikita also learned from its own mistakes and failed attempts.

The real Diakur explained:

I find it both magical and scary — magical because the AI resembles us so much, scary because the technology seems to have no ceiling. This short documentary is about ambition. It’s about fear and lack thereof. It’s about control versus uncertainty, rationality versus emotion and the desire to excel. It’s about technology, its acceleration and the acceptance of failure. It’s about letting go.

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Jamie Lang

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