Who Said Death is Beautiful Who Said Death is Beautiful

This year’s Annecy animation festival is getting some heat for accepting a Japanese feature into its competition that uses generative AI software as part of its production process. The festival has released a statement defending the inclusion of the film in its programming.

The 68-minute film, Who Said Death is Beautiful?, directed by Ryo Nakajima, will debut in the festival’s Midnight Specials selection.

The trailer for the film can be seen below:

The filmmakers describe the techniques used in the making of the film on their website. These techniques include AI, VR, motion capture, and virtual camera shooting with an iPad. The AI software of choice was Stable Diffusion, but from the making-of video posted by the filmmakers, it seems to have been used primarily for lighting after the core cg imagery had been created. Those who speak Japanese can better understand this explanation of the film’s production process:

While there doesn’t seem to be any generative AI imagery included in the film, there has nevertheless been a lot of online discussion about the ethics of platforming a product like Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion, which has been hit with several class-action lawsuits, including this one from visual arts community, and whose product is created through the theft and plagiarism of other people’s work.

A representative argument against Annecy’s acceptance of the film can be found in this Linkedin post.

The Annecy festival’s artistic director Marcel Jean released a statement comparing AI to earlier debates about the festival’s inclusion of computer animation and pixilation in its programming line-up. The explanation does not, however, address the crux of the issue, which is that Stable Diffusion is an unlawfully-created product that exists only through the theft of other people’s work.

Here is Jean’s statement in full:

We have always declared that the Annecy Festival should provide “a global overview of animation film.” This year, we have received dozens of submissions using artificial intelligence in one way or another. We felt it was important to select a few of these works so that discussion and debate about artificial intelligence focused on specific, tangible applications rather than being limited to the theoretical or hypothetical. Above all, we believe that the presence of creators using these tools is vital for the discussion is [sic] to exist.

A festival such as Annecy is not, and never has been, based upon a dogmatic approach. 45 years ago, several festivalgoers and commentators were outraged with Zbigniew Rybczyński’s film Tango won the Grand Prix, claiming that it wasn’t animation! Today, this film is considered one of animation film’s great masterpieces. Some 20 years later, controversy erupted over films using 3d software. Today, it’s AI that’s the new bugbear. It may well be that this technological breakthrough won’t be anything like its predecessors. We need to ask questions, debates are crucial, but believe that in order to have intelligent debates we need to learn more about these works. This is the reason they have been shortlisted.