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Will AI Replace Animators in Japan

The rise of artificial intelligence has been crazy over the last couple of months, now punctuated with the release of something called ChatGPT. The use of AI in everything from copywriting to preventing spam to building new businesses.

Many people have expressed concern about AI. Particularly regarding the data AI is trained on and how it could be stealing from artists.

Many people have pointed out that the "data" that is fed into these AI machines is made by real people - many of whom have not "opted in" to letting an AI learn from their work.

At our conventions AI-generated art has never technically been allowed in our artist alley under even our existing rules, which require the originality of the creations. "Artist space is intended for home-made creations or artwork. Work that is not created by the table owner (manufactured plushies, buttons, etc, that you didn't make either yourself or in collaboration with another) can not be sold at an artist space."

Here's an example of AI-generated art.

An uber wealthy nerd in anime with a long brown ponytail and green eyes.

This image was made with Midjourney with the prompt "An uber wealthy nerd in anime with a long brown ponytail and green eyes."

We have taken our AI-created artwork ban a step further and we have banned unethical AI artwork with a new rule, stating "Exhibitors and artists may not sell art that was wholly generated by an AI program unless the AI program is based entirely on open-source or free artwork or based on artwork you created."

Our artist alley exists to support artists and creators, and we think that people who create art using AI without disclosing it are taking advantage of our anime convention attendees who want to support artists.

There are, however, many AI artwork tools that don't infringe on other creators. Photoshop plugins that help to smooth and stylize/cartoonize images are often based on neural networks, which are a type of AI architecture. But these plugins are not trained on data from artists, but rather are generated mathmatically. If they use any kind of artwork without permission, it is banned from our events, because our events have always been about supporting the creative arts - and you can't do that without supporting the creators themselves.


This is a more "realistic" photo generated by AI.

This is a more "realistic" photo generated by AI.

But use and development of AI is not slowing down, which leads to the question, will anime eventually be generated by AI?

Will animators in Japan be replaced?

I've been to Japan and I've seen the corrections of expert animators on the line drawings made by novice animators. They expertly correct dimensions and shapes from all angles. Will a computer program eventually be able to be trained on that animators style, and be able to do the work for them?

Animators are already one of the lowest paid professions. Some animators are paid mere pennies per frame drawn. Numerous people have stated the system as it is is unsustainable and sometimes unfair to animators. (You can support Japanese animators directly from this link).

There leaves us the question - who owns the copyright for that animator's style used in various work? Imagine: a company could choose to import all of its anime work from a certain famous animator into an AI model architecture and then use that architecture to clone the artist's style. Right now, the artist has little protection if they gave away the rights to their work.

I think some kind of compulsory royalty system should exist when an AI generates something based on another person's work. Perhaps it could be, theoretically, possible to incorporate into AI architecture a system that determines reference art, and properly attributes and pays those artists a royalty.

We've already seen game developers making art with AI. Games like No Man's Sky and Red Dead Redemption 2 have used AI to help generate their environments and atmospheric details. However, it is important to note that even with the assistance of AI, human artists and designers are still very much involved in the creative process of these games. Right now, AI acts more as a tool to aid and streamline the process rather than completely replace human creators. It's a similar concept to using Photoshop plugins - the program can do some of the work for you, but ultimately it's up to the artist to utilize the tool and bring their own unique vision and creativity to the piece.

In the case of AI-generated anime, it's unlikely that human animators will be completely replaced by machines in the immediate future. While AI can be trained to mimic certain styles and techniques, it doesn't have the same level of intuition and creativity that a human artist does. But we don't know what will happen in 10 years.

What you can do about it.

You can buy from real artists in the artist alley of our upcoming conventions. If you want to support animators in Japan, you can donate to the animator dormitory project or back an animator directly on Kickstarter or Patreon. I'll update this article later with any links to direct projects from our friends to support.

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