Tuesday 28 March 2023

Lenovo's Queen Latifa AI ad

Queen Latifa lenovo AI ad
Actual Latifa

This is pretty wild: personalized AI ads featuring Queen Latifa talking up small businesses across North America. 

She does look a little stiff in the AI generated section, with only the head moving, but otherwise it's very impressive, and this will only get better. 

Queen Latifa AI talking about small businesses
That's not Latifa talking; it's AI leveraging her image and voice

I'm amazed how good her speech is. Sounds absolutely seamless to me, no jarring breaks between words, smoothly flowing, doesn't sound artificial at all.

Wednesday 22 March 2023

Midjourney V5: hands up!

"They can do hands now!"

Ladies and gentlemen, Midjourney can now do hands.

Renderings of Midjourney hands showing four fingers and thumb
They look... pretty good, actually. 

That didn't take long. Check out this article for more. 

Horrifically deformed hands were a hallmark of earlier Midjourney iterations, and (seemingly) major technical barrier blocking it from full fledged commercial use. I mean, aside from the rights and ethics issues. 

From a visual perspective, Midjourney's looking more impressive than ever. The artifacts and weird glitches are far fewer, the 'plastic' feel absent. Some pieces purporting to be done in Midjourney look to me like well rendered classical oil paintings. I still find it hard to believe some images are AI renderings and not originals. 

Some artists sniff that the AI art 'has no soul'. And yet, Midjourney is trained on art by MILLIONS of human souls, so I imagine some of that has filtered through, however gestalt soul mush it may be. 

I know of professional artists, ones far more talented than I (who are also anti-AI art), who have been fooled by these computer created concoctions. 

This is astonishing progress in a mere 8 months, and this is a technology still in its infancy. I keep wondering where it will be in ten years.. 

With Adobe launching their own AI renderer, Firefly, AI rendering is here to stay. 

We're about to see a whole lot more of it. 


On outgrowing franchises (Star Wars, natch)

"Is it enough that they can fly now?"

The very nature of television franchises is repetition: give them the same thing, only slightly different. Like eating the same bowl of porridge, just with different lighting. Characters do not evolve: they stay the same through the entire series. Their nature, interrelationships and circumstances shape the franchise stories, which always follow a similar pattern (or you're not getting greenlit), and everything resets at the end of every episode. 

This way, the series can be watched out of order in syndication. If the characters evolved and changed, you'd need new sets, new locations, new characters, and it would no longer be The Show anymore. Friction/conflict generates stories, and that comes from the dynamics of the cast. Someone is always the foil, for example. 

Real changes in franchises only occur when actors ask for too much money, or ratings dip and the show runners get desperate and add a cute fluffy dog to the cast. Or Ted McGinley, the Patron Saint of Shark-jumping, if you want to kill the show off quick. 

Eventually, after a couple decades of this endlessly churning story watermill, you get bored. People stop watching. Ratings dip. Cancelation strikes and the program is shipped off to the archives, or that Christian station that still airs Happy Days.

Times change, too, and what young viewers want to see now isn't what I wanted to see thirty years ago. I'd say kids are more media savvy (and saturated) than I was as a kid. I only had 3 channels plus PBS. Kids today have cable, multiple streaming services, movies, internet, YouTube, Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook (or is that just for old fogies now?), cell phones, and stuff I'm not hip enough to keep up with. 

Franchises need to grow and adapt to stay fresh; sadly, such change also risks alienating earlier generations of viewers. 

Star Wars is a toy line with a film franchise that's migrated to television, where Mando remains Mando and Grogu is eternally an insufferably cute marketing placement. I mean baby. Even the films just cycle through the same stuff, blowing up the Death Star over and over and over again, or recycling the stories of entire earlier films, just juggling the order of events. Empire or First Order, Rebellion or Resistance, nothing really changes. 

Fortunately, by the time you're on the brink of death from boredom, there's a new generation waiting in the wings to replace you; after that, marketers don't give a crap what you watch. Just toddle off and die under a tree somewhere, old timer.

Franchises like Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars I don't enjoy much anymore. It all blends together now, like some kind of gigantic genre pastiche golem. 

Took long enough! 

I tapped out of Who with the later Matt Smith era (too convoluted, characters all sound the same, and when everyone is snappy and glib, no one is), Star Trek changed too much (got dark and more like Star Wars), and Star Wars pumped out a deluge of poorly thought out content.

It's long past time I was done with Star Wars, in particular.

It is explicitly made for children. I'd say the first two films (Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back) are all ages films, but Return of the Jedi (and the Ewok merchandising placement) aimed at a much younger target audience, and the Prequels even more so. 

George Lucas has repeatedly and loudly affirmed that the films are for kids.

Maybe we should listen to the guy.

For example, in Kenobi where they escape from an Imperial base with Little Leia Lulu hidden under Obi Wan's trench coat, he looks like a character from the cartoon Bojack Horseman. I kid you not. I don't think this is political commentary on the Empire (which was an impressive logic pretzel someone tried to construct, and kudos for the effort), but if it is, it's preposterously hammy. My bet is that the writers thought little kids would find it funny, and they very well may. No doubt it's been tested with focus groups. It's Disney after all.

Yet when I was a kid, I hated shows that talked down to me. 

Some kids (and some adults!) will love Kenobi, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.

The characters in Kenobi have no more dimension than the cardboard cutouts populating The Abominable Book of Boba Fett

I am greatly enjoying shows like Severance, Better Call Saul, The Expanse, The Boys, Barry, Dark, Mindhunter, The Witcher, To the Lake, Bojack Horseman, Devs, Brooklyn Nine-nine, White Lotus, and Tales from the Loop. Many of these are bleak, but I find them much more compelling than Star Wars.

The whole franchise has been pulled along for almost 50 years based on the strength of the first two cinematic outings. Personally, I think they should have aimed at all ages rather than titling so far towards kids, but that's just me. 

I understand Taika Waititi is making the next Star Wars flick. If any director can get me to throw money away on this franchise, it's Taika or James Gunn. Both are smart, funny and have a strong creative voice. 

Jojo Rabbit showed Taika's got things to say; he comes across as someone with artistic integrity (and maybe also a creative madman; I cannot imagine trying to pitch the concept of that film and getting a green light). My fear is that Taika's sense of humour would make him a much, much better fit with Flash Gordon than Star Wars. 

The tone of Flash Gordon is almost identical to Ragnarok. They're a perfect match: both are fun, irreverent, wahoo space adventures. Pure fun.

The original directors of Solo were fired for deviating too much from the Star Wars tone (presumably making the film too funny), and I suspect Taika would make a wickedly funny film that is totally unacceptable to Disney stakeholders.

Change, just not too much change.

Could be wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok, and expect to like Love and Thunder (EDIT: I hate Love and Thunder). 

I was going to post this last July, but Andor really surprised me, so I shelved it for awhile. Andor's definitely for adults, and won't appeal to most kids. Hell, a lot of adult fans found it boring, but I loved it. That said, the whole franchise can't move in this direction: there's not enough of an audience for it, and you can't afford to alienate kids. 

But it was nice to see the franchise stretch.

Tuesday 21 March 2023

Adobe's new AI renderer: Firefly

Hummingbird on a colour background by Adobe Firefly

Step aside, Midjourney, Adobe's entering the AI renderer ring with Firefly.

The biggest thing about it? Firefly's built for commercial use. It was only trained on public domain, openly licensed images... plus Adobestock (which has hundreds of millions of professional grade images). 

Adobestock contributors will, apparently, be compensated; they're working on it.

So they say.

Adobe's going to integrate Firefly into Adobe Creative Suite all over the place. It'll be inescapable. Right  there on your interface, a click of a button away. On the most used design and illustration software in existence.

AI Renderering is going mainstream commercial, baby. 

Firefly is designed from the ground up for just that. Text, vector, raster... holy crap they are ambitious little heinzelmännchen, aren't they?

I've been wary of the AI renderers for a little while, both in regards to copyright, and the unethical sourcing of imagery, which Adobe's... solved? That and embedding it into products designers use every day is going to make it awfully tempting. 

llama rendered by adobe firefly

From their site:

  • First Adobe Firefly model will empower customers of all experience levels to generate high quality images and stunning text effects
  • Adobe launches beta of first Firefly model focused on commercial use
  • Adobe Firefly will be integrated directly into Creative Cloud, Document Cloud, Experience Cloud and Adobe Express workflows
  • Adobe will introduce “Do Not Train” tag for creators who do not want their content used in model training; tag will remain associated with content wherever it is used, published or stored
  • Adobe is planning to enable customers to extend Firefly training with their own creative collateral, generating content in their own style or brand language

Holy crap. 

Things are changing. 

Monday 6 March 2023

Artist Karine Giboulo does Covid-19 lockdown

clay figure sitting in bird cage
Some days I feel just like this...

Saw the Karine Giboulo: Housewarming show at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, tucked in across the street from the far better known ROM. The show's about the Covid-19 lockdowns, and it's a wonderfully fun, whimsical and idiosyncratic take:

"Enter a world at once familiar and uncanny. Montreal-based artist Karine Giboulo invites visitors into an immersive reimagining of her home. Brought to life by over 500 miniature polymer clay figures this is no ordinary house. The figures tell stories that unfold inside or on household furniture appliances and everyday objects.

Clay figures at a shag carpet like a beach
Just the place to wear Kramer's fragrance: The Beach

On the kitchen countertop a line of people masked and socially distanced await access to a food bank. In the bedroom the drawer of a dresser opens to reveal rows of masked factory workers hunched over industrial sewing machines. In the laundry room a forgotten iron causes a forest fire forcing animals to flee their natural habitat."

It's a faux house filled with little figurines. Certainly a productive way to cope with Covid's disruption of all our lives. 

Rather than being a downer, it made me laugh. 

Clay astronauts take selfies beside Bezos big dick rocket
Posing before the Jeff Bezos Dick rocket

Biochem clay figures disinfecting fruit in a fridge
Hi ho, hi ho, a disinfecting we will go. 

clay figure falling into a computer screen abyss
This happened to me too.

clay figures disinfecting fruit on a kitchen table
Biohazard team to kitchen table one

kitchen sink garden clay figures
It's even got the kitchen sink

rows of bottled old people in jars on shelves
A comment on all the horrors going on in the long term care facilities

Sunday 5 March 2023

Alexander Stubb vs. John Mearsheimer on the war in Ukraine

Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb recently talked about John Mearsheimer's theory that the war was provoked by the US and NATO expansion. He presents five arguments: