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Hayao Miyazaki blasts animators on NHK over AI-generated ‘zombie’ clip

Hayao Miyazaki blasted an AI-generated animation in NHK's "The One Who Never Ends," saying it could be used in a "zombie game"
Hayao Miyazaki blasted an AI-generated animation on NHK’s “The One Who Never Ends” show, saying it was an “insult to life” (NHK)

TOKYO (TR) – A stifled silence hung in the air when Nobuo Kawakami, Studio Ghibli’s producer-in-training, presented renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki with an AI-generated CGI animation.

The animation displayed by Kawakami included a sequence where humanoid characters grotesquely contort themselves as they move around by using their heads as feet.

“This is the result of teaching it to ‘move faster,’” Kawakami said. “Basically there’s nothing like sensitivity to pain, and it lacks the concept of the head being important, so it’s using the head like a foot for movement.”

The presentation was to showcase efforts by the CGI team at Dwango Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where Kawakami serves as chairman, in exploring nascent field of image processing using artificial intelligence.

Aired on Sunday as part of NHK’s documentary series “NHK Special: Hayao Miyazaki — The One Who Never Ends,” the program reveals the decorated animator and director’s journey as he takes up animated shorts following his retirement from full-length feature animations in 2013.

Miyazaki, 75, is often filmed tackling new challenges as he interacts with young up-and-coming CG animators, but the typically inspirational tone took on a distinctly different quality in the latest episode — one in which he hinted at emerging from retirement for a final feature-length animation.

“This movement is just downright disturbing, so maybe it could be used for movement in a zombie game,” Kawakami said. “Using AI like this could allow for disturbing movements that humans can’t think of.”

“This is extremely unpleasant”

Miyazaki said he was reminded of a friend with physical disabilities, who “has a hard time even just doing a high-five.”

“I can’t watch this and think it’s interesting,” Miyazaki said. “The people who make this are probably doing it without being considerate of things like pain. This is extremely unpleasant.”

“If you really want to make something disturbing, then just go off and do it, that’s all there is to it, and I absolutely don’t think this is something I’d want to connect to the work we do,” Miyazaki said. “It really feels like it’s some sort of insult toward life.”

Silence hung over the team until Kawakami said this was “ultimately an experiment, so it’s not like this is something that was going to be presented to the world,” to which Miyazaki replied, “I’m fully intending to be understanding of that, though.”

“Feels like the last day of Earth is close”

Netizens were split over the scene, with some blasting Miyazaki for prejudice by comparing his friend to a zombie-like CGI animation while others backed his harsh but true words.

Junichi Inoue, a cartoonist, tweeted according to news site J-Cast that Miyazaki is “an animator, whose origin lies in empathy. Because emotions are transferred to a place where there is nothing, even a single line is life. A series of lines become a person. That also applies to an AI-manipulated animation.”

In 2013, Miyazaki announced that he was retiring from making feature-length animations after the release of “The Wind Rises.” In the NHK program, the director suggested that he wanted to return to filmmaking, saying that he was “ready to die” during the production of a new film.

Producer Toshio Suzuki, former president of Studio Ghibli who has hosted Kawakami numerous times as a guest on his podcasts, indicated that Miyazaki has been working with CG for the new project, which would be a departure from the hand-drawn style he has used throughout his carreer.

On the program, Suzuki asked the team, “Where do you all hope to reach?” A member of the Dwango team replied, “Well, a machine that can draw pictures the same way a person does.”

The documentary then cut to Miyazaki back at his drawing board as he says, “I feel like the last day of Earth is close.”

“It’s because people are the ones losing their confidence,” Miyazaki says.