Netflix infuriates artists and fans with AI anime

Netflix Japan Dog and the Boy
(Image credit: Netflix Japan)

AI-generated artwork is controversial for several reasons; not least because of concerns that it could put creatives out of work. So it's easy to see why people could be upset by a major producer and streaming platform using the tech to create an anime film. But that's what Netflix has just done, and with an excuse that people just aren't buying.

Yes, Netflix Japan has announced that it used AI-generated art in a new short anime film. To avoid paying artists? Not at all. It claims the move was to "help the anime industry" amid an ongoing labour shortage. Unsurprisingly, anime artists and fans aren't impressed (for more on AI art, see our guide to how to use DALL-E 2).

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It might seem that until now AI-generated art has mainly being used to create surreal mashups that don't get much further than social media, but there's a real fear that the ever-advancing tech could end up putting creatives out of work. Perhaps the most worrying evidence of that so far is the news that Netflix Japan used AI-generated art for the backgrounds of its new short anime film Dog and the Boy.

“As an experimental effort to help the anime industry, which has a labor shortage, we used image generation technology for the background images of all three-minute video cuts!” the platform announced, sharing the short film on Twitter.

The comment has raised a more than a few eyebrows in an industry that has a reputation for poor pay and conditions. "Not something to be proud of babes," the comic writer Hamish Steele responded to Netflix's tweet. "I know a ton of animators looking for work if you guys are struggling to find them (are you looking very hard?)," someone else wrote. "You could help end the shortage by paying them more," someone else suggested, while one person claimed: "[They] mean they fired all their background artists and used an AI trained off of their work".

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To make matters worse, the person who apparently assisted the AI in designing the backgrounds doesn't even get a name check in the credits. They're credited only as '+ human'. "The anime world, should be up in arms after being reduced a token '+ human' in credits. This is a slap in face [for the] lifetime's worth of blood, sweat & tears anime artists spend honing their craft," one person tweeted.

Some described the move as "disappointing" and vowed not to watch the film. Others suggested it jarred with the concept of the film itself. "You people show me a sad story about a little robot dog with AI generated visuals that cut out humans and expect me to sympathize with it?," one person asked.

Netflix Japan Dog and the Boy

Netflix Japan says this image shows a production demo of background art by director Ryotaro Makihara (Image credit: Netflix Japan)

AI controversy aside, is the work any good? The city and mountain backgrounds are striking and painterly but a little lacking in subtlety. "Bad BGs. Please hire humans," one person wrote, so we don't think it's the end for human background artists yet. Dog and the Boy is the work of the Netflix Anime Creators Base, a hub the platform set up in Tokyo to boost its anime content, alongside the AI art company Rinna Inc and production company WIT Studio.

It seems AI art will continue to generate controversy, especially after it was revealed that generators such as Stable Diffusion can produce almost exact copies of their training images, which often includes copyrighted work without permission. For more examples of their output, see our pick of some of the weirdest art created with DALL-E 2.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.