Netflix has been ruffling feathers for months by canceling original shows with dedicated fans and threatening to charge users for sharing their passwords. Apparently, all the negative attention was not enough to scare Netflix off of making another controversial decision, as the streaming service is now catching flak for using AI-generated art in one of its latest releases.
On Tuesday, Netflix released a new original animated short called The Dog & The Boy. The short was created by Netflix’s Anime Creators’ Base in collaboration with AI artwork company Rinna Inc. and WIT Studio, best known for Attack on Titan and Spy × Family.
In a tweet, Netflix Japan explained why the team used AI-generated art: “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 short itself is a devastating science-fiction story about a boy who is separated from his robot pooch when he has to go to war to defend his home. It’s relatively well-made, but it also seems to exist solely to test how well AI-generated art can work in anime production.
This is especially concerning because, despite Netflix’s claim that the anime industry has a labor shortage, anime artists famously earn barely enough to survive, no matter how successful the TV show they’re working on turns out to be. If there is a shortage, it likely has more to do with artists having no choice but to find other work to support themselves financially.
“Even if you move up the ladder and become a key-frame animator, you won’t earn much,” said Shingo Adachi, an animator and character designer for Sword Art Online, in an interview with Vox in 2019. “And even if your title is a huge hit, like Attack on Titan, you won’t make any of it. … It’s a structural problem in the anime industry. There’s no dream [job as an animator].”
Furthermore, AI learns to generate content by scraping images online from other artists. The AI then fails to credit those artists when it uses what it learns to generate art.
Not only are artists likely having their work stolen, but animators are being put out of work as well. That might explain why the responses to the short on Twitter have been overwhelmingly negative. In fact, Hamish Steele, creator of Netflix’s recently canceled Dead End: Paranormal Park, chimed in with a remonstration of his own on Wednesday:
Perhaps Netflix can spend a bit more of its $17 billion budget on artists in 2023 rather than finding creative new ways to make their lives more difficult.