Episode 203 — Will A.I. Take Our Artist Jobs?


Episode 203 — Will A.I. Take Our Artist Jobs?

Welcome to Episode 203! This was a Live Stream I recently did. This Episodes covers a topic that has come up a lot recently: Will Artificial Intelligence take away our jobs? Not so long ago, it would’ve been a paranoid question to ask. Nowadays, we’re constantly getting innovation and new technology, especially in our industry. A lot of us question if there will be a major disruption. It’s been really fascinating to see what’s been happening, but more importantly — where it’s all going.

Disruptive Innovation presents an opportunity for those of us who are willing to embrace change. If we stick to what we know, we will eventually become extinct. For a lot of animators who weren’t willing to adapt, for example, that’s exactly what happened. We should always be evolving and improving and adapting to new technology and techniques. The more you have your finger on the pulse of what’s effective, the more you can become the futurist for our industry and begin to anticipate where trends will go.

In this Podcast, Allan talks about Disruptive Innovations, like A.I., and how to look at them as a positive opportunity to learn, to evolve into becoming a futurist — a leader of the industry! — instead of falling behind.



[00:46] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[02:50] If you want to be part of these Live Streams, please follow me on either Facebook or Instagram. I will be doing these on a weekly basis.

[03:32] I have a new VFX Training Course available right now at www.VFXCourse.com. This is almost 20 hours of high end live action training. This is a massive Course and you can download all the assets! It won’t be up for much longer, so go get it now, for free!

[1:00:12] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!


[04:01] I want to cover a topic that has come up a lot recently: Will Artificial Intelligence take away our jobs? I think it’s an interesting topic to cover because there is a lot of misunderstanding with innovation. We’re constantly getting innovation and new technology, especially in our industry.

[04:44] The main thing is that there is a lot of rumors. A lot of us question if there will be a major disruption in our industry. All of a sudden Deep Face came along and we have Zuckerberg saying things we thought he’d never say. With the new tools that came out last week — that can create great photos by recreating crappy versions of cells — that makes me think about where matte painting is going to go. Bit by bit, there is a lot of innovation coming along. Even After Effects recently put out a content-aware tool for video and it’s 90% reliable. It’s interesting to see all these shifts and how they will apply for us in production. With Deep Face, will I ever need to do another video again or can I just type in the script and have the A.I. Allan do a video for me? It’s been really fascinating to see what’s been happening, but more importantly — where it’s all going.

[06:48] Over the course of my career, I’ve been seeing a lot of changes over the last 25 years. Recently, I interviewed an animator at Pixar who was originally at Disney. It was fascinating to me. You’d hear that in documentaries, but to hear someone actually talk in person about how they’ve been an animator their whole life! But then Toy Story came around and suddenly the writing was on the wall: Where is my career going to be in 5-10 years? It is all going away? Bit by bit, we see that happening more and more. If we stick to what we know, we will eventually become extinct. For a lot of animators who weren’t willing to adapt, that’s exactly what happened.

[08:02] I’ve personally talked about these things extensively on my YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/AllanFTMcKay/?sub_confirmation=1) and my Podcast. I’ve talked about rewarding those who are taking action and are willing to invest in themselves. Statistically, once we get the first job — we sit back and relax. If you’re a one-trick pony, eventually you will be behind. You should always be evolving and improving and adapting to new technology and techniques. If I were to look at the beginning of my career, if you wanted to do an explosion, you would go to something like Art Beats and composite that footage into your shot. The guys at Action VFX (www.allanmckay.com/77) are doing exactly that. At the same time, we’re seeing that we’d rather simulate something than shoot it. In general, tools have been getting good enough that you could simulate realistic footage. Which also means you aren’t limited with your actions as you were before. Some matte painters will generate amazing footage. If I were just using PFlow or Thinking Particles for everything I’m doing, eventually something like tyFlow will come around and it will do something better than the older software. It’s more of a limitation to not look at the new options.


[10:45] We’ve had so much innovation over the last few years, it’s easy to panic that 3D is going to take over the cell animation. It did! But it shifted. Then there is dynamics. These are just examples. This is a constantly evolving technology. There is a technical term: Disruptive Innovation. It’s a coin phrase for what’s been happening over the last 10 years. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to cripple the industry because you now can 3D print a car, for example. It’s more of an opportunity for those who are willing to embrace change. Uber is a good one. It disrupted the business for taxi drivers. But those who were willing to take it on early, they were able to take advantage of the change. I know very well how inefficient taxis used to be. In some ways innovations are really positive. With VFX, in 2013 all these other countries started getting opportunities. The internet globalized everything and suddenly the film industry didn’t have to be just in LA, London or New York. It might feel threatening for everyone in LA, but for everyone else, it meant an equal opportunity. So in that way, it can be really positive. It doesn’t cripple people in LA. I know so many people who left LA and opened studios in China — and they are now thriving.

[14:29] I call some of these “micro shifts” (rather than Disruptive Innovation). A good example is ZBrush. I always looked at myself as a modeler in my early career. I would keep my modeling skills up to get me by. I thought I was pretty good and I even did a tutorial for SubD’s (which were already such a shift from NERBS). Now we can sculpt these surfaces pretty easy. When ZBrush came along, you could just sculpt intuitively. It was great to have the foundation, but people who didn’t do any 3D could explore it too. It’s crippling to go to Art Station and see some 16-year old run circles around me. I had to grasp the technology behind it, while nowadays, he can just rely on his talent. There are other shifts for renderer. Several years back, there weren’t that many renderers and there was always a steep learning curve. A lot of us were limited to knowing how to code and do shading. Then Brazil for Rhino came out, Arnold came out, VRay came out and the field drastically shifted. Red Shift came out! If you look at that shift, CG used to look plastic. When we got these new renders, we could make realistic looking things. Another example is for photography. With photogrammetry, you could take a picture and capture it in its full state. I have friends who climb mountains on weekends and capture the whole thing.

[19:09] These are the new technologies and tools that are coming out all the time. Looking at ray tracing being in video games, real time rendering, etc. This is nothing new: There will always be innovations. And if we keep still for even a minute — we’re already behind! There are times when you can’t keep up with everything, but you can selectively choose what you want to invest your time in, based on what you think is going to be trending. The more you have your finger on the pulse of what’s effective, the more you can become the futurist for our industry and begin to anticipate where trends will go. Others will be followers. You could look into what people are hiring for. There will innovators and followers, and then those who will remain stagnant. They’re the ones who refuse to change. It’s important to understand that with bigger shifts (A.I. and machine learning): What happens when they start getting used in production? The places that aren’t willing to go and adapt, they will go under.


[31:52] So is A.I. and machine learning going to disrupt our industry? Yes, absolutely, a 100%! It will start replacing our jobs over time. Our jobs will be affected but not that it will steal those jobs. It will affect the lower tier jobs first (and I don’t mean that they’re crapy jobs, or anything like that): the ones that have to do with quantity of the needs and the artistry, like camera tracking or being a colorist. It’s interesting to think about. These are the jobs that will be changing and getting affected over time. 3D character animation is still artistry. That’s not to say that it won’t change, but there are still many people who work on a character.

[24:06] I always look at jobs of high demand / low supply. These are jobs that everyone is hiring for — but there aren’t enough people with those skills. Just 15 years ago, if I were to do digital fire, no one else could do that. So I could niche down and be in demand. For people who do roto, there is a lot of intelligence that goes into it. But that can be easily affected by machine learning. Camera tracking is another example. I already have friends working on building automatic realtime camera tracking on set. Bit by bit, these will be affected by new tools and that will make the job easier. The changes will affect everyone, but especially the jobs that are in high supply already.

[26:08] Guess what? This isn’t the first time this kind of stuff happened. We look at radio to tv, horse to the car, etc. The key thing is to think about how to innovate with it. Instead of thinking, “Oh, crap! My job is in jeopardy!”, you need to think, “How do I evolve?” For those of you who are listening to this right now, you’re paying attention already and investing in yourselves. Those who are paying attention — are the people who will move ahead. You aren’t saying, “I’ve learned Maya, I’m good!” Everything will change. There will be new tools and programs. I used render farms on wheels before. It felt like a being in a space station. But then, cloud rendering came out! I remember reading about it in Time Magazine. Sure enough, there soon were innovators who came out with Conductor, Zynk, Deadline. Google and Amazon are buying out these tools (which is a great sign!) Cloud rendering became a thing and those render trucks couldn’t keep up.

[29:36] For all of us, it’s about becoming early adopters and embracing the technology that comes along. We need to start to looking at it as futurists. Let’s say, when EXR’s came out, that was a bit of a shift! By looking at different technologies and what different studios are using, by reading all the articles, we can start to embrace these changes. To go back to the simple thing: How do we stay relevant? I used to do 3DS Max, but then decided to switch to Maya because I could do more with it. I dropped 3DS Max. But then Particle Flow came out, so I started messing with Max again. I knew it was going to work really well. Guys were working on it with Ironman. With that, it positioned me as a figure of authority. I have to say: I don’t do software wars! But when I get asked about my students’ work and can it be done in Maya, my answer is, “You can but I wouldn’t suggest it.” Tools grow and evolve and you want to keep your finger on the pulse. When FumeFX came out, I thought it was amazing. Suddenly, ILM was paying attention and I gave two talks at ILM on FumeFX (which was so intimidating). But people wanted to hear about it! It’s interesting to see that and anticipate it. There are all these tools coming out but instead of being scared, how can we adapt to them?

[33:41] To maybe make a good metaphor / example, I remember this guy at Orphanage was having a welcome-back party. He’d been in Brazil for a few months. He came back to this big party but there was this new guy who was freelancing. Suddenly, the two guys had a confrontation. When I see people who are better than me, there are different ways to look at it: I could either be intimidated or I could think about what I could learn from that person. I never see the other person as a threat. I look at that as an opportunity to learn. What can I gain from that situation?


[35:51] To recap:

Yes, machine learning and A.I. is coming in and it’s going to disrupt what we’re doing. We should be looking at it as a new opportunity! The quicker we adopt these changes, the more we’re able to become a futurist — and the better we can position ourselves as the go-to person. Just because technology comes in, it just means that our jobs get easier too. For all of us it means that there are new things on the horizon. The sooner we embrace that, the more relevant we remain. But it all comes down to the needs that are out there. Bit by bit, you can figure out where the industry is going. I remember looking at Real Engine. It was getting better and better. Same goes for VR. So embrace the technology and take advantage of it. One of my friends shot a tutorial on how to use Deep Face. He got contacted by Forbes right away, and he could’ve leveraged that. If Deep Face were to become legit, you could be the new authority. So it’s just another shift.

[39:32] So embrace this change! Jump on these trends. Make most of them! Let go of the things that make you stagnant. I hope this gets you excited! This is a chance to start doing some really cool stuff. So look at all the new tech that’s coming out and figure out how to use it. Instead of being threatened, you should be excited! This is a call to action for you: This is chance for you to become the obvious expert that everyone is going to go to!



So this was a Live Stream after which we did a Q&A Session. There were some really cool questions that came up. To join these Live Streams in the future, please feel free to follow me on Facebook or Instagram. Also, please share this if you can.

So I’m going to jump into Q&A. I do want to hear what you, guys, have to say. I will be doing more of these Live Streams.

[43:41] Question / Comment: Creativity is only in the power of the human brain.

Allan: I agree. However, this is where consciousness comes in. You’ve got A.I. now being able to create artwork from scratch. It’s interesting to see actual paintings being made. Before, only humans were able to create a masterpiece. What makes great art is the human experience, of course. It’s one of those things we could speculate on what makes humans human. With art, we’re trying to recreate that human experience.

[44:50] Question: How would machine learning improve our workflows?

Allan: That’s an interesting one! For me, I swear by learning to script. Most people get intimidated by scripting. I’m actually going to release another training series and part of that will be about my talking about scripting. (Please subscribe to my YouTube Channel to access that Thanos based training: https://www.youtube.com/user/AllanFTMcKay/?sub_confirmation=1). Most of us think that we are artists and we don’t need to know math. I don’t know math! But I learned to code because it’s a necessity.

In my Mentorship Course, I explain the steps and then we do them again with coding. Then we randomize it all. The point is that you can approach coding from a viewpoint of an artist. If you look at every tool in Maya or Houdini, all it is — is a command. It’s speaking to the program. Every 3D program is designed to accommodate your needs. But what if a program was built just for film (and it doesn’t accommodate for games or architecture). So what if you create a program that accommodates your specific needs? That changes everything!

We look at programing as something that doesn’t apply to us. But it does! These programs are so broad. By the end of each movie, I have so many custom made buttons! I started changing the way I do things: I would lock down 1-2 shots with the director and then I would roll out a tool for the 20-30 other shots we’re doing. I hit a button, it simulates everything, composites it, renders, etc. — and from there I can review it all in QuickTime. I was proud of being able to get of lot of the shots finalized by version 2 or 3 after I would get feedback on version 1. If I have to do something more than once, I would build a tool for it. Suddenly, I had all this extra time to put into the artistry, as opposed to just hitting buttons. All of it can be automated. We’re already doing that!

But we could do even better: Having a render wrangler that’s A.I. would make you so rich! You would get bought out by Google so fast! I’m always creating tools that would speed up my workflow. That means that all my time goes on creative stuff. All the time that’s being wasted goes out of the window. That’s just looking at A.I. on a simple level: how our tools can be smarter and protect us from human error. The workflow is going to change everything!

[52:10] Question / Comment: I assume A.I. will transform artists who are currently specialized into more generalists.

Allan: Think of 3D that way! Most of what we do, we used these tools to create art. The first time I had to build a render, I felt like I was cheating. Before I drew everything. Now the computer is doing it all. That’s how felt! The tools are already doing the work for us. If anything, it means that we can get to where we need to quicker. Already, A.I. is removing render errors and low sampling flickers, does noise removal and all that stuff. It’s become more intuitive to what we’re doing. It’s drastically changing our field. Now, maybe it’ll be easier or faster.

[54:03] Question / Comment: Learning is never ending. So many times, you learn a software — and the next one is already out!

Allan: You’re absolutely right! There is too much to learn. You can’t watch every VFX video on YouTube. But knowledge is a huge advantage for all of us. I spend so much on courses, and I’m always reading. I’m learning anything that’s going to help me get ahead, be it about business or communication, or confidence even. I have a video on YouTube called How to Learn CG in VFX: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmXuZbYRaY0 It isn’t about how to get started — but how to learn. It’s about just in time — not just in case. Having stakes and compressed timeline makes it urgent. These are the things that will make us better. Identification is the first place. From there, you can look at the next step: learning what’s important. And only then you go all in! Those are the key steps.

Don’t learn everything out there: It’s not going to get ahead. Figure out what you need to learn! Learn what you need! Every movie right now needs building distructions. (My class www.VFXcourse.com covers exactly that!) Do what there is a high demand for!

I hope you enjoyed this Episode! Please share it around, it would mean the world to me! I have a lot of similar videos coming up.

If you want to create similar live action sequences that we talked about in this Episode, please feel free to do my free course: www.VFXCourse.com.

I will be back next week. Until then —

Rock on!


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