Netflix Invents “Labor Shortage” as Excuse for AI-Generated Anime Backgrounds
The AI apocalypse inches closer.
First everyone and their mother was posting AI art renditions of their faces all over social media; now we’ve got straight-up AI demons running amok like something out of William Gibson’s cyberpunk opus Neuromancer. AI music is on the rise, and fan fiction forums are crawling with AI written smut. SMUT I TELL YOU! Is nothing sacred anymore? Some things were only meant to be shaped with human hands. Dreamed up with human thoughts.
Art should be made by artists, not spooky computers who may try to destroy us all in the end! Surely people will understand we are approaching a technological singularity from whose dark precipice we will never be able to return? Surely people will all agree that we must stop before it’s too late?
You would think, but not when there’s money involved.
Neflix has found a new way to cut costs and workers at the same time
How are they doing it? AI Art.
Let’s go to the animated scene of the crime, shall we? Netflix and anime production company WIT studio recently released a short entitled The Dog and The Boy. Seems innocent enough? It’s about a boy and his robot dog that—WAIT ROBOT DOG? Oh god now they want us to SYMPATHIZE with the AI. Firstm it was Wall-E. Now, THIS. IT’S ALL GOING ACCORDING TO PLAN.
The flames of outrage were stoked in the hearts of many who watched the short, particularly because of this screen shot. If you look at it closely, you can see that the “Background Designer” is credited as AI (+ human).
And that’s just a little dystopic, isn’t it?
Crediting an AI first and then reducing the NAMED PERSON to the moniker of “human” is unsettling. It feels like something out of The Matrix, right? Almost as if … an AI wrote it.
While it’s highly unlikely that an AI wrote the credits (though totally probable considering everything that text-based AI ChatGTP is capable of) it certainly feels like it does. There’s something so blatantly disrespectful about not crediting living, breathing human beings for their work that it almost feels detached, machinelike. But maybe I’m not giving the machines enough credit. After all, they tend to be more polite than the beings in whose image they were created: human beings. Something distinctly human is afoot here. Something distinctly capitalistic …
“There’s an animator shortage, we swear!”—Netflix
LIES. LIES AND SLANDER. That was the excuse that Netflix dreamed up to justify the use of AI art in The Dog and The Boy. The decision to use AI was spun as an “experimental initiative to help ease the anime industry’s labor shortage” but that isn’t the case here. Netflix didn’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts. They did it because the animation industry, namely the Japanese anime industry, is quite comfortable with abusing artists. And WIT, the studio behind The Dog and The Boy is one of the worst offenders of all.
WIT Studio: Broke AF
WIT studio is going broke, and it ain’t pretty. They are reportedly 886 million Yen (approximately $6,764,000) in debt, and suffered a 40.3% decline in revenue over the last fiscal year. And what do companies do when they’re losing money? Overwork, underpay, and fire people. Hell, companies even do this when they’re NOT losing money.
A few years ago, WIT studio was profitable. After all, it was churning out one of the most popular anime series of all time: Attack On Titan. And how did it manage to do that? By burning out all of its employees. In an interview leading up to the 2017 Anime Expo, WIT studio higher-ups George Wada and Norihiro Naganuma described the working conditions of their company, and they’re abysmal. The pair compared the studio to a “battlefield” where “one comrade falls after another”. They went on to say that the staple lunch of a WIT Studio employee is an “energy bar,” which allows them to “magically revive” and continue working. The pair contribute the success of the studio to “good food” (I don’t think energy bars count) and “good sleep”. The pair only allows employees because QUOTE “they’ll die otherwise”.
So the mental picture I’m getting here is a sweltering little room lit by round-the-clock fluorescent light where employees scarf down energy bars and get the bare minimum amount of sleep they need to NOT DIE. And apparently, people are dropping like flies. I wonder why?
It’s not just WIT Studio that’s the problem
According to an article from the New York Times, the anime business is booming, and animators are quitting because of it. The pandemic caused a massive uptick in anime’s profitability, and the industry is worth around $24 billion dollars. The animators themselves hardly get a dime. Despite working nearly round-the-clock hours, top animators make anywhere from a measly $1400 to $3800 a month. And those are the LUCKY ONES. At the bottom of the animation rungs, animators are making as little as $200 A MONTH.
Because of the deplorable hours and paltry paychecks, many animators are quitting their jobs in order to pursue employment that will allow them enough time and money to start families. While the average pay for a mid to upper-level animator has increased in recent years, most are only able to afford to live in apartments the size of a luxurious broom closet. American animators on the other hand make around $65,000 to $70,000 a year, around twice the amount of a “well-paid” animator in Japan. Many Japanese animators are heartbroken to have to leave an industry they love, but the financial realities of that industry simply won’t allow them to stay.
So yes, Netflix. In some sense, there is an animation labor shortage. You know why? BECAUSE NOT EVERY ANIMATOR CAN WORK 90+ HOURS A WEEK WHILE EATING ENERGY BARS FOR EVERY MEAL AND RENTING A SHOEBOX-SIZED APARTMENT THEY DON’T EVEN SLEEP IN ANYWAY. Maybe there wouldn’t be a labor shortage if some of those conditions change. But despite many animators leaving the industry, there are plenty that are willing to stay. If you want to keep it that way, maybe put their names in the credits instead of a robot? Just a suggestion.
(featured image: WIT Studio)
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