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Dir. Sharma or How I Learned to Stop Complaining & Love the AI-Bomb

Back in mid 2022, Midjourney content had just started getting good enough to be shared online solely for its artistic and aesthetic merit. These images were different from those generated by Stable Diffusion models of DALL-E and appeared to resemble digital art more than AI-generated art. They  weren’t exactly realistic (especially the laughably-bad hands) but caught my attention for the interesting styles and of course, the convenience.

 

The first wave of responses from the creative community was not a very friendly one. Most artists blamed the tech (maybe rightly so) for plagiarising prominent artists’ styles, and for the highly destructive impact AI Generated Images could possibly have on the careers of artists.

 

However, in just a few months, many artists began to befriend the tech instead of fearing its impact and started to create innovative new art through tools like Midjourney. A particular series that caught my attention was “Sad Superheroes in Kerala” by Arun Nura, released in Dec 2022 (source link). It was fresh, innovative, seemed to make a statement, and above all – combined the power of Midjourney with the power of a creative mind’s vision. Do note how these images still had those nightmare-inducing hands.

 


Rolling up my sleeves & diving in

 

My journey as a creator had always been aided heavily by tech innovations. When my first band Jekyll & Hyde (check us out here) broke up and I had no musicians to help me continue to write music & sing songs, I took up doing all the instruments myself and started producing it too with the help of new tech, and ended up starting my own Electronic/Garage act, Man on the Moon (my Spotify page). When I wanted to take up illustration as a hobby, a simple iPad with the Procreate app was all I needed to get going and create digital art for my Instagram.

 

Tech had always enabled my growth as a creative and there was no way I was going to miss the AI train. A sentiment that truly resonated with me was “AI will not take your job, but people using AI will”. By Jan 2023, I knew I had to dive into the world of AI Generated images and learn an exciting new craft. This led me to signing up for Midjourney and using all my young-learning-bones to figure out how to run it on Discord.

 

First encounters & baby steps

 

Around April 2023, Momo Media was invited by one of the biggest international tech players today to pitch for an introductory campaign for a new sub-line of products they planned to release soon. Part of the mandate was to create a visual identity for this new sub-line, and we tested out a bunch of routes for it.

 

One of those ideas was to combine natural and organic textures found in nature with the interesting materials and designs of the products in an exciting eye-catching juxtaposition. What a perfect place to put my new AI skills to use.

 

I spent days approaching Midjourney from a million different angles trying to get it to create what I was seeing in my mind’s eye, only to realize that prompt-writing for AI is quite a skill on its own. My first few attempts didn’t yield much of use, but a steep learning curve led to some interesting discoveries and even more interesting images.

 

One of the ideas I wanted to create a mock for was a single earbud embedded inside an orange slice, following our team’s vision. The results were…interesting.

 


Another was the mockup of a smartwatch placed inside a watermelon jelly dessert. Again, I found this wasn’t quite the piece of cake I expected it to be.

 

 

Maybe I wasn’t being detailed enough? How about that rabbit-wearing-earphones idea we had?

 

 

Sigh. No.

 

Eventually, we decided to go with the tried & tested approach of onboarding a great graphic designer and creating mockups with them instead. Incorporating AI into a regular workflow wasn’t as easy as I’d thought. However, the potential was there, and my curiosity was piqued. I wanted more.

 

The exponential learning curve

 

In May 2023, we were approached by the amazing folks Talented to produce a series of films for their clients Farmley, featuring the one and only Rahul Dravid. As the Director for the project, I wanted to bring my A-game to the table & make sure my vision comes across to everyone in the team clearly.

 

A film Director’s biggest objective is to achieve in real life that which they see in their minds, with the help of a team of experts around them. Communicating this vision has traditionally been done through references, lengthy conversations, iterations of drafts & mockups, just to get as close to the vision as realistically possible. If only there was a way to save everyone’s time & effort by enabling the Director themselves to communicate this vision more effectively. Duh. AI Generated Images.

 

I fired up Midjourney and got to work building my Treatment Note. This time, the results were brilliant.

 

The characters, the production design, the costumes, the vibe, the palette, all were so easily fleshed out with iterations between me and Midjourney. It was almost like having a super productive conversation with a super fast and super talented sketch artist who could not only take your words and turn them into art, but also add some peculiar nuances and spark ideas. I was able to create almost the entire reference-set for my treatment off of Midjourney. This was a tangible, measurable impact on my process and turnaround time.

 

Here's some of the interactions I had:

 

 

 

 


 


All these ended up on my treatment deck, were loved by the agency and the client, and finally became very close references for the entire crew. Through consistent prompts and a keen eye for detail, I was able to create a tangible feel for the film before even any other crew member had even gotten involved.


Check out the film here to see how exactly all this came to life a few weeks later –

 



 

The new & improved updated workflow! (now with 25% less fat!)

 

Since that project, every single project I’ve undertaken has had me rushing to Midjourney to help me visualize my ideas and flesh them out to the best of my abilities before I take them out to the world. These AI-generated images have become the backbone of my treatment notes, and now I don’t spend as much time having to scour the internet to find that one image I saw somewhere once to use as a reference. Instead, I just get the AI to create what I want to create in the first place. I’m sure there’s a case to be explored here about where originality comes from and whether this is a good method to get to it, but that’s another blog for another day!

 

Having said that, I do still believe that building your library of references as a Director is imperative to help you even develop that muscle of discovering your vision and your taste and your style. AI Generated Images are not yet at a stage where they could alone be enough to help fuel your creative expression. I still find that the best way to make your vision clear to yourself and those around you is to create a prototype film using rough footage or storyboard frames. However, now I tend to hand my AI Generated Images to my Storyboard Artists as a starting point, helping both of us out. Even with other projects that I’ve spoken about , I’ve been able to get a conversation going with different departments using AI as a starting point.

 

This is only the tip of the iceberg

 

It’s no secret that AI tech is growing at an incredible exponential pace. OpenAI’s Sora has not even reached a public-access stage yet and is already creating insanely good-looking videos through text prompts. Maybe in just a few months this workflow will get updated yet again to accommodate AI generated videos too!

 

Not just that, but the crafty peeps at Momo have already used AI tech to clean up noisy audio files, for set extensions in post-production, for generating insights, for creating blurbs, and what not. This is clearly just the beginning of AI-fueled Creativity.

 

I hope you take the plunge into AI soon too, and instead of being a nay-sayer to AI and its amazing capabilities for creatives, you too include it in your creative workflow and supercharge your creativity.

 

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