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Artificial Intelligence: Taming The Beast

Well, this was an interesting one. Potting Shed’s first job created solely using A.I. (more specifically, Midjourney). As I type this, I can almost hear the disenfranchised screams of "WTF! Potting Shed is selling its soul! PS claims that they are all about the craft of design!", but hold fire for a minute because I can promise you there WAS a reason for this foray into new technologies.

I'm sure many of you have tinkered with all manner of A.I. applications and it's pretty easy to create jaw-dropping images with basic prompts and very little direction. What we were interested in, however, was how to bend the medium to our will in a very specific and controlled way. To create not just a single image, but a whole series of coherent images that tell a directed narrative.

Anova was presenting at an international workplace conference as keynote speakers on the future of mental health in the workplace. Their speech was incredible; it read like a blockbuster Hollywood script and so, quite rightly, they felt an insipid click-through PowerPoint presentation was just not going to cut the mustard.

The script itself described two potential dystopian workplace futures and the overall title was ‘The Black Mirror of workplace wellbeing’, which really got us thinking about our own creative Black Mirror and the challenges that A.I. presents to our industry. Therefore, the only fitting response to the brief was to design the entire presentation using only Artificial Intelligence.

The narrative required us to create two human avatars and then place them in numerous scenes as they slowly descend into their own personal hells, reflecting key moments in Anova's excellent script. And so began a process of hundreds of iterations of each frame to both maintain a consistent avatar, control their movements and place them in a scene that fit the somewhat elaborate and at times abstract story.

Of course A.I. is evolving all the time (and at an ever-more terrifying pace), but at the time of production learning and implementing this process was extremely time consuming and, to be perfectly honest, quite inexact. As creatives at Potting Shed, we are obsessed by details and making sure everything is pixel perfect and exactly where we want it to be. This is NOT A.I.'s strong point (yet) and while refining the prompting process can lead to many happy visual accidents, inevitably there will always be some compromise to the creative vision. For example, A.I. will routinely add an extra finger or facial hair here or there, and typography is a total disaster as it scrapes together a billion image references to create your Midjourney ‘masterpiece’.

What it highlighted, in the end, was that incredible as the advancements in A.I. are, they are simply another tool in the creative’s toolbox and like every other tool they have their strengths and their limitations. The trick is to make them part of your process where relevant; not your entire process. 

In the same way that photography initially terrified artists used to more traditional mediums who decried it as the ‘death of painting’, A.I. has sent shockwaves through the creative industry, but at the heart of it all is the central premise that if the message and the idea isn't strong, then it doesn't matter if you use a super-computer or a pencil to create the work - the result will simply be visual noise that serves little or no function. The message must always win out over the medium.

All that aside, Potting Shed is constantly driven to learn and adapt and it was a blast creating both Katy and Dave... and then watch their lives fall apart.

Author Al Mitchell