In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Netflix Japan shared Dog and Boy, a three-minute animated short directed by Ryotaro Makihara, and claimed that the project used AI-generated art in response to labor shortage in the anime industry.“
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 streaming platform wrote in the tweet.
Netflix worked with WIT Studio, the production company that co-animated the popular series Spy x Family, alongside Japanese AI firm Rinna to generate the images.
But do be warned before you press the play button, Dog and Boy is quite the emotional gut-punch for a three-minute video, which follows the story of a robotic dog and his owner, who are separated by some unfortunate circumstances but are rewarded with a bittersweet reunion at the end.
A touching story aside, the anime drew instant outrage from those who condemn Netflix for choosing AI over paying human artists. The controversy is further exacerbated by the fact that in the credits scene, AI is credited as the co-creators of the background art and the music, while its conductor remained nameless and was simply referred to as “human.”
As AI generative tools become more powerful and accessible, many creators are unnerved by its potential to devalue their work and cause job loss, particularly when their creations are fed as datasets to algorithms. In January, the artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan and Karla Ortiz filed a class-action lawsuit claiming the machine learning systems infringe copyrights.
The irony of Netflix Japan claiming that AI was used to fill a supposed labor gap hits the nail on the head amongst the creative industry's ongoing contentions with AI, especially when the said labor shortage Netflix mentioned is in reality a result of unsustainable labor practices and poor wages that plague the majority of Japan’s animation studios.
Even an AI infrastructure engineer offered to refer animators who are looking for work to the streaming giant:
For context, In 2017, an illustrator died while catching a short nap in between work, allegedly of stress-induced heart attack. In 2021, an article by The New York Times reported that animators in Japan was earning as little as US$200 a month, with top animators reportedly earning just US$1,400-$3,800 a month, forcing many to seek alternative career paths. It is interesting to note that in 2021, the anime industry itself boomed during the pandemic and hit an all-time revenue high of US$18.4 billion.