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Academy Award nominee speaks of 'profound' AI threat

Co-founder of Kilkenny animation studio Cartoon Saloon, Tomm Moore, has spoken about the existential threat artificial intelligence poses to creative industries.

Moore, a filmmaker and animator, directed Academy Award nominated movies Wolfwalkers, Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells.

"It's more profound than we realise. It's going to affect every part of society," Moore told Katie Hannon on Upfront: The Podcast.

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AI tools like DeepMotion have already had an impact on the animation industry with major studios keen to embrace the benefits they offer.

"There was always a huge amount of manpower in (making) a Pixar movie. It was all humans making those movies. But using the computers and AI has stripped out a lot of those jobs."

Cartoon Saloon employs up to 300 people during a busy production period, and Moore is well aware of the potential dilemmas posed by new technologies.

"There's definitely an ongoing conversation as we watch technology develop. Will people still be willing to pay what it costs to make something by hand?

"The question is, can handcrafted art exist in a capitalist society where the main incentive for anything is to do it faster and cheaper. And you can't compete with an AI as a human artist."

Cartoon Saloon was founded in Kilkenny in 1999 by Moore, Paul Young, and Nora Twomey.

In an era when most movie animation was trending towards computer-generated imagery (CGI), Cartoon Saloon made its name with a traditional hand-drawn style.

Their debut feature, The Secret of Kells, came out of nowhere to secure an Academy Award nomination in 2009.

"It was a massive endorsement of all that work we put in. We didn't expect it. It really was a massive gift from the universe. It made us commit to keeping going."

It's that spirit that Moore hopes can help the studio thrive in the face of the emergence of AI.

"I think our response to it will be the same as our response back in the late 90s to CGI. And that is, just leaning into what's special about the human touch," Moore says.

"The first Toy Story was so impressive when I started college in 1995. I look at it now and it looks pretty ropey and dated. Whereas hand-drawn films like Bambi, which are 70 years old or something, they still look great. I do think there's something timeless about hand-drawn stuff.

"AI will be totally impossible to ignore and will profoundly change a lot of things. But I do think it will also create a new appreciation for handmade stuff."

Moore is currently in the process of developing Cartoon Saloon’s sixth feature film.

It will be inspired by a donation made by the Choctaw Nation to the people of Ireland during the famine in 1847.

"I'm cooking up a story and having a great time diving into Native American folklore and spirituality and doing sweat lodges and all kinds of mad plant medicine to tap into that world. It's great."

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