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The Current State of AI

By November 1, 2023No Comments

My work has always strived to merge the realms of storytelling and technology. Along the way I’ve worked with well-known directors, developed ideas for beloved longrunning cinematic universes and games, and shot globally recognized commercial spots. I’ve taken on every aspect of what the entertainment industry calls the “development pipeline”: from screenwriting and storyboarding to character and environment design, 2D and 3D rendering, developing business strategies, and even web and mobile game design. And now It feels as though everything has come full circle and has empowered me to take the next step in my career.

I’ve always firmly believed that we’re not in the content business but rather in the emotions business. Joy, sadness, love, anger, happiness, etc. The emotions we feel connect us to each other and the stories we tell.

When I used to draw by hand, speedpaint or create ZBrush sculpts, I would often craft a backstory for my characters in my mind. For example, I would imagine a dragon slayer with a scar on her face or a vest with a ripped sleeve from a battle with a mystical beast. This exercise pushed me to wonder how they carried themself with pride despite the facial flaw or fear when the beast struck. This created a foundation for the creative decisions I made while designing my characters because they felt believable and relatable. Their emotions would ride through their backstories and grab hold of the story I was telling and the person I am telling it to.

This has always been a part of my creative process. And so stories are a huge part of my life. I read voraciously. I collect toys, I watch all the movies, I play all the games. I am a geek, I am a nerd, and I am ambitious.

When I went off to school, I initially hesitated to attend art school and instead chose Computer Science & Engineering, but with a path that blended creativity and technology. That path helped me to understand how narrative storytelling and technology can seamlessly work together to create magic as long as the tech operates as an invisible helper and protector. I knew that I wanted to live and thrive at this intersection. So upon graduation I said to myself and my friends “Hell that’s going to be my job”.
And now, 20 years later, working with Hollywood studios, gaming companies, brands, and TV networks in delivering their properties to international audiences, I can say that I have played an integral part in shaping pop culture, whether it was through large stunts, interactive experiences, experiential immersive live-streams, holograms, and more.

PROCESS (aka this is where I get nerdy)
Throughout my creative journey, I have always utilized a range of tools to bring my ideas to life. From the traditional pencil and paper to digital tools like Photoshop, ZBrush, Mudbox, Maya, and now Midjourney and Gen-2, I have constantly explored and experimented with how these tools work across all of the different mediums to express my vision. With each tool, I have honed my skills to more effectively and efficiently turn my thoughts into tangible creations.

Each tool I use has its own unique strengths that allow me to explore specific elements of narrative storytelling in a more nuanced way. For example, when I sketch with pencil and paper, I can quickly jot down different costume ideas for a character, exploring how different elements like colors, shapes, and textures can come together to tell a story about who they are. With digital tools like Photoshop, I can experiment with lighting and color grading to create different moods and atmospheres for a scene. In 3D modeling software like ZBrush or Maya, I can create detailed props and weapons that not only look visually striking but also contribute to the worldbuilding and lore of the story

The exercise of key-framing or storyboarding a sequence can be incredibly useful in the creative process. It allows you to visually map out the beats of a scene, and helps to ensure that the pacing and storytelling are working effectively. By combining storyboarding with 3D previz tools, you can take things even further, and start to mentally block out an animation sequence in a way that feels both immersive and realistic. You can plan camera angles and movements, set the tone and rhythm. All of these elements contribute to creating cohesive and compelling stories that draw people in and keep them engaged throughout.

Frustration is a great motivator. And I had been frustrated knowing that so many ideas and stories remain solely in someone’s mind, never to see the light of day due to the lack of available and accessible ways to breathe life into them. But now, we are finally at a point where any idea has a real chance of coming to life due to processes becoming more simplified and optimized. The production time frame has also been condensed, as it used to take months to produce just 10 images for a first pitch, but now a two-hour window at night is enough to create numerous proofs of concept that can be used as teasers to gauge interest and further build upon. This visual output becomes a living and breathing story that can be shared with everyone involved, serving as a type of playbook for the entire creative team, allowing for each person’s creative contribution.

By utilizing these tools, we take a simple thought of “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and turn it into something tangible. To move rapidly beyond the “what if” stage right into decision making. It helps us to gauge earlier if an idea is worth pursuing further, identifying the pieces of a story that don’t work, and quickly tweak, adjust, or completely revise a sequence until it feels just right. The conversation between talented creators and creative tools makes the magic happen.

Moreover, it’s not just about exploring new possibilities – we’re also addressing a larger business model issue. With these tools, we can shift from a purely business-to-business model to a business-to-community relationship with our fans. This new generation of creator tools, platforms, and distribution endpoints offers me the opportunity to not only be creative, but to also expose audiences to new creators and their IPs. This was not possible before due to the presence of gatekeepers who controlled access to the market. Now we are creating our own market from the ground-up.

Now there’s the chance to do even more. We’re at the point where we have figured out that the industry’s lagging behind, so we might as well take it upon ourselves to put that little spin on it, and take the initiative to give it a fresh perspective. This could mean redefining formats, such as choosing between a video magazine on Instagram and YouTube for shorter video versus a premium hardcover book for long-form storytelling. We can also explore new channels of distribution, collaboration, monetization, and fundraising. Until now, creators have been confined to a box that was created in the 1920s, but now we have the freedom to move in between layers and degrees. We can redefine the distribution model and bypass gatekeepers to reach our audiences directly. This is particularly exciting because it’s shifting the way we think about storytelling, and there are so many different ways to experience it. We are building from the ground up for the next generation of creators and fans.

As stated previously, as storytellers we are in the emotions business. By associating memories with visuals that trigger emotions, we have a higher chance of moving people from engaged audiences and into passionate fans. Scientific studies and white paper research aside, we all know this to be true: when we love a story, we feel it deeply and want to be a part of it and the community around it.

I’ve been lending my creative talent, know-how and expertise to big brands for over 20 years. Whether it is to “put asses in seats” to launch the new John Wick or Avatar, to announce season 7 of Game of Thrones, or to launch a new pop culture phenomenon like Stranger Things. And what an amazing journey it has been to not only get to work on some of the most beloved franchises in the world, but to also see up close the joy and fun experienced by their fan bases.

So I’m excited to extend this same creative drive towards my own characters and worlds. My ultimate goal is to leave a mark in pop culture by hopefully inspiring people in the same way that movies like Jurassic Park or Star Wars have inspired me. This is an ambitious aspiration, but I believe it is time to give it a try with my own characters and worlds. If my hands could talk, they would tell stories of the many tools I have used throughout my career. These are tools that have given me a path to express all the dreams and the visions – even the nightmares – of my fervid imagination. And although my hands have gone from pencils to Wacom tablets to keyboards, I always land in the same place: what matters are the stories I want to share.

There is a Toni Morrison quote that says This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” – This quote has always deeply resonated with me because I truly believe that art and technology, when properly combined, can have a healing power. Art has the ability to inspire hope, provide direction, and serve as a compass for navigating through difficult times. As a creative individual, I see it as my duty to do my part in taking away some of the gloomy darkness and contribute to a more hopeful and positive outlook.

Stay inspired and stay connected.