AI in the VFX industry: my new research on the implications of artificial intelligence on creative labor

ai in the visual effects industry

As I am about to wrap up my first monograph based on my Ph.D. dissertation, I am moving the first steps into my next research project. My plan for the next five years is to focus on the interplay between creative labor and artificial intelligence. The idea for this research developed from my post-doctoral experience at the Digital Democracies Institute, the research centre based at Simon Fraser University and led by the Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media, Wendy Chun.

At the DDI, I had the honour and pleasure of learning from leading scholars in critical data studies about AI’s social, ethical and politico-economic implications. In parallel, I continued working on my own research on creative labour practices and the political economy of the so-called creative industries. The idea for new research project emerged from the confluence of these two research interests.

Automating creativity?

At the DDI, I am part of a team of leading scholars in the field of critical data studies. In combination with my previous interests in media industries and production studies, this experience convinced me about the necessity and urgency of exploring the social, aesthetic, and politico-economic implications of generative AI on creative production. Hence, my newly launched postdoctoral research project investigates what happens to creative labour as algorithms make headway in creative workflows. In particular, I will focus on the impact of AI-powered automation on the visual effects (VFX) and postproduction industry.

Why the VFX industry?

Technology has always played a key role in the VFX industry. The advent of computer graphics technology and digital editing in the 1970s revolutionized postproduction techniques. The shift from celluloid to bits that unfolded in the following two decades determined a drastic cut in editing costs and expanded the creative possibilities available to editors and directors. Digitalization also supported the transition from vertically integrated movie studios to flexible networks of specialized firms, thus making Hollywood the prototypical organizational model of post-Fordism. Today, AI applications are employed throughout the entire postproduction pipeline. These applications promise to streamline the work of VFX artists by automating repetitive yet complex tasks such as green screen keying, de-noising, and rotoscoping. The impact of these technologies on visual artists and the VFX industry in general is, however, still understudied.

Why Vancouver?

Vancouver is a unique location to study the VFX industry. A favourable exchange rate, generous tax credits, and the same time zone as Los Angeles have all contributed to making Vancouver the third most important VFX capital worldwide, after Hollywood and London. The city hosts 150 VFX, animation, and postproduction studios employing more than 8,000 people and is home to 3 world-renowned VFX schools.

Things done so far

  • Secured funding 🎉 : I am extremely happy to report that I was awarded an SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship for 2024 and 2025.
  • Ethics approval ✅ : SFU approved my research protocol on January 19th.
  • ICA 2024 panel 💬 : I got one panel accepted to ICA 2024 in the Media Industries Study group. In June I will meet a bunch of brilliant scholars in Australia to discuss the implications of AI in different sectors of the creative economy. The panellists are:
    • Pei-Sze Chow: Assistant Professor of Media and Culture at the University of Amsterdam, Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Amsterdam, and Director of the Artificial Intelligence & Cultural Production research group at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis. Her work as a film scholar centres on culture-political issues of agency, representation, and diversity in the screen industries of small nations.
    • Aleena Chia: Lecturer in Media, Communications and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. She uses ethnographic and textual approaches to research creative practices in game development and computational wellness.
    • Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo (SAMMUS): black feminist rapper, beatmaker, and scholar from Ithaca, NY, located on the traditional lands of the Cayuga Nation. Her family roots lie in Côte D’Ivoire and the Congo. She holds a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University and is the David S. Josephson assistant professor in music at Brown University.
    • Dal Yong Jin: Distinguished Professor at Simon Fraser University. After working as a journalist for many years, he completed his Ph.D. in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois in 2005. Jin’s major research and teaching interests are on digital platforms and digital games, globalization and media, transnational cultural studies, and the political economy of media and culture.
    • Joanne Kuai: lecturer and a PhD Candidate at Karlstad University, Sweden, with a research project on Journalism as an Institution in the Age of AI. She is a member of the Ander Center for Research on News and Opinion in the Digital Era and an affiliated PhD at the Graduate School of Asian Studies at Lund University. Her research interests centre around data and AI for media, computational journalism, and the social implications of automation and algorithms.

2024 roadmap

Here is my plan for the research in 2024. While plans can change, below is a list of goals I hope to achieve this year.

  • Literature review of AI in the visual effects industry: I will conduct a literature review on automation and AI in the VFX and postproduction industry to identify current trends and frame the debate around AI within a broad historical context. I will share my readings and the archival materials publicly using Zotero (I am still experimenting with the Zotero WordPress integration, so apologies if collections won’t always be accessible). You can access the collections here.
  • Taking online VFX and postproduction courses: As a VFX newbie, I believe it’s essential to familiarize myself with VFX technologies and industry jargon. Therefore, I am taking some courses on LinkedIn Learning (formerly known as on postproduction and visual effects. The list of courses I will take is available here (you need to log into LinkedIn to access the playlist).
  • Complete a draft of the historical analysis on automation in the VFX industry by the end of the year.

Cover image generated with AI in Padlet.

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