Experimental film gets atmospheric with ‘24,483 Dreams of Death’
AI-generated work debuts at Slamdance
Filmmaker Chris Peters asks if artificial intelligence can be creative, and from the look of his experimental entry in this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, the answer is affirmative.
Peters’ “24,483 Dreams of Death” is a haunting, atmospheric work that gives audiences a glimpse into the real world as seen by AI.
“I have something called a deep, convolutional general adversarial network, which is a data structure that simulates the neurons in a human brain that watches a movie and creates patterns,” Peters said.
The AI looks for patterns and what audiences see in the film are the frames the AI has created, he said.
“I wrote the code for interpreting the visuals, which I had to keep tweaking and rerunning for days, because it took that long to find out if I had made a mistake,” Peters said.
The filmmaker then used a separate AI called the GPT-2 to analyze 3 million lines of open-sourced poetry.
“In a single 18-hour period the machine created a pastiche of 1,623,811 words of poetry, based on what it read,” he said. “Because the open-sourced poetry it looked at was written in the 19th century, the pastiche has a 19th-century vibe.”
The AI-generated poetry, which is read by French-American actress Naomi Hélène-Jeanne Petit, was paired with the images of the patterns the network created after watching Mario Brava’s horror film “La Maschera del Demonio,” according to Peters.
Released in 1960 in the United States as “Black Sunday,” “La Maschera del Demonio” follows the schemes of a vengeful witch and her servant who return from the grave bent on possessing the body of a look-alike descendant.
“Starting as a blank slate, the AI received its entire knowledge of our visual world from this Mario Bava classic,” Peters said. “The thing I was interested in exploring is the idea of seeing the world through an alien mind.”
The film worked well because of the contrasts between light and dark, Peters said.
“Mario was a painter before he became a director, so he understood darks and light, which we call ‘chiaroscuro’ in the art world,” he said. “It was good for the machine, because it could pick up on the dark and lights.”
Peters ended up with more than 90 minutes of patterns, and paired things down to create his 15-minute film.
“I ran the thing for six days on the whole movie, and some of the patterns didn’t come out, because the computation failed,” he said. “So I cut those, and I also cut out some of the goop and garbage that came out.”
Peters also selected eight works of poetry that fit with what he saw in the patterns.
“This thing generated a lot of garbage poetry, including one segment that repeated the word death 25 times,” he said with a laugh. “I had to read a lot of bad poetry and find the ones that matched my aesthetic and represented what I wanted to say to the world.”
The film’s finishing touches is the score by award-winning composer Michael Herbert.
“He’s helped me with a lot of my movies,” Peters said. “He’s virtually a co-producer, because he’s the one who tells me the truth if I ask him if something I do is stupid.”
“24,483 Dreams of Death” can be considered a continuation to Peters’ 2020 short film “Vertigo A.I.,” which utilized Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller, “Vertigo.”
“I do think that computational filmmaking is a brand new genre, but what I’ve done is so crude like the Wright Flyer that took off at Kitty Hawk in 1903,” he said. “But going forward the machine will get better. I think the scary thing for some people is that maybe in 30 years you will be able to turn on your TV and tell it you like counterfeiting movies that star Scarlett Johansson and Humphrey Bogart, and it will write a show in two seconds and render it in half a second and put in on just for you on that night.”
Where: Slamdance Film Festival
When: Through Feb. 24
Cost: Festival passes are $10
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