The Flintstones, a cartoon about life in the Stone Age, has just surpassed The Jetsons, a cartoon about life in the distant future, when it comes to technological innovation. Researchers have successfully trained artificial intelligence to generate new clips of the prehistoric animated series based on nothing but random text descriptions of what’s happening in a scene.
A team of researchers from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, trained an AI by feeding it over 25,000 three-second clips of the cartoon, which hasn’t seen any new episodes in over 50 years. Most AI experiments as of late have involved generating freaky images based on what was learned, but this time the researchers included detailed descriptions and annotations of what appeared, and what was happening, in every clip the AI ingested.
As a result, the new Flintstones animations generated by the Allen Institute’s AI aren’t just random collages of chopped up cartoons. Instead, the researchers are able to feed the AI a very specific description of a scene, and it outputs a short clip featuring the characters, props, and locations specified—most of the time.
The quality of the animations that are generated is awful at best; no one’s going to be fooled into thinking these are the Hanna-Barbera originals. But seeing an AI generate a cartoon, featuring iconic characters, all by itself, is a fascinating sneak peek at how some films and TV shows might be made one day.
There will always be a strong case for using real directors, actors, and other talented craftspeople to make movies and shows the traditional way—lots of artists still paint with brushes, right? But when it comes to churning out entertainment for kids who are far less discerning about what’s flashing across their eyeballs, there’s little doubt that AI-generated cartoons are an inevitability. And before you start with the “back in my day” complaints, let’s not pretend that The Flintstones cartoons were masterpieces of animation.