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Dubai embraces AI to disrupt the film sector

Dubai AI film Shutterstock
AI can help filmmakers to create cutting-edge special effects in record time and at lower costs, but there are also concerns about its implications for the film industry
  • AI Film Festival launched in Dubai
  • Tech can transform dubbing industry
  • Changes could mean more jobs

Are robot writers and CGI actors about to steal our jobs? That’s one of the core fears at the centre of Hollywood’s largest strike by actors and writers in over 60 years.

From ChatGPT generating scripts and AI-generated actors replacing extras in crowd scenes, to computers automatically editing scenes and creating stunning visual effects (VFX) in record time and at lower costs, Tinseltown’s concern that the technology could disrupt and displace jobs is a critical business consideration.

Eight thousand miles away from the most profitable movie industry in the world, the Gulf’s nascent film sector is viewing the cinematic potential of AI with much more optimism.

Dubai this week launched the AI Film Festival – the first event of its kind in the region.

It will feature an international competition, film screenings, panel discussions with AI experts and filmmakers, and workshops discussing the use of AI in film production.

Dr Magd Zoorob, senior vice president of future technologies at festival organised Expo City Dubai, believes that next-generation films will take advantage of highly accessible AI tools to create cutting-edge motion pictures.

The event “recognises that AI can enhance the understanding, emotional depth and imagination that artists exclusively possess,” he says.

The Middle East movies and entertainment market size was valued at $1.86 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 8.5 percent from 2021 to 2028.

AI tools also offer “more potential” to help amateurs and enthusiasts access the industry more cost effectively, Zoorob adds.

Growing appetite for Arab films

Perhaps already ahead of the game, Pinscreen – a Californian company that works on generative AI for VFX – has raised $400,000 in funding from AngelsDeck Global Ventures, a private investor network in Dubai.

Pinscreen says its technology expedites the movie production process for digital face replacement and reenactment by 500 times and reduces costs by 40 times compared to traditional VFX methods.

The company, founded by Professor Hao Li, an associate professor at the Mohammed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence in Abu Dhabi, plans to use the funding to expand its team and further automate its technology.

Its high-quality dubbing technology has already been tested with industry giants such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

“For the regional industry, this means that local films can be efficiently dubbed into English, allowing them to reach a broader global audience,” says Igor Kaloshin, CEO and co-founder of AngelsDeck Global Ventures.

“Similarly, English-language content can be seamlessly dubbed into Arabic, potentially increasing local sales and expanding coverage.”

Tom Hanks Dubai AI film festivalInfoBuff2000
An AI film starring Tom Hanks (pictured in Saudi Arabia) stole some of the spotlight at the Venice Film Festival last year

Demand for non-English digital originals grew from 5.9 percent of the total demand for streaming original shows in the first quarter of 2020 to 8.5 percent at the end of 2022, according to data from Parrot Analytics.

Netflix last year announced a slew of productions from the Arab world, including shows and films from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan and Egypt. 

The US streaming giant said in a statement that it will continue to expand its investment in the region, bringing authentic stories and talent from the Arab world to the global entertainment industry.

Kaloshin says Pinscreen’s technology will “rearrange traditional processes” in the dubbing industry but is unlikely to put people out of jobs.

“While it may reduce the need for certain repetitive tasks such as routine voice dubbing, it’s important to note that traditional dubbers remain an essential part of visual dubbing, especially when their performance needs to be video-recorded professionally.”

AI tools are also likely to create new roles such as AI supervisors responsible for training and overseeing such systems, ensuring the quality and accuracy of the final product, he adds. 

Dubai AI film festivalSupplied
Kuwaiti filmmaker Faisal Al-Duwaisan
More jobs – but not for actors?

Kuwaiti filmmaker Faisal Al-Duwaisan agrees that AI will create more jobs for animators, VFX artists, researchers, proofreaders and non-native screenwriters.

He also expects AI to help research and produce films faster.

The technology’s ability to instantly analyse vast amounts of data, including books and movies, could help compare scripts with previous works in the same genre to help explore ideas, he says. 

AI tools can use the voices and faces of famous actors without the need to cast them. It stole some of the spotlight at the Venice Film Festival last year with the premiere of Here starring a ‘de-aged version’ of Hollywood legend Tom Hanks.

The actor reportedly said he believed an AI version of himself could continue acting even after his death.

However Al-Duwaisan does not believe that digital rivals will replace movie stars.

“No matter how advanced AI is, it cannot produce human emotions,” he says.

“But I’m sure it will make part of their jobs safer by using more realistic special effects.”

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