AI image generation puts video game illustrator out of job

AI Video & Visuals

Freelance illustrator Amber Yu was earning between 3,000 and 7,000 yuan ($430 to $1,000) for each video game poster she painted. Creating promotional posters for her on social media to attract players and showcase new features was a skillful and time-consuming task. Once, it took her a week to complete an illustration of a woman dancing a lion dance in a traditional Chinese costume. I first created a sketch in Adobe Photoshop, then carefully adjusted the contours and added color.

But since February, those job opportunities have disappeared, Yu said. rest of the world. Game companies with AI image generators can create similar illustrations in seconds. According to Yu, they now only offer to commission minor modifications, such as tweaks to lighting and distorted body parts, for a tenth of his original fee.

Recent breakthroughs in AI image generation with the release of programs such as DALL-E 2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion in 2022 have enabled users to create flawless drawings from text prompts. In the past few months, Chinese video game companies, from tech giants like Tencent to indie game developers, have started using these programs to design and create video game characters, environments, and promotional materials. .

The rise of AI art is causing anxiety in China’s video game art industry. Artists are an integral part of game creation, from conceptualizing characters to drawing background elements such as cityscapes and signs. Given the high quality of the AI-created artwork, many in the industry are wondering how long they’ll be able to keep working, said Seven Games, the illustrator said. rest of the worldArtists are joking that they should switch to selling rice vermicelli on the street, some illustrators said.

“AI is developing faster than we can imagine,” said Xu Yingying, an illustrator at an independent game art studio in Chongqing. rest of the worldXu’s studio produces designs for major game developers in China. Of his 15 illustrators at the studio, five of him specializing in character design were laid off this year. Xu attributes this to the adoption of AI image generators. “She could do two people what she used to do with ten people,” she said..

For years, Chinese tech giants such as Tencent and NetEase, which own large video game publishing divisions, have been researching ways to use artificial intelligence to reduce game development costs. NetEase’s Naraka: Bladepoint, an action-adventure battle royale game, rolled out a temporary feature in March. It allows players to create new “skins” for their avatars using the company’s in-house AI program. After a criminal investigation into a prominent voice actor, blamed on a business dispute, game company miHoYo and his NetEase used his AI to generate the voice for his character.

A NetEase spokesperson said: rest of the world The company applies AI-based technology to aid game animation, and models are trained using its own or licensed resources. “Our goal was to develop better tools to enable the talented Arthis team of designers and illustrators to create assets more quickly and efficiently during the game development process.” said the spokesperson. Tencent and miHoYo did not respond to requests for comment.

The AI-generated art was so skilled, he said, that some illustrators had given up on drawing altogether. “Our livelihood was suddenly destroyed. rest of the worldYu, a freelance illustrator, said it was “despicable” that algorithms trained on huge datasets that took humans decades to create are trying to replace artists themselves. Still, Mr. Yu plans to use his drawings to train his AI program and improve his productivity. “If I’m a top artist, I might be able to boycott.” [them]But I have to eat. ”

The illustrator says he encourages employers to use AI image generators to boost productivity. For example, in Xu’s studio, an AI generator creates clothing and accessories from her human-drawn character sketches.Game designers also use AI programs to draw treasure chests and gold coins, said the Shanghai-based illustrator. rest of the world.

A Guangdong-based game artist who works for a major game company says that in the past, employees could draw scenes and characters in a day. Now, with the help of AI, he can make 40 a day for his boss to choose from. “I wish I could shoot down these programs,” said the artist rest of the worldafter working late One night. She said the fear of impending layoffs made her colleagues more competitive. Many continued to work late and worked long hours to increase production. “[AI] We were more productive, but more exhausted,” she said.

After months of licensing freezes by the Chinese government in 2021 that put thousands of game developers out of business, the gaming industry’s job market was already volatile. He Leo Li, a game industry recruiter in Hangzhou, said: rest of the world The number of illustrator jobs plummeted by about 70% last year. This is due not only to regulatory pressure and a slowing economy, but also to the AI ​​boom. Given the increasing capabilities of AI tools, “the bosses may not think they need that many employees,” he said.

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Within the gaming community, some players have denounced AI illustrations as “digital corpses” of artificial art and criticized those who scrape art off the internet without the consent of their creators. They scrutinize character illustrations and fan art looking for traces of AI, such as unnatural-looking hands or misplaced glasses. In February, after a player called out a famous illustrator who used AI to create a poster for the mobile game Alchemy Stars, game developer Tencent’s Tourdog Studio said the poster wouldn’t appear in the game itself. and promised not to use AI. -Artwork made.

some players said rest of the world They don’t care about AI-made avatars and skins, but they don’t pay much for them. Shanghai algorithm engineer Xie Jinsen, who plays mobile his battle games such as Honor of Kings and his PUBG Mobile, said: “People feel cheap when you emphasize how something is made by AI.”

According to the illustrator, AI image generators still lack human capabilities. While they excel at creating anime and cyberpunk styles (probably because they can scrape together vast amounts of similar images on the web), they don’t do well with more niche aesthetics. Zigi Mo, head of Huanxiong Studio in Chengdu, which started using it, said: rest of the world The AI ​​image generator was able to polish the illustrations, but couldn’t come up with designs that catered to the specific client’s needs. “We could not replace human workers, at least for our company,” he said. “It’s just a tool to help us.”

Jeffrey Ding, an assistant professor at George Washington University who has studied the development of AI in China, said advances in AI could open up competition and create new opportunities, but they are currently being done on computers. He said it could eliminate a wide range of white-collar jobs. “The reality may be [AI] A lot of jobs will be lost, not just artists, but also lawyers and writing services,” Ding said. rest of the world.

The Chinese government is taking steps to regulate AI art. In January, China’s Internet watchdog enacted new regulations requiring “deepfake” generators to clearly label content that could confuse the public. He published a bill to apply the same rules to AI-generated images and videos, adding that copyright should be respected. The draft does not say whether companies should inform consumers about the use of AI in games and other products.

The anxiety experienced by illustrators could soon spread to other professions, said independent game developer Xiao Di. rest of the worldAccording to Xiao, indie developers like him used to outsource illustration work to art studios, but now use AI to create characters and environments to cut costs.

Xiao’s latest installment, A Madman’s Game, follows a melancholic artist looking for hope in an era when ChatGPT and AI artworks have taken over the world. Paradoxically, some of the game’s characters were created with his AI image generator Draft. “With every innovation, there are people left behind,” Xiao says. “Illustrating AI is just the beginning. Next year, or the year after, it could be programming and customer service.”

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