How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in the Saudi film industry

How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in the Saudi film industry
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Updated 06 June 2024
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How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in the Saudi film industry

How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in the Saudi film industry
  • From generating story ideas to streamlining post-production, artificial intelligence could revolutionize Saudi filmmaking
  • Digital arts expert thinks Saudi filmmakers will use AI for good and noble ends, but recommends they start simple

DHAHRAN: When William “Wink” Winkler of Samford University landed in Saudi Arabia earlier this month for the 10th edition of the Saudi Film Festival, held in Dhahran, he felt he had discovered a new frontier in cinema and technology.

At the invitation of the American Chamber of Commerce and US Consulate in Dhahran, the instructor of digital arts brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience to conduct a masterclass in artificial intelligence in filmmaking.

However, during his week-long visit, Winkler also gained a fresh perspective on the Saudi film industry, its burgeoning local talent, and how breakthroughs in AI will transform the way movies are made in the Kingdom.

“I learned that the Saudi people are passionate and excited,” Winkler told Arab News. “They can tell amazing stories, original Saudi stories, and as they start to embrace new and emerging technology, that will help them to do that.”




William “Wink” Winkler

AI is still considered an emerging technology, but one that is evolving rapidly. In just the past two years, generative AI programs have progressed from producing janky text and surreal images to creating prose and visuals that could pass as human-authored.

As a giant aggregator of sorts, AI can instantly sift through vast amounts of data in an instant and use existing scripts and screenplays to identify patterns and generate curated story ideas.

While the creative aspect of AI is still imperfect and causes some discomfort among screenwriters, the technology has many other more rudimentary applications in the filmmaking process.




AI could make work easier by automating parts of the filmmaking process that are grueling and time-consuming, says digital arts instructor William “Wink” Winkler. (Supplied)

In pre-production, for instance, AI can help streamline location scouting by analyzing images and videos in real time to suggest settings based on a prompt. It can also cut casting time by instantaneously analyzing audition tapes to identify which actor best fits a particular character.

Post-production is another area where AI will transform filmmaking by using automated editing tools, which can analyze footage and accurately suggest instant edits based on factors like composition and pacing.

It can also assist with traditionally manual tasks, such as color grading, sound design, and visual effects.

DID YOUKNOW?

• AI can sift through vast amounts of data in an instant and use existing screenplays to generate story ideas.

In pre-production, AI could help streamline location scouting and cut casting time by analyzing footage.

In post-production, AI could automate editing and assist with color grading, sound design, and visual effects.

Many filmmakers already use computer-generated imagery — or CGI — to digitally create an asset, character, or effect that was not caught on camera. This advancement has thereby automated parts of the process that were often grueling and time-consuming.

CGI has also benefited from recent AI advancements with more curated algorithms that can generate realistic characters and create fantastical environments from thin air, reducing the need for extensive practical effects or location shoots.

However, AI in filmmaking is not without its issues. The tool will undoubtedly negate many jobs in the industry, while machine-generated stories might seem inauthentic, lacking in depth, relatability, and human spirit.




AI art by Omar Alabdulhadi

“Films invoke emotion, and they can create feelings because they’re told from a human story,” said Winkler. “And humans have felt feelings and have dealt with real human problems. And the computer hasn’t.

“All it can do is read what has been written and repeat it, but it doesn’t actually know what to say, or how to convey it. It can only try to replicate what a human said before.”

There are also ongoing concerns about data protection and bias in AI algorithms — something that has been an issue for social media for some time, as the algorithm merely mimics what already exists.




William “Wink” Winkler along with fellow US expert Travis Blaise who flew in to Dhahran to conduct workshops for the Saudi Film Festival. (AI art by Omar Alabdulhadi)

AI systems have a tendency to perpetuate and amplify demographic and racial biases. This can lead to discriminatory outcomes that are not inclusive, such as only generating characters it deems conventionally beautiful — oftentimes slim, blonde, and light-skinned.

Another consideration is the ethics of plagiarism, as AI pulls from existing works created by humans and generates an entirely new work without providing credit.

To manage the potential for plagiarism and the amplification of harmful biases by AI systems and those employing them, Winkler believes a thoughtful discussion leading to robust regulation is required.

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“There’s always going to be evil people. We can fight it, just like we’ve always fought it — through rules and regulations,” he said.

“I think that creating communities and discussions at small local levels — to larger governance levels — creates some guardrails around what’s happening. The more ethical, morally good people get involved to help fight the evil, the better.”

Sora is a groundbreaking text-to-video AI model developed by OpenAI — the firm behind ChatGPT — that takes written prompts and converts them into dynamic videos.

The technology can instantly generate high-quality videos with detailed scenes and complex camera movements — with just a few written descriptions.




Surreal AI art collage by Saudi creator Omar Alabdulhadi. (Supplied)

There are concerns, however, about the potential misuse of programs like Sora to create “deepfakes” — digital forgeries that take a human likeness and fabricate images of them saying or doing things that never happened in reality.

These fabricated images can look and seem so realistic that it can be difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Besides the obvious reputational risks, such deepfakes could also undermine trust in institutions and even lead to conflict.

In the film world, such technology could also cost jobs. Why would studios hire human actors if the AI can make their digital likeness do and say anything without rehearsal — performing better than the original, perhaps?




This image, which is part of the "Salt" short-film series by Fabian Stelzer and was created via Stable Diffusion. (Supplied)

Winkler believes Saudi filmmakers will use AI for good and noble ends — but recommends they start simple.

“I think the place that I would start is actually not in AI,” he said. “Start with a journal and a piece of paper and a pen — and document. Get the stories from your mother, your grandmother, your grandfather, your great-grandmother and your great-grandfather.

“Everyone’s ancestors have done amazing things, and that should be documented and shared.”




Surreal AI art collage by Saudi creator Omar Alabdulhadi. (Supplied)

One Saudi creator who is dabbling in AI is Dhahran resident Omar Al-Abdulhadi. While he believes AI technology has not yet been perfected, he is keen to see the market thrive and grow in the creative industries.

“All the anti-AI artists will accept the fact that AI is the future,” Al-Abdulhadi told Arab News, acknowledging the seeming inevitability of the technology’s adoption. But, with the right regulation and careful use, it does not have to be bad.

Winkler agrees. Furthermore, he believes the Kingdom is ideally placed to help this emerging industry grow. With such a young population made up of digital natives, Winkler says Saudi creatives can be future leaders in the field.

“The technology is not available right now, but I imagine that it will be very soon,” he said. “I don’t have the team or the time to do it — but maybe the Saudis can do it and change visual effects forever.”

 


Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards

Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards
Updated 48 sec ago
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Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards

Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards

DUBAI: US singer Nicole Scherzinger attended the 2024 Tony Awards in New York on Sunday in a gown by Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran.

The pink-hued gown featured a sheer, embellished skirt, with rouching on the hips. Stylist Emily Evans finished off the look with -Cicada and Maison H jewelry.

Nicole Scherzinger showed off a rosy-hued Nicolas Jebran gown on the red carpet. (Getty Images)

Scherzinger — slated to star in a “Sunset Boulevard” revival on Broadway — sang the “In Memoriam” section, the Associated Press reported.

She sang “What I Did for Love” as the names of late Broadway heavyweights appeared, including playwright Christopher Durang and actors Alan Arkin,Glenda Jackson, Louis Gossett Jr., and Treat Williams.

“The Outsiders,” a gritty adaptation of the classic young adult novel, won the Tony Award for best new musical. The win meant Angelina Jolie, a producer, landed her first Tony, too.

Angelina Jolie, a producer on 'The Outsiders,' landed her first Tony. (Getty Images)

“Stereophonic,” the play about a Fleetwood Mac-like band recording an album over a turbulent and life-changing year, won best new play and had the night's most total awards at five. It was written by David Adjmi, with songs by former Arcade Fire member Will Butler.

Two special guests electrified the crowd — Jay-Z and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The latter, a producer of a musical about suffragettes, presented “Suffs.”

“I have stood on a lot of stages, but this is very special,” Clinton said. “I know a little bit about how hard it is to make change.”

In the first musical presentation, Alicia Keys appeared at a piano as the cast of her semi-autobiographical musical, “Hell’s Kitchen,” presented a medley of songs. She sang her and Jay-Z’s 2009 smash “Empire State of Mind,” joining the rapper on interior steps to wild applause, according to the Associated Press.

Later, newcomer Maleah Joi Moon won best leading actress for “Hell's Kitchen,” brushing aside a challenge from veteran Kelli O’Hara. The 21-year-old, who plays a role loosely based on Keys’ life, dedicated her award to her parents.

Jeremy Strong took home the first big award of the night. The “Succession” star landed his first Tony for his work in the revival of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 political play “An Enemy of the People.”

“Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe cemented his stage career pivot by winning featured actor in a musical, his first trophy in five Broadway shows. He won for the revival of “Merrily We Roll Along,” the Stephen Sondheim- George Furth musical that goes backward in time.


Jessica Kahawaty stars in Charlotte Tilbury fragrance campaign

Jessica Kahawaty stars in Charlotte Tilbury fragrance campaign
Updated 16 June 2024
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Jessica Kahawaty stars in Charlotte Tilbury fragrance campaign

Jessica Kahawaty stars in Charlotte Tilbury fragrance campaign

DUBAI: Lebanese Australian model Jessica Kahawaty has posed in a digital campaign for British luxury cosmetics label Charlotte Tilbury.

The model and entrepreneur stars in a video campaign advertising the brand’s Love Frequency perfume, which is described as a floral woody musk fragrance for women and men.

Love Frequency was launched in 2024 and the fragrance was designed by French master perfumer Anne Flipo. The top note is pink pepper; the middle notes are rose and saffron; while the base notes are musk, amberwood, patchouli and cashmere wood.

Kahawaty took to Instagram to share the sun-drenched campaign video with her 1.5 million followers.

“My love frequency summed up in 1 scent (sic),” she caption the post, which sees the model walking among flowers and tall grasses while holding the pink-hued bottle of perfume.

The model also recently unveiled her latest campaign with Boss. In March, she shared polaroid-style pictures from the shoot with her Instagram followers and wrote: “Double B, Every Me. Because there’s more than one way to be a BOSS.”

In the images, she wore a brown bomber jacket paired with a crisp white shirt, complemented by a black bag adorned with a chunky gold buckle and chain. Her brunette locks were in loose waves.

Earlier this year, Kahawaty took to social media to share images from her collaboration with Italian luxury label Versace for the month of Ramadan, days after the influencer worked on a Ramadan campaign with New York-based label CH Carolina Herrera.

The campaign featured a curated edit of modest wear from the New York-based label, combining distinctive patterns and vibrant color schemes.

The model and restauranteur — she founded Dubai’s Mama Rita eatery alongside her mother — shared a series of images promoting Versace’s Ramadan edit with her Instagram followers. Kahawaty was pictured in a pink floor-length dress with bell sleeves that boasted a neckline adorned with intricate pink, white and silver beads and crystals. Completing the look, Kahawaty is seen clutching a matching mini pink embellished purse while her voluminous brunette locks were styled in a 90s blowout.


Review: Survival game ‘Pacific Drive’ puts the fear back into driving

Review: Survival game ‘Pacific Drive’ puts the fear back into driving
Updated 16 June 2024
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Review: Survival game ‘Pacific Drive’ puts the fear back into driving

Review: Survival game ‘Pacific Drive’ puts the fear back into driving

LONDON: The driving survival game “Pacific Drive” (PlayStation 5, PC via Steam) is set in the eerie landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Developed by Ironwood Studios, it blends driving mechanics with survival horror elements, creating a captivating and challenging experience.

Players navigate a dilapidated station wagon through a hazardous, post-apocalyptic environment known as the “exclusion zone.” This area is cut off from the rest of America by a 300-meter-high wall designed to contain a strange phenomenon called the “instability,” which sees the environment change unpredictably with deadly consequences.

The setting, inspired by the Pacific Northwest’s dense forests and rugged terrain, plays a crucial role in the game. The vehicle is not just transportation but a lifeline; maintaining and upgrading it is essential as players encounter various obstacles and supernatural threats.

The eerie ambiance is further enhanced by the game’s sound design, blending environmental sounds with a haunting score.

Survival in “Pacific Drive” involves scavenging for resources, managing the car’s condition, and making tough decisions about when to push forward or retreat. Resource management is balanced with exploration, requiring players to weigh the risks and rewards of venturing into unknown territories. The narrative unfolds through scattered notes and radio transmissions, providing glimpses into the world’s backstory.

Visually, the game excels with detailed environments and realistic lighting effects. The sense of isolation and vulnerability is palpable as players drive through abandoned towns and desolate landscapes.

With a game time of roughly eight hours, “Pacific Drive” is not without its flaws. The repetitive nature of resource gathering, and vehicle maintenance can become tedious over time.

However, it offers a fresh take on the survival genre with its unique driving mechanics and atmospheric setting. The exploration, strategy, and horror elements make the game a compelling experience for players seeking something different.


‘Bridgerton’ star Simone Ashley flaunts Suzanne Kalan jewels in London

‘Bridgerton’ star Simone Ashley flaunts Suzanne Kalan jewels in London
Updated 15 June 2024
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‘Bridgerton’ star Simone Ashley flaunts Suzanne Kalan jewels in London

‘Bridgerton’ star Simone Ashley flaunts Suzanne Kalan jewels in London

DUBAI: British actress Simone Ashley took to the red carpet at the “Bridgerton” Season 3 - Part Two special screening in London in a diaphanous Del Core dress and sparkling jewelry by Lebanon-born designer Suzanne Kalan.

The drop earrings hail from Kalan’s eponymous brand. Born in Lebanon, the designer has Armenian family heritage and has been creating jewelry for the past 25 years.

Meanwhile, Ashley’s peach-hued dress was plucked from Italian label Del Core’s Fall/ Winter 2024 ready-to-wear collection.

The drop earrings hail from Kalan’s eponymous brand. (Getty Images)

Kalan’s designs have been making the rounds on red carpets as of late. US actress Jessica Chastain sported the eponymous brand’s Bold Burst Rainbow Sapphire Tennis Necklace at the 2024 National Board of Review Gala in New York in January and entertainment reporter Zanna Roberts Rassi showed off a set of rings by the brand at the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards in the same month.

Also, US musician Andra Day attended the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala in New York on June 13 in extended hoop earrings by Kalan.

The “Bridgerton” cast has been hitting red carpets around the world to mark the launch of the latest season, which was released in two parts.

Irish actress Nicola Coughlan is the lead star of this season — the lead role in the hit series is revolving and season two saw Ashley take on the mantle of leading lady.

Coughlan chose two Middle Eastern labels for public appearances, including stepping out in a gown by Beirut-based label Sara Mrad at the premiere in Toronto in early June.

Coughlan donned a lavender silk organza mini-dress paired with a red mikado petal-like cape from the designer’s Spring 2024 couture collection. She accessorized with droplet-shaped earrings from London-based Ysso jewelry, which are hand-carved in Greece.

At the show’s premiere in Brazil in May, the actress wore a deep red gown by Lebanese fashion label Azzi & Osta. The gown featured an oversized hood, which she wore over her head, and long gloved sleeves adorned with gold embellishments.


Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel

Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel
Updated 15 June 2024
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Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel

Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel
  • Mass boycott of acts leads to suspension of relationship between bank, event organizer Live Nation
  • Move comes as protesters target Barclays bank branches across Britain

LONDON: Barclays and Live Nation have suspended a sponsorship agreement for the events group’s festivals for 2024 after a number of artists announced they would be boycotting them over the bank’s involvement.

Download, Latitude, and the Isle of Wight festivals are among those worst affected by the boycotts, with acts and fans critical of Barclays’ business relationships with companies supplying arms to Israel.

Comedians Joanne McNally, Sophie Duker, Grace Campbell and Alexandra Haddow said they would not be attending Latitude, as well as musical acts CMAT, Pillow Queens, Mui Zyu and Georgia Ruth.

The bands Pest Control, Ithaca, Scowl, Speed and Zulu all confirmed they would pull out of Download.

It follows a mass boycotting by more than 100 acts of the Barclaycard-sponsored Great Escape festival in Brighton in May.

“Following discussion with artists, we have agreed with Barclays that they will step back from sponsorship of our festivals,” a Live Nation spokesperson said.

It came after activists targeted Barclays earlier in the week, with the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign demanding a boycott over the bank’s “complicity in Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.”

PSC also claimed that Barclays “now holds over £2 billion ($2.536 billion) in shares, and provides £6.1 billion in loans and underwriting” to companies selling weapons to Israel.

The group Palestine Action targeted 20 bank branches with paint and rocks earlier this week, while the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has labeled it a “divestment and exclusion” target.

A spokesperson for the bank said in a statement: “Barclays was asked and has agreed to suspend participation in the remaining Live Nation festivals in 2024. 
“Barclays customers who hold tickets to these festivals are not affected and their tickets remain valid.

“The protesters’ agenda is to have Barclays debank defence companies which is a sector we remain committed to as an essential part of keeping this country and our allies safe.”

The protest group Bands Boycott Barclays said in a statement: “This is a victory for the Palestinian-led global BDS movement. As musicians, we were horrified that our music festivals were partnered with Barclays, who are complicit in the genocide in Gaza through investment, loans and underwriting of arms companies supplying the Israeli military. “Hundreds of artists have taken action this summer to make it clear that this is morally reprehensible, and we are glad we have been heard.

“Our demand to Barclays is simple: divest from the genocide, or face further boycotts. Boycotting Barclays, also Europe’s primary funder of fossil fuels, is the minimum we can do to call for change.”

Leeds-based band Pest Control said in a statement: “We cannot sacrifice the principles held by this band and by the scene we come from and represent, just for personal gain.”

Ithaca said in a statement: “Once we were made aware of Barclays’ involvement in Download we knew we could no longer participate. This moment of solidarity is an opportunity for festival organisers to reflect carefully on who they take money from and see that the younger generation of bands will no longer be silent.”

Comedian McNally wrote in an Instagram post last week: “I’m getting messages today about me performing at Latitude when it’s being sponsored by Barclays.

“I’m no longer doing Latitude. I was due to close the comedy tent on the Sunday night, but I pulled out last week.”

Fellow comedian Duker said in a statement: “I am committed to minimising my complicity in what I consider to be a pattern of abhorrent, unlawful violence.”

On its website, Barclays said: “We have been asked why we invest in nine defence companies supplying Israel, but this mistakes what we do.

“We trade in shares of listed companies in response to client instruction or demand and that may result in us holding shares. 
“Whilst we provide financial services to these companies, we are not making investments for Barclays and Barclays is not a ‘shareholder’ or ‘investor’ in that sense in relation to these companies.”

In relation to its dealings with Israeli defense company Elbit, Barclays said: “We may hold shares in relation to client driven transactions, which is why we appear on the share register, but we are not investors.”

Barclays signed a sponsorship deal with Live Nation for five years in 2023. There has been no suggestion yet that the suspension will affect festival sponsorship under the agreement in future years.