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How Elizabeth Taylor Befriended a Giant Octopus


FAMILIA director Lisa Paclet on the feverish AI-generated short reflecting old Hollywood, horror, and childhood memories, writes LBB’s Zoe Antonov

How Elizabeth Taylor Befriended a Giant Octopus

To say that an absurdist monologue created by an AI-generated Elizabeth Taylor – who also happens to be best friends with an octopus – is ‘a true reflection of your ideas’ is a rare thing indeed. But so is Lisa Paclet’s imagination and passion for the absurd. It so happens she is the one directing this dreamscape stream of consciousness that mixes reality with everything beyond itself.

The FAMILIA director worked entirely with AI software to create this first episode of the fully AI-generated series ‘Midnight Interviews’. And although Lisa Paclet’s usual playing field tends to be stylised films for global brand names, she explains that her first love has always been absurdism. A realm in which she can explore alternative histories, mixed with memories and fears. 

This is exactly what the first episode of ‘Midnight Interviews’ is. The project, finished over the course of a month and a half, reflects the director’s early childhood memories of going swimming with her sister and walking back from school in the Florentian heat with her friend. At the same time, it tugs on the horrifying themes of alternative reality and war. 

However crazy it might be to try and imagine Elizabeth Taylor speaking to her giant octopus companion, it is even crazier to see it. LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Lisa about her opinion on the new technology that is taking the creative world by a storm, what freedom it gave her, and her love of the absurd.

LBB> How did the idea for 'Midnight Interviews' come about and what were the initial conversations around it like?

Lisa> The underlying narrative of the film questions reality: I wanted to use AI to create an absurd ‘alternative past’ for Elizabeth Taylor, hinting at anticipation books like George Orwell’s ‘1984’ in which there is no fixed history (as it can be re-written), all to underscore the power of this new tool that we have at our disposal. 

LBB> Why is the first episode Elizabeth Taylor? And why an octopus?

Lisa> I needed an existing character that the audience would recognize. Elizabeth becomes a vehicle to create a cognitive dissonance, between what the audience knows about her and the absurd story she is recounting.

The story she tells is woven between my own memories and fantasies. Octopi are a natural source of inspiration for me, they have been a staple of my childhood in Italy, when with my sister we used to search for their gardens and swim after them between the rocks underwater.

LBB> Many people in the industry, including animators, are debating if AI is the enemy or a new friend? Which one is it for you?

Lisa> I think we’re still in the process of figuring out how to use it, and like any technical or scientific advancement, it’s a double edged sword. 

When people use prompts that are based on existing artist’s styles there should be a system for the artists to opt in and a way for them to be remunerated. I do imagine that in the future one will be able to describe a scene and have an AI render it and change it right before your eyes…  But I think we’re still far from AI taking over the creative process. I strongly believe that art is an echo of a consciousness, and at least for now AI technology is not conscious. 

LBB> Tell me about the prompts you gave to the two AIs used in the film. How did you navigate them to do what you wanted and was it a tedious process?

Lisa> With DALL·E 2 I started with ‘Elisabeth Taylor walking down a highway with a friend Octopus’ and as I was animating this first scene I started imagining close ups and reaction shots that sprouted from the first one.

LBB> Tell me more about how you created the dialogue and where the story derives from. 

Lisa> I worked on her dialogue in parallel with the animation, testing and adapting as I went along. What she describes are some of my childhood memories, like going to school early in the morning with my dishevelled friend, all mixed up with some of my fears of a totalitarian future where checkpoints could spring up overnight.

There is a couple in front of the gas station who asks her for her papers. She tells her audience: “We could not trust the words on the pieces of paper, as they were able to move without our consent.”

And It’s evident that that is true, since the beginning she and the world around her have been constantly shifting. So when Elizabeth says, “We would just approximate and smile,” she is being honest as she is approximating being Elizabeth Taylor - just as the AI is approximating human intelligence. Or as I approximate being a proper artist, etc.

LBB> What meaning do you want audiences to derive from the film? What kind of reactions do you expect?

Lisa> I wanted to create an absurd ‘dreamscape’, a film which would feel like a stream of consciousness out of which the audience can derive their own interpretations. A bit like poetry maybe…

LBB> Do you expect to see even more usage of AI in the creative industries, or do you see it fizzling out in the future? Will you use it again in your work?

Lisa> Oh, I think it’s here to stay. For now, I see a lot of people using it much like a filter over rotoscoped images with morphs between the frames. And that will probably be a fad… But I imagine that in the future its usage will be much more subtle.

LBB> A jump from global brand work to this kind of work is huge. Is this something you always wanted to do? How does it resonate with your directing style?

Lisa> Absurdity has always been my true passion. In fact, one of my very first films was a Dadaist conversation between two birds, inspired by Kurt Schwitters. But as you can imagine, Dadaist and absurdist films are hard to make a living out of. I would love to continue to do both things in parallel and in the process, to have the more artistic work inspire the commercial one.

LBB> Where did you draw your biggest inspirations from the film?

Lisa> The memories of my early walks to school in Florence with my friend Tiziano, the Octopus in the sea, the fear of the war expanding.

LBB> Did using AI give you a sense of freedom in your work, or did you find it put you in a box? 

Lisa> It was actually very liberating to be able to create all these ‘finalised’ images without having to worry about the feasibility of a shot. I was free to do whatever I wanted, I feel this film is a true reflection of my ideas.


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FAMILIA, Wed, 01 Feb 2023 17:27:13 GMT