If virtual production is a plot twist, then generative A.I. content requiring no production is a post-credits scene teasing the mind-blowing sequel to come. And if M. Night Shyamalan is writing this human drama, then maybe one day we’ll realize we’ve been artificial intelligence the whole time

To welcome 2024, we’re highlighting some of the biggest plot twists in filmmaking of this new year — things no one saw coming just a few short years ago. One of the biggest is A.I., and one of the most ambitious A.I. businesses is Runway.

Runway, an A.I. content creation startup recently valued at $1.5 billion, now has the capability through its Gen-2 software to turn text into video, which is impressive in quality, and only getting better every day, as an increasing number of users issue prompts, upload reference images, and offer feedback to improve the technology’s capabilities.

Understandably, this rapid leap into the unknown is leaving artists of all kinds more than a little bit nervous about their job security and relevance moving forward. 

“If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher told reporters this past summer. “We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines.”

A.I. was a major point of contention in the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes: Guilds understandably sought protections against their members’ images and work being imitated without their consent. As a result of their strike, writers were granted significant restrictions on the use of A.I., and actors were promised that their digital likenesses would not be created or used without their consent.

How Well Does Runway Gen-2 Work?

After MovieMaker fiddled with Runway’s Gen-2 platform for five minutes, it became pretty clear that A.I. can create compelling visual sequences in seconds. That will no doubt save content creators a lot of time and money, but could also mean putting a lot of VFX artists, cinematographers and editors out of work — or at least dramatically reshaping their roles. 

Runway Studios is the entertainment and production division of the company, and believes its technology empowers filmmakers to achieve their creative visions. The synopsis of “After Light,” one of the company’s first short films available online, states that “even though we may be losing parts of our intrinsic nature to artificial influences, we are also on the brink of a new kind of existence — one that we are just beginning to grasp.”

The film is a colorful collage of shapeshifting figures set to the beat of a hip-hop song, without any inkling of story, character development or plot. You can watch it here:

Main image: Using Runway. Courtesy of Runway.