This AI is learning to make Flintstones episodes with bizarre results

There may not be much demand for new episodes of The Flintstones in 2018, but should a revival ever be on the cards, artificial intelligence will have a head start.

The cartoon about life in the Stone Age just got a very modern helping hand as researchers from The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence created an AI that can recognise elements from Flintstones cartoons and generate its own episodes.

The researchers began by feeding the AI 25,000 three-second clips from the show, adding up to a marathon 20-hour Flintstones binge. Each clip was accompanied with a brief description of which characters were in the clip and what they were doing, e.g: “Wilma and Fred are watching TV on the sofa,” “Barney is talking to Fred” or “The Great Gazoo is making millions of viewers switch off their television sets in disgust again” (perhaps not the last one, but you get the idea.)

From there, the hypothesis goes, a team of writers could come up with an idea for an episode, and have the AI stitch together an appropriate animation to match the script. The Flintstones was famous for recycling backgrounds, so why not recycle actual character interaction as well?

As you can see from the video above, the results are far from perfect, and even the least discerning TV critic is going to sense something is amiss pretty quickly.

While the AI seems to understand what specific elements are being requested in a scene most of the time, the output looks mangled and rudimentary, like a cheap knock off. At the same time, when it does work, the style is undeniably Hanna-Barbera and it’s an amazing technical achievement in context: the AI has learned the elements it needs to look for (character, action, setting) and is having a decent stab at remixing the elements without an animator having to create anything new.

True, The Flintstones is a relatively easy test bed for this with its recycled backgrounds and simple animations, but it’s not too big a stretch to imagine more complex cartoons getting the same treatment with a bigger training set and a more refined AI. With AI generating the simple stuff (e.g: two established characters talking to each other), that leaves more time for animators to draw new and unique scenarios as dictated by the writers. The upshot of this, in theory, is less time waiting for new series of animated shows – and, assuming the quality doesn’t suffer as a result, that can only be a positive.

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