In Georgia film industry, companies work to keep up with changing world of visual effects, AI

The world of visual effects is quickly evolving due to changes in technology.
Published: Oct. 20, 2023 at 10:44 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Is artificial intelligence going to control us, or are we going to control it? It’s a question that’s constantly asked in industries across the world, and the film industry in Georgia is no exception.

For ECG Productions President and CEO Jason Marraccini, it’s a question he never thought he’d have to consider. The film industry looks different from when he started two decades ago.

“I’m old enough to have a celluloid film degree,” Marraccini said.

His office, located inside an inauspicious building in Atlanta, is decorated with old film equipment.

“This is what I used,” Marraccini said, going through the motions of editing film on a film splicer. “This is where the splicing tape used to sit.”

Now, Marraccini and ECG work on everything from branding content to documentaries with an emphasis on visual effects — no film necessary.

“My favorite effects to do are the ones the viewer doesn’t even notice,” ECG Animation Director Seth Johnson said.

Johnson’s main focus is visual effects in videos. Often confused with special effects, which are done on-set and “in camera,” visual effects are created during the post-production process.

“This is the only real shot of the video that you’re seeing is her in here,” Johnson said, pointing to a music video of a woman playing the piano in a darkly lit room. “We shot it in front of a blue screen.”

The hardest part of this work isn’t the effects and animation, but keeping up with the rapidly advancing technology.

“Oh, it’s changing every day, especially since AI is becoming a major part of the equation,” Johnson admitted.

Artificial intelligence is the hot term in film and pretty much everywhere these days. It’s a major point of contention in the SAG-AFTRA strike and has some people worried about an eventual “Skynet” world takeover.

The technology isn’t that advanced — yet. But if you’re not keeping up with the changes, you’re getting left behind.

“At the beginning of the year versus now, it’s already way different and way more advanced,” ECG Post Production Manager Anneli Brown said.

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Brown sees it in her work every day, and it looks less like Skynet and more like a personal assistant.

“AI can kind of be taught to look for certain things and help to facilitate your job in certain ways,” Brown explained.

It’s almost like a rough draft. What it can’t do is replicate what Brown and Johnson call “the human aspect” of visual storytelling.

“Some of it is just not there, but it is going to change things majorly,” Johnson said.

That major change is likely still years away, but its arrival is certain. It’s just a matter of how. That raises a lot of questions for the future of film.

“Where AI fits in our workflow is [to be determined],” Marraccini said.

“I just want to make sure we’re not leaning on it too heavily, I think,” Brown added.