CANNES, France—Artificial intelligence has been one of the big themes at the Cannes Lions festival here this week, and A.I. projects have already won three Grand Prix awards: two for J. Walter Thompson and ING's "The Last Rembrandt" and one for Google DeepMind's AlphaGo.
The theme continued in intriguing fashion Thursday at the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase, the annual collection of mind-bending short films made by up-and-coming directors. The A.I. hook this time was this: One of the 20 films was conceived, directed and edited by a computer. The audience wasn't told which one, however—we were encouraged to go to saatchi.com to find out.
Overall, the 2016 showcase was more intense than usual, with lots of disturbing visions and less humor than usual. There were also fewer straight-up commercials in the bunch, although the Layzell Bros. made the cut with their Film Lion hopeful "Shoplifters" for Harvey Nichols.
"There's an abundance of craft and different techniques on the NDS 2016 reel; from Claymation to full on AI, beautiful cinematography and amazing narratives," said Andy Gulliman, NDS curator and producer, and director of film and content at Saatchi. "What's amazing this year is there are more directors not represented by production companies than any previous year. This year it was harder to find the humor we've recognized in previous years. In 2016, dedication to craft outweighs laughs."
Below, check out some of the more notable films, including a behind-the-scenes video about the creation of the A.I. film:
• Rupert Burton, AICP Reel
RSA tapped Method Design to concept and create this year's AICP Sponsor Reel. "Method Design wanted to create an entertaining piece of design that encapsulates the innovative and prolific nature of this industry," the company says. "Our aim was to showcase the AICP sponsors as various dancing avatars, which playfully reference the visual effects used throughout production. Motion capture, procedural animation and dynamic simulations combine to create a milieu of iconic pop dance moves that become an explosion of colorful fur, feathers, particles and more."
• Studio Smack, De Staat 'Witch Doctor'
Torre Florim, the frontman of Dutch rock band De Staat, stands in the middle of a group of shirtless monsters who do his bidding in horrifying fashion. It was all shot in one take. "The song is based on gabber hardcore from the '90s. And the lyrics are about mass-hypnosis and mass-behavior," Studio Smack told Motionographer. "So when we got together with Torre Florim and Floris Kaayk for some brainstorming sessions, these two things were the foundation on which we wanted to build the music video."
• Caroline Bartleet, "Operator"
A U.K. 999 operator answers a call from a panicked mother whose house has caught fire in her sleep. The film, which won the 2016 BAFTA winner for Best British Short Film, was based on a real emergency call that Bartleet heard online. "This woman screaming came blasting through my computer speakers and it just took my breathe away," Bartleet told Cinema Jam. "I couldn't believe how frightened she was. I'd never thought about what it must be like to experience being in a fire, and more than that I was just completely blown away by how calm the operator was."
• Grant Singer, Skrillex "Red Lips"
Monsters chase a girl through a desert in this disconcerting music video. "I came up with it with Grant," Skrillex told Pitchfork. "The first thing that went through my head when I heard the song is that it starts out kind of pretty, but still dark. It feels almost schizophrenic. The way Sam Bruno, the vocalist, delivers the song, it feels like she's afraid of something. The idea was, what if this girl was sitting here by herself, and when the key changes in the song, the sky just went black and these creatures come out from behind and it's this nightmare she's running from? It's this girl in your head, and this is what she's seeing."
• Tomas Vergara, "Isolated"
A terrifying animated zombie horror short. "My brother pitched me the original idea, and I think the story that inspired him was the ending of The Sixth Sense," Vergara told The Daily Dot. "Then I kind of put it in a blender, and gave it some Memento and Gravity kind of thing. The Dark Knight inspired a lot of the scenarios. So, not much comes from the zombie world but more about just good intriguing films, which was our biggest concern… I guess we ended up with a very strange animal, but feels super good right?"
• Jake Dypka, Hollie McNish "Embarrassed"
Indy8 used a Kickstarter to fund this video starring U.K. spoken word artist Hollie McNish rhyming about the overexposure of breasts in the media versus the outraged reaction women face if they openly breastfeed. "A lot of midwives come to my gigs and they say they secretly show the video on their phones to mothers who are embarrassed or uncomfortable about feeding," McNish told the Guardian. "When I started writing poetry full-time, I thought, this is a bit airy, a bit arty farty isn't it? But it's actually been quite practical."
And here's the video about the A.I. video: