Talking Generative AI with Corridor Digital’s Niko Pueringer

By: Alyssa Heater

The 2024 HPA Tech Retreat, now in its 29th year, showcased a program chock full of presentations, panels, and roundtables spanning a wealth of topics. One primary area of focus at this year’s conference was Artificial Intelligence and its impact on the future of production and post. While the topic is often polarizing, the AI-focused Supersession on Tuesday provided a deep dive into how these tools can help in the content creation process.

Corridor Digital co-founder Niko Pueringer, alongside Caleb and Shelby Ward of Curious Refuge, Tim Simmons of Theoretically Media, director/producer Ruby Bell, composer Isy Lauf, VFX producer/animator Shaman Marya, and virtual camera supervisor Jackson Hayes, all participated in Tuesday’s Supersession. Each presenter – an expert in their own niche fields of VFX, AI, animation, production, and beyond – served as a representative of how these elements all tie together to create a stunning final product.

Over the past year, Pueringer has been researching and educating himself on AI tools for visual effects and filmmaking. To him, he saw it as another way of rendering that had the potential to revolutionize visual effects, much in the same way that CGI did in the ‘90s. So, when Seth Hallen, HPA President approached him to participate in the session, Pueringer jumped at the opportunity.

While Pueringer recognizes that many people feel concerned about the power of the technology, he explains that it is ultimately just another tool in the toolbox. “Seeing this huge spectrum of reactions between fear and misconception, as well as the excitement, really motivated me to do this presentation at the HPA Tech Retreat. I really wanted to teach people the philosophies and techniques I’ve discovered, because online, there are a lot of people telling you what to think, and I just wanted to show the reality of it. I try to peel away all the hype and emotion and the way people build it up to sound super crazy. I want to get rid of all of that. “

During the Supersession, Pueringer introduced audiences to concepts, pipelines, and even hitting on the challenges the tools can impose. He premiered Trapped in a Dream, an AI-generated animated short that served as a case study for how AI tools have incredible potential in aiding in content creation. His presentations helped to demystify many of the concerns people feel about utilizing this technology. He notes, “Seeing that people were excited about what I was presenting was really gratifying. I look up to the people who attend the Tech Retreat. These professionals are truly at the top of their game. I felt a bit of imposter syndrome being a YouTube guy. Everything I do is very independent and I haven’t really been a part of the studio system, so it felt very fulfilling to be recognized by those in that part of the industry.”

Pueringer and his friend Sam Gorski started their production studio Corridor Digital because they, quite simply, enjoyed making short films. The shooting, production, and VFX skills they learned while making these shorts throughout junior high and high school helped prepare them for a move to Los Angeles to produce an independent monster movie. In 2010, they shifted their focus to producing ad-driven content with YouTube as their partner platform, and have been doing that ever since.

Since its inception, Corridor Digital has produced dozens of AI-generated animated videos. Their work has positioned Pueringer and Gorski  as thought leaders in the evolution of the technology. When asked where he expects future developments and sees it most utilized, Pueringer explains “AI, in its most general form, has been a visual effects and animation tool for many years. It’s been used to clean up motion capture with an intelligent prediction system or use a camera to do a rough skeleton capture for motion capture. AI is a bit of a misnomer because it’s a very broad term. What we’re really talking about is just training a computer to give you a statistical result based on statistical data.”

He elaborates that generative AI can be used for everything from simplifying the rotoscoping process to generating fully cohesive images. While many companies are pushing a one-size-fits-all generative AI model, it is limiting because these models can only reproduce what they have already seen before, then mix and match visual elements. “If you’re trying to create something that’s truly new, not just a mashup of other elements, these tools won’t serve you until you can train your own data in and use these models for yourself. And that’s a step that I don’t think people have realized is crucial and key. But we’ll get there; generative and media-based AI is only about a year old. Over the next few years, people will learn the technology, it will be incorporated into production pipelines, and slowly become adopted.”

With the industry shifting, Pueringer notes that what is most important for content creators is to embrace whatever tools help them realize their vision. An AI tool will only be useful to an artist if it enables them to create better. AI tools should not be doing the creativity, but rather, the tedious tasks. He states, “At the end of the day, we’re trying to deliver compelling movies, TV shows, and content. It’s the writing, the creativity, the directing, the acting – all things that you don’t use AI for.”

Concludes Pueringer, “I hope people feel encouraged to go out and create. It’s becoming easier than it ever has been before. iPhones are starting to look amazing as video cameras. In the world of filmmaking, it might seem scary that there are thousands of different creators and channels for thousands of different niches and audiences. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If we put aside the business aspect and just look at the core artform, it is very interesting and exciting in that regard. So keep making stuff, keep doing your best, keep being artists. Don’t forget why we started this in the first place. It wasn’t to make as much money as we could. It was to make kick-ass videos.”

Learn more about Niko and what’s new with Corridor Digital HERE.

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