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Trailblazing AI Storytelling by Empowering Storytellers: Curious Refuge

HPA Newsline had the opportunity to speak with Caleb and Shelby Ward, founders of Curious Refuge. Caleb and Shelby were participants in the 2024 HPA Tech Retreat Supersession, and the upcoming Tech Retreat After Dark. These innovators, enablers and adept creators have some important messages to share, including the need for true creativity, making things you want to make and the need for the human touch.

In the swiftly evolving landscape of filmmaking, Curious Refuge has emerged as a place where storytellers can fully explore how AI will enable their stories in a time of creative renaissance.

What is Curious Refuge?
Curious Refuge is the world’s first online home for AI storytellers. We believe that AI is dramatically changing the way we create films, so we created a place for artists to explore new tools and contextualize them in their workflows. We train artists in over 109 countries and at every major studio on the latest AI production processes. Our content is the most up-to-date and relevant training on AI production and our experienced team supports the learning process.

We are now hosting meetups and events around the world where our community can come together to celebrate this new creative renaissance, develop new connections, and explore ideas together.

We also have the opportunity to speak at incredible industry events – like the HPA Tech Retreat – where we can share our thoughts on how AI is changing creativity.

How did Curious Refuge come to be?
Our careers have been spent helping and empowering storytellers through technology. We have both grown online schools ranging from Motion Design and Animation to VFX and Compositing. With the adoption of generative AI, we saw that artists needed a place that would push into curiosity and not just fear. It was a natural transition to AI training. The name ‘Curious Refuge’ really embodies the community that we are building.

In addition to the tsunami of interest in AI, are there other technologies or tools that you are excited about for your own work and for other filmmakers?
It’s hard to imagine a tool that brings me more excitement than AI tools at this point. It seems like just about every tool, plugin, and technology are using AI at this point. Practically speaking we are very excited for the continued development of native AI dubbing tools, especially when integrated on larger platforms like YouTube. Giving your audience the ability to consume your content in their native tongue and in the same voice as the actor will be a game-changer for the way we distribute our work. This technology will dramatically expand our audience reach and the types of filmmakers who get recognized for their work. That’s a win-win for both distribution and awareness.

Viewers will see in the upcoming Tech Retreat After Dark, you spoke about your experience with “Barbenheimer”, and making changes to it that took it viral.  Are there specific programming or industry trends that have had the most impact on filmmakers and the creative community?
Understanding the distribution platform is incredibly important when you are marketing a film or idea.  We’ve found that small changes can dramatically impact the way in which a project is received online and indexed in the algorithm.  As a result, we now employ AI testing tools to help us get maximum engagement on platforms like YouTube, and we are constantly reviewing the trends and best practices on every platform that we have a presence on.

However, for us we aren’t creating projects to go viral.  We simply want to create projects that creatively excite us.  It’s the balance between what the spreadsheets say and what is creatively inspiring, which is so common across most creative industries.

What are the most important lessons that filmmakers can learn about AI and their creative careers? How will it enhance, threaten, change how filmmakers tell their stories?
AI can’t create meaningful results without a human behind it. At Curious Refuge we have seen time and time again that people who begin to experiment with these tools ultimately find that they require a set of skills to use them well. These skills typically draw on the underlying creative skill sets like Art Direction, Video Editing, Writing, or any other significant communication superpower. Ultimately, great storytellers are able to tell great stories with AI. So, if you are skilled at any step of the storytelling process, you have many more opportunities ahead of you if you embrace these tools.

What about your recent event at NAB, the first AI eSports event in Las Vegas?
We hosted the world’s first create AI eSports tournament in Las Vegas at NAB 2024. The event was an experiment to see if creative eSports could be exciting for an audience and we were stunned with how successful the event was. We had hundreds of people in attendance and it was genuinely suspenseful and exciting. We are excited to explore AI eSports further and see what the future could hold for that new industry.

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