Technology vs. Storytelling with Animal Logic

Technology vs. Storytelling with Animal Logic-1
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

From The Lego Movie to Happy Feet; The Matrix Reloaded to Moulin Rouge: Aidan Sarsfield has spent nearly 20 years manipulating technology to meet the creative needs of modern storytelling.

As Head of Production Technology at Sydney/Vancouver animation and VFX studio Animal Logic, he’s responsible for a large team of creatives and technologists bringing some of the world’s biggest franchises to life (and changing how that can be done along the way). Their stock is fast rising too: Fresh from the huge box office success of The Lego Movie franchise (including the recent release of The Lego Ninjago Movie) the studio is facing a period of rapid growth, having just signed a multi-picture deal with Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, all of which will be produced between their Sydney and Vancouver studios.
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Left: Aidan Sarsfield (image: Toby Peet).
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Right: The Lego Movie (image: Warner Bros.)
Originally trained as an industrial designer but hired as a product visualisation specialist by the fledgeling studio some 19 years ago, his position now as Head of Production Technology plays a pivotal role in how each of their films can set the bar for the years following it. "A large part of what I do is configuring technology to meet the creative requirements of films and storytelling. We have this huge suite of technology and tools which changes depending on the story we're trying to tell. I have a team of CG supervisors who are there to support each of these stories."
Sarsfield is a technologist by trade and by nature; a man keenly focused on using emerging technology to make fundamental changes in Hollywood’s story cycles. With one of his earliest credits working on The Matrix: Reloaded, we wondered if he knew how much it would set his course for years thereafter: “I don’t think anybody knew. After I saw The Matrix I was so excited to work on Reloaded. It was so groundbreaking: from bullet-time to this idea of all-encompassing virtual reality. I mean, the idea that Elon Musk is coming up with a neural lace that could connect to artificial intelligence and that’s now a real thing…it’s crazy.” 
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VFX for The Matrix: Reloaded. "I hand animated every one of those bullets. That was my claim to fame for a long period of time."

The future of storytelling ↔ the future of the world 

It's inevitable someone who worked within these themes has an opinion on artificial intelligence, but in fairness, it's application to creativity is probably more interesting than it's more dystopian user case. For Sarsfield, it's more of an opportunity than a fear. “There's this dystopian view that A.I will take over the world and everyone will lose their jobs. I don’t really subscribe to that. I have this slightly more optimistic view of the world that it will augment peoples lives and augment the world we live in”.  He points to the aforementioned Musk leveraging A.I to improve human performance as a good example of how to use it to take the mundane away. “We have 200 people working on any given film at any given time. What I would like A.I to do in that situation is give them the ability to do more of what they do. I want artists doing art, I want creative people doing creative stuff. In a perfect world, A.I would mean you don’t have to worry about time sheets or what jobs you’re working on today. It’s presented to you immediately so you can focus on just being creative.” 

“Think about space or deep sea exploration. A.I matched with robotics to go find deep sea organisms that could cure cancer. There's potential for incredibly positive outcomes, steering well clear of dystopian outcomes of robots taking over the world. 

Aidan Sarsfield, Animal Logic

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Animation for 'The Master' starring the voice of Jackie Chan.
Aidan’s positive worldview of (potentially) terrifying technology extends to robotics, pointing to companies like Boston Dynamics as presenting fascinating early-iterations of what could be a huge part of our lives. “There something particularly scary when you see those big dog videos; you can envision a swarm of those coming towards you over a hill. Then there’s the really sad one of a robot walking and people tripping him over, and it’s like 'that just looks awful'. The robotic side of things is a whole other arm of A.I that could augment life, or do things we couldn't imagine."
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He sees A.I as another part of the evolution of the human species, for better or worse. "Here we are doing the classic ‘we are stardust’ thing, contemplating ourselves, and while we’re doing that we're starting to build another intelligence, and all of human intelligence into this massive network – the Internet. If you look at it like that, with humanity as this entity that's evolving its intelligence about the universe, it's an evolutionary process. What happens next…it’s not a good thing or bad thing, it's just what happens.”
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