STOP KILLER ROBOTS // UNITED NATIONS_

Been too busy to write up many projects but this one deserves a mention! I was commissioned by The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots supported by Amnesty International to produce a piece of artwork for the front cover of a forthcoming documentary and global advertising campaign which would also be shown at the United Nations. Alongside 4 other artists we would reflect on the concept of a.i with the capacity to make kill decisions. Basically, I was asked to make the poster for the protest movement against Cyberdyne Systems from The Terminator!?

It took a while for a concept to come together, it was always going to have a robot in it, but I’ve done so many now, I wanted to take this somewhere else. I’d been experimenting with augmented reality technology a little, so I thought what better time to make your first AR poster. EASY!? The months of grindy problem solving, pain, frustration, and literally every single thing in the process going wrong repeatedly belies how bloody stubborn I am, and how determined I was to get this over the line. In retrospect though, it led to me getting my favorite review of my work care of META. Let me explain.

I started with the intention to make this as accessible as possible and wanted it to have the widest possible reach, this necessitated using Spark AR, a program hosted by META / Facebook & Instagram as a way to create filters that can be accessed directly from my social media accounts, for free. All the other platforms I looked at were pay to play, and if this blew up that was unsustainable. The first filter I made was of the poster you see above, but the gun could be triggered by pressing on the screen. The user was effectively making a kill decision, a clever way i thought, to engage in the conversation about a.i with the same power. Terrifying stuff! I animated the mech in Aftereffects so there was some kind of recoil which really brought it to life, added some laser targeting and a headlight with a little muzzle flash. Lastly I made a moody sci-fi, atmospheric din, with ak47 rounds going off in the background like it was some dystopian vision of the future. That would tie it all together nicely…

The only problem with using Spark AR is that someone else gets to basically decide whether your work is acceptable for the platform. You could spend literally months of your life making something work, then someone, or ironically and more probably some kind of dratted artificially intelligent algorithm could just say nahhhhh and ban it, which is exactly what happened! I of course appealed.

“Shocking, sensational, disrespectful, violent and depicting guns.”

META 2022

The panic was real. I could of course just hand in the poster and it would have looked sound, fulfilled the brief, everyone would have been happy, except for me. I had done the work, it worked, I’d seen it work with my own eyes. There was no fucking way this wasn’t going to happen in some format, I couldn’t do the project about a.i without having any a.i in it. So, long story short, I had to revert back to the pay to play platform, called Artivive. I would be able to get the AR running and we would fund the views for two months, then it was just a matter of completely rebuilding the entire project from the ground up to a completely different set of specifications.

Some of the limitations of Spark AR were that the file sizes could only be up to 4mb, which meant many days sat optimizing files! But with Artivite there was a limit of 100mb, more scope for animation, though there was no programming, so things like the gun firing interactively were now out of the question. I am still wounded this couldn’t make the final cut and is something I’m very keen to bring into future AR projects.

Next it was time to go to print, what could possibly go wrong? Everything, again. An earlier version of the poster had been sent to print accidentally and because of that the AR I had spent months on, then more months rebuilding, wouldn’t work, again. This time over something out of my control. It took me a good amount of staring at that poster to spot the nuance between the two versions and realise what had happened. I was, to put it mildly, a very unhappy person for a short time, until i heard back that only some of the smaller prints had gone out with the wrong artwork and all was saved.

The launch of the documentary was premiered in Leicester Square in London. Red carpet and everything! I watched the premier and got to hang out with some of the speakers at the event afterwards, but was generally just overwhelmed to have finished. It felt so surreal. It was over before I really had a chance to take it everything in!

All in all another successful project and one that’s given me a whole new set of tools to play with. This project felt like it brought together a lifetime of knowledge and self development and I’m excited to see how far I can push this as yet still emergent technology. When I got back into art I always felt that knowledge from other industries I had worked in was somehow wasted. It was refreshing to remember that’s never the case. All those hours trying to learn and work things out felt rewarded.

http://www.stopkillerrobots.org