These days you can't move without hearing the words AI, Chat GPT, and Stable Diffusion. But rest assured, behind the hype are real-world use cases for Generative AI that, when used commercially, solve persistent industry pain points. And an industry embracing the technology is filmmaking.
Meet London startup PentoPix who is developing a no-code AI-assisted video creation platform that automatically turns a long-form script into a 3D animated storyboard and can be used in filmmaking, advertising, and game development.
And despite the fact the product is still evolving into a complete version, its users include award-winning directors, film teams, and animators.
Pentopix showcased at the European Film Market at Berlinale last month, and last weekend the company won big at SXSW pitching, winning Best in Show as well as Best in Entertainment, Media and Content.
I spoke to Volha Paulovich, Co-Founder & COO, to learn more. She explained that the company spun out of an events startup stalled by the pandemic. With a duo with a background in storytelling, advertising, and game development, the company started its technology to see if it was possible.
And even with a simple MVP, the company generated clients from the get-go. It interviewed hundreds of industry professionals to learn about their challenges and developed a tool that would be used and celebrated.
Making movie production cheaper and faster
Pre-production in filmmaking is traditionally a time-consuming process, which is especially pertinent post-pandemic, as Paulovich explains, "sets are expensive, and every minute on set counts, especially as there are back-to-back shoots due to the pandemic backlog."
PentoPix uses a natural language parser, splitting sentences into verbs and nouns. And visualises it in a 3D form using AI and Unreal Engine.
The bespoke AI model creates correct pre-visualisations spatially and orthographically (gleaning knowledge from spelling and grammar).
Traditional storyboarding typically takes around two months, costs tens of thousands and is limited to key scenes.
On the higher end is pre-visualisation or "storyboarding on steroids", where filmmakers generate 3D storyboards and producing the animation takes on average, six weeks and $10k per minute.
PentoPix is used collaboratively by directors and other team members to digitally storyboard quickly. Turnaround for storyboarding is reduced from six weeks to under two days.
The tool is used (or built upon) to onboard illustrators, given to motion designers, and used as is or built upon.
"If I tell you there is a mountain outside the window, and there is a castle on top of it, I guarantee what you're thinking and what I'm thinking are two different castles. Then imagine there are 130 pages of script that a team needs to align on."
Storyboarding can also visualise specifics like costumes, makeup, locations, and props, maintaining continuity throughout scenes.
Paulovich stressed that the intention of Pentopix is not to replace storyboards and other creative folk but rather to optimise the process and make it more efficient. "We want them to explore, and we want them to maximise their creativity with the tools to make it faster or better."
And the company's biggest competitor in practice right now is "a team of designers using spreadsheets."
PentoPix is also a film fundraising tool. Paulovich explained that film investors are unlikely to read a full script, sharing an example of a director working with a rather complicated, modern script:
"Typically, they would say it's too complicated and drop off after page 5. But now they don't have to read a 200-page script. They can watch a two-minute video."
The product is monetised through studio subscriptions, with options for students and freelancers. While it's early days for the company, it's captured the attention of creative industries ripe for innovation.