Toys‘R’Us Ad Made With AI Ignites Controversy

Legacy toy retailer Toys‘R’Us debuted what it calls the “first-ever brand film” using OpenAI’s upcoming text-to-video tool, Sora. The one-minute film premiered at the 2024 Cannes Lions Festival last week and was revealed online on Tuesday. Not everyone was impressed.

Titled “The Origin of Toys‘R’Us,” the video tells the origin story of Toys‘R’Us founder Charles Lazarus, the son of a bicycle shop owner who created the toy store in 1957. It brings to life the company’s mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe, and features many visual effects, “almost entirely” generated by Sora with text prompts. The company worked with Emmy-nominated creative agency Native Foreign to produce the film. according to a press release.

“Through Sora, we were able to tell this incredible story with remarkable speed and efficiency,” Nik Kleverov, Chief Creative Officer at Native Foreign, said in the release.

According to the announcement, the team was able to “bring a concept to reality in just a few weeks, condensing hundreds of iterative shots down to a couple dozen.” There was still need to edit the output with with some corrective visual effects work, however. For music for the short film, an original music score was commissioned from Aaron Marsh of the indie rock band Copeland.

While Kleverov praised Toys‘R’Us for embracing an “AI-forward strategy” to “help lead the next wave of innovative storytelling,” however, the brand film drew mixed reactions online.

“Interesting times ahead from here,” tweeted Allen T., a self-described AI videomaker, who pointed out that the Toys‘R’Us film exhibited problems in depicting details like hands and keeping a character’s appearance consistent from scene to scene.

The reaction from people in the filmmaking industry was harsh.

“Shame on Toys‘R’Us for contributing to this madness and also for making such a shitty-looking commercial,” tweeted Luke Barnett, an American actor, writer, and producer.

Noting the financial troubles of Toys‘R’Us company, actor Elias Toufexis wrote, “I’m glad Toys R Us went out of business. They should have stayed out.”

Author and podcaster Theo Priestley called the ad an “abomination.”

“They’re clearly too cheap to use real creators and child actors,” he tweeted. “Makes a strong statement in itself about their own lack of imagination and shits given about their core audience.”

The adoption of AI in filmmaking and creative work has been divisive since the explosive arrival of ChatGPT on the scene in 2022. It was a key sticking point in the long-running labor strike in Hollywood last year. Advocates for the tech have often drawn widespread ire.

“Some creative jobs maybe will go away, but maybe they shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” OpenAI’s Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati said last week.

Just a few weeks ago, actor Ashton Kutcher sparked outrage when he touted the ability of tools like Sora to save time on money on film production. Later responding to the backlash, he characterized the adoption of AI as inevitable.

“It’s an amazing tool that we should learn to work with to become more prolific and efficient as [artists],” Kutcher tweeted in response to the backlash. “Acting like it doesn’t exist will be catastrophic.”

Toys‘R’Us and Kutcher are not the only one leveraging Sora’s capabilities for filmmaking. Shy Kids, a multimedia production company, was showcased by Sora for using the tool to create their short film, “Air Head.”

Sora is currently in a closed beta phase, with a select group of creators testing the tool. But ever since its announcement, competitors are emerging with similar or more advanced text-to-video AI models. Companies like Synthesia, Lumalabs, and Runway have announced their own video generation platforms. Chinese tech companies are also entering the field, with Kuaishou’s Kling and ShengShu Technology’s Vidu offering impressive capabilities in AI-generated video content producing results comparable to those shown by OpenAI.

Edited by Ryan Ozawa.

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