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Degree of manipulation | Interview with Łukasz Baka, PhD

30.01.2024 - 10:41 update 21.02.2024 - 13:52
Editors: OO

| Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD |

We still go to the cinema. The films we have the pleasure of watching on the big screen are the result of the work of many specialists, as evidenced by, among others, closing credits. Everything is important: music, acting, script, directing, cinematography. Film crews have more and more interesting tools at their disposal. Of particular interest are those that are increasingly based on artificial intelligence. Who will lose their job and for whom new doors will open? And are we, the viewers, ready for the next technological revolution? These questions are answered by Łukasz Baka, PhD, cinematographer, stereographer and colourist, lecturer of the Krzysztof Kieślowski Film School at the University of Silesia.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: I remember this scene from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner: Rick Deckard sits across from Rachel, asking her questions, watching her reactions closely. His lips are visible in the light, but his eyes remain in the semi-darkness. Rachel’s silhouette is faintly visible in the dark. When we see her on the screen, there is little light, just enough for the smoke of her cigarette to fill the entire screen, increasing the sense of mystery and introducing movement. Although she always wears deep red lipstick, the red loses its intensity in this scene. How is it that some film scenes stay in our memory forever?

Łukasz Baka, PhD: Apparently they have something that makes them stand out, something unique. One of the elements of this uniqueness is colour. We can compare the various techniques used in the film to the painting style associated with the colour palette. The process of creating the desired effect begins at the stage of film production. The camera image viewed by the film crew headed by the director is not neutral, but rather processed by the artist’s vision. Further changes can also be introduced during the post-production stage. This is the style of the cinematographer, of the visual layer in the film. It may indeed be the case that a cinematographer has their own visual style, but they work primarily on the material they receives, i.e. the script. Then we talk about the so-called ‘look’ of the film.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: In what sense is colour in film meaningful?

Łukasz Baka, PhD: Sometimes it has only aesthetic significance, but there are also times when colour is actually crucial to the film. Let me give you a textbook example. The green and yellow colours of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique perfectly illustrate the artistic colour correction, reflecting the subjective point of view of the heroine. This is indicated by the scene in which Veronique watches the film reality through a green ball. We can see a similar approach in Amelia by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a fantasy world based on three colours: juicy green, sunny yellow and deep red. Through the look of the film, we can influence how the film will be perceived and interpreted by viewers. Certain colour palettes are often recognisable features of film genres. If you think about the war film genre, what colours do you think such films sparkle with?

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: I must admit that my first associations are not with any film, but with the board of the game This War of Mine, designed by Michał Oracz based on the video game of the same title. The dominant colours are various shades of grey, but in dark tones, there are also dark and brick red accents.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: Red? That’s interesting. After all, it is the colour of danger. What if you thought about Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan?

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: I see a characteristic shade of green, faded, unsaturated.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: The colours used there are cyan, blue-green or blue-blue shades, in cool tones. In our jargon we say that it is ‘desaturated’, drained of colour. In more recent productions, we can see it in Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front or Sam Mendes’ 1917. This is a characteristic feature of how the war film genre looks. There are, of course, cases in which a different colour will appear, even the above-mentioned red, others will be more earthy, still others may contain more green, but they will be combined using desaturation. Naturally, this is not a rule that should be strictly followed. We are talking about a certain genre tendency that can also be played with to achieve a different effect.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: For me, an example of such play on this rule would be Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit, which is dominated by yellow and green, with red also appearing, as in the aforementioned Amelia. Kind of like a war film but in reverse.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: In the film Black Hawk Down by Ridley Scott, yellow and green colours also dominate, in this case, for a change, they are highly saturated. However, the film takes place in Africa, not Europe. When watching films, it is worth paying attention to the colour palette used, because it sometimes carries meaning. Nothing is striking at first glance, but the colour correction used affects our subconscious and thus also affects the perception of the film. Again, nuances.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: What is colour correction of images in a film?

Łukasz Baka, PhD: This is what I do every day. I am a digital image technician, i.e. someone who tries to translate the artistic vision of the cinematographer into the technical language of the image so that we can see the final visual effect in the cinema. I work with the cinematographer, whose role is very important. Thanks to them, what the film crew sees on the monitor screen is already ‘something’. Suddenly they notice the semantic space they are in. Colour in film is a unique tool.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: To properly read, we need a common cultural understanding.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: Our associations, of course, come from cultural codes, it’s true. Subsequent images build up in our memory and make it easier to grasp the atmosphere of the film. A good example is the colour purple. It suggests higher social status, luxury, power. We have it in painting, we have it in film.

Of course, red is the strongest. It becomes a carrier of energy, but also of warning, it screams: Pay attention! That’s why context in a film is so important. It’s impossible to create a film colour dictionary, but we see recurring solutions that we’ve already talked about.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: What tools do you use in your work?

Łukasz Baka, PhD: I am often asked about new technologies. When 3D technology was emerging in the world, I was part of the team that was the first to use these solutions on the domestic market. I have been dealing with real-time colour correction, or live grading, for ten years. Before this topic appeared in Poland, I was already doing it in Israel. I try to think outside the box and think long-term.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: In this context, I can’t help but ask about artificial intelligence and its use in film.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: AI is already doing quite well with photos, but not so much with longer films. However, I must admit that the pace of change is dizzying. Social awareness is a big challenge. People do not realise what new possibilities of manipulation open up to those who want to achieve their goals. If we are dealing with fiction, there is no problem, but if these tools are used, for example, to manipulate politics, and such actions have already been taken in the United States, then we have a problem, and quite a big one at that. A good example is the deepfake, or fake image. Suffice to recall the recording allegedly showing Barack Obama warning against the unethical use of digital technologies and disinformation.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: The BBC reported: “Fake Obama created using AI video tool”.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: Created convincingly, let us add.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: AI is a new tool that allows us to influence what we see. In the context of film or photography, but also painting, such tools are nothing new. We could mention photo retouching or image colour correction, which you do. These actions influence the final image we see in the cinema. We talked about this a moment ago. Colour can enhance the horror of a horror film or add a fairy-tale dimension to a war-themed film. You can manipulate the viewer’s emotions and attention. Make us remember forever the red coat, so important in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Artistic processing of the visible world is nothing new, we only have increasingly better tools. We can discover new worlds, we can change history.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: The difference is significant. When using AI, attention should be paid to the degree of manipulation. Video can be more persuasive than photography. It is not difficult to imagine content stylised as reportage or documentaries, showing events that did not take place. In the context of recent events, these may be reports from Gaza or Israel that did not happen. Such materials published online can reach thousands of recipients before anyone can verify their authenticity.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: An interesting example is Robert Doisneau’s famous photograph showing two young people kissing in front of the town hall in Paris. Many years later, the author admitted that the scene was staged, although the actors were actually a couple at that time. Then we start to wonder whether other famous photographs, such as the Napalm Girl of a girl burned by napalm during the Vietnam War, are actually a captured moment or a scene from someone’s show.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: When I learned the story behind Robert Doisneau’s photo, I must admit that I was very disappointed. The unrivalled model of reportage turned out to be a creation. Nevertheless, what Doisneau did had no political consequences. Manipulation through AI takes on a new face. These are not only faces, but also words that can be put into the mouth of any person, even one who has been dead for a long time. You can change the past and influence the future.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: One of the films that you recommended to me in the context of our conversation was a reel with Tom Cruise and Paris Hilton preparing for a gala together. The short video, one of several published on TikTok in 2022, suggests that these celebrities are a couple. In the last one, Tom, asked by Paris whether people will believe that they are together, replies: “I think people will believe anything”. I watched the footage several times to spot anything that could technically indicate that it was a deepfake, the actors’ faces ‘pasted’ into the film using artificial intelligence. No luck. Visually it is completely convincing It is only in the comment that we will find the explanation that these are just characters that look, talk and gesticulate like Tom Cruise and Paris Hilton. It’s a powerful tool.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: Right? There are, of course, tools that help decode these hoaxes, but they only determine the degree of likelihood of using AI in the content creation process. And at the same time, technological solutions are being developed that help cover those traces.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: It’s funny that a creation with the word ‘artificial’ in its name creates truly convincing images.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: Photography or film are no different from the point of view of the question about the nature of truth. If the recipient interpreted what they saw as true and no doubts arose in them, then in the artistic sense the image is true. It evokes intellectual reflections and emotions in us. It is only necessary to note that the genesis of the image could have been conceptualised, developed, and generated. The epithet ‘artificial’ used to describe artificial intelligence is, in my opinion, an inaccurate and pejorative term. What do we mean exactly by ‘artificial’?

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: The artificial human is a replicant.

Łukasz Baka, PhD: Whenever I think about it, I get the impression that the replicants in Philip Dick’s world are more human than their ancestors. In 2013, the film Congress was made by Ari Folman, based on the novel by Stanisław Lem. Robin Wright (playing herself in the film) faces the dilemma of whether to allow the film studio to ‘scan’ her body and emotions, which will ultimately mean completely selling her image. Back then, the film’s plot was not taken literally, the animation was rather a grim thought experiment, a case study typical of Folman, giving an excuse to reflect on one’s own existence. Today, such a scenario is completely probable. However, I believe that actors and actresses can sleep peacefully. There is something unique in them: empathy, sensitivity, interpretation of the text, a twitch of an eyelid, a slip of the tongue, fatigue, improvisation. This is something that makes us know that we are interacting with a living person. This brings us back to the Voight-Kampff test from Blade Runner, which examines the level of empathy. But I’m not thinking about Rachel, I’m thinking about Leon. It is worth recalling a fragment of the conversation. The Blade Runner tells Leon to imagine he is in the desert.

Leon: What desert?
Blade Runner: Doesn’t make any difference what desert.
Leon: How come I’d be there?
Blade Runner: Maybe you are fed up, maybe you want to be by yourself.
You look down and you see a tortoise, Leon, it’s crawling toward you.
Leon: Tortoise? What’s that?
Blade Runner: You know what a turtle is?
Leon: Of course.
Blade Runner: Same thing.

Interesting. For a human, a turtle or a tortoise in the context of the story being told is one and the same, for a replicant, for an artificial intelligence, it is not.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: Will the machines’ weakness then be their meticulousness, their perfection understood in this way? Can we sleep peacefully?

Łukasz Baka, PhD: Not all of us, I’m afraid. In the film industry, on the one hand, we have films shot in a traditional way, i.e. with costumes, a film set, set design, and a camera. On the other hand, we can see an encouraging trailer for the new animation Michael in the Pixar style – only generated entirely by AI. If such an image is as good or even better than the one created by set or costume designers, you can probably guess the answer. The job market in our industry will definitely change. I have no doubt that the largest producers and streaming platforms will begin to benefit from artificial intelligence. There will be a demand in the industry for specialists with key competences in cooperation with artificial intelligence. Where will this take us? I’m not able to say, there are too many unknowns.

Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: Thank you very much for the interview.

Article ‘Degree of manipulation’ was published in the January issue of University of Silesia Magazine No. 4 (314).

Dr Łukasz Baka

Łukasz Baka, PhD from the Krzysztof Kieślowski Film School at the University of Silesia in Katowice | Photograph rendered by AI in the AI ARTA app

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