Benjamin is a genius who may have created a film that’s going to be a cringe classic for years to come. Zone Out has all the makings of one – hilariously bad dialogue, an absolutely bizarre plotline, distorted characters, an ominously sappy soundtrack and, to wrap it all up, just the best demonic robot laughing you’ll ever hear. If you’ve ever wondered what the end of the world will sound like, we’re pretty sure that robotic laughter is it.
But there’s something else that’s special about Zone Out that will ensure the timelessness of the film. Benjamin is not a human or a collective. Benjamin is an Artificial Intelligence programme that wrote, performed, directed, scored and edited the entire film.
The idea was the brainchild of Los Angeles-based director Oscar Sharp and Ross Goodwin, a creative technologist at Google. The pair had previously used Benjamin to make another short film, Sunspring In that film, they used real actors and Benjamin carried much less of the load. This time, they decided to let Benjamin do just about everything.
Sharp told Wired, “What I was really trying to do is attempt to automate each part of the human creative process to see if we learn anything about what it really is to be a human person creating films.”
Like the last time, the short film was created as an entry in the Sci-Fi-London 48-Hour Challenge, which demands that the film be produced in 48 hours while adhering to specific prompts. Thus, we get contorted faces, an incoherent story, incomprehensible dialogue like “There must be some business in my compass” and casual exchanges like: “Are you sure you need a problem?” “I’m not certain, I don’t remember the loss of a substance.”
Sharp and Goodwin provided Benjamin entire films from the public domain – The Last Man on Earth and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die – to which the programme added faces of the human actors from Sunspring, using face-swapping technology and dialogue using voice-generation technologies. The programme also wrote the screenplay, put together the footage, and created the melancholic piano score.
Here’s the behind-the-scenes film of Zone Out.