How AI is changing Post & VFX

Original post appeared on Gabriel’s May 19th ‘Content, Music + Media’ newsletter on Linkedin

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In 5 out of 5 of my last production bids, the client asked about AI. Now they didn’t come right out and say it… but it felt like they were thinking “Doesn’t AI basically just make your commercials for you?”

Six questions answered by an industry leader

Not yet. But the recent AI media-frenzy certainly has many-a-marketer thinking this is the case. Aside from AI having a great press agent in its own right, this bean-counter perception is also fueled by a perfect storm of media coverage focusing on endless corporate layoffs, recession predictions, bank failures… and now the writers’ strike. So regardless of AI advancements, the continued downward pressure on commercial production budgets is real. But that’s not to say AI is positioned to replace commercial production as we know it.

In terms of commercial production, Post and VFX seem to be leading the AI charge. So I caught up with a long-time colleague and post-innovator Lucien Harriot of Mechanism Digital in New York City to better understand what’s going on. And possibly ease some concerns.

Btw… Lucien has been president of post and effects house Mechanism Digital since 1996 (which is a thousand VFX years) producing award-winning visual effects, animation, and new media for films, television, and marketing. And long before AI was a buzzword, Lucien has been leveraging AI technologies and advanced workflows for content production. So let’s get into it.

Question 1: Hiring Impact

BBC reported that AI will very likely eliminate 300 Million Jobs. And The Guardian reported that it expects AI to widen the wealth gap. That all sounds pretty doom and gloom. In the real life day-to-day of post production and visual effects, do you really view AI as just another tool… or do you see it as a movement which will inevitably decrease the number of people you hire?

Lucien: AI has definitely improved our efficiency when it comes to the software we use, streamlining our work and making things more efficient. This means we can achieve better, faster, and cheaper results. If there’s enough demand in the industry, our studio could take on more projects. However, if we can’t double our workload, we likely won’t be hiring new people. This may impact newcomers more, while benefiting experienced professionals since we need more experts to oversee VFX, animation, and post-production. AI is excellent at handling many tasks, particularly the simpler ones, but it still requires the guidance of someone with a discerning eye to ensure everything is on the right track. The cost reductions that come with AI-powered efficiencies might give us a competitive advantage. But it’s important to keep in mind that other studios will probably adopt similar technologies, which would level the playing field once again. So while AI is undoubtedly a valuable tool, it may also lead to hiring fewer people, especially at the entry-level, as the industry continues to evolve.

Question 2: Which Tools Do You Use?

Of all the VFX and post-production AI tools that you’ve been exposed to over the past six months, which specific AI tool do you expect to use as product offering for your clients most?

Lucien: Over the past six months, we’ve seen impressive advancements in VFX and post-production AI tools. Rotoscoping, keying, and tracking have shown significant improvements. Audio cleanup tools have become more efficient and user-friendly, while voice-over technology is now suitable for scratch tracks and speaking legal copy. ChatGPT has been particularly helpful in solving technical issues by offering suggestions when troubleshooting software errors. Additionally, we’ve been able to breakdown and get cost estimates for VFX shots in feature film scripts, which used to be a time-consuming process when bidding on new projects. Although the above tasks require a seasoned expert to guide the process, these tools hold great potential as cost reductions and added value for our clients.

Question 3: Who does AI best in post?

There are quite a few players in post. Which better-known post production platforms have the most interesting AI integrations and plug-ins thus far?  What are they?  

Lucien: Among the well-known post-production platforms, our primary 3D software, Maya, has gained a few interesting AI integrations that generate textures, backgrounds and dynamic scene generation. It’s important to note that these tools are currently being developed by users, which allows for faster innovation compared to waiting for Autodesk to develop new features. RunwayML is another promising software, offering a collection of browser-based editing and post-production tools. These include object removal from moving video and AI-generated text-to-image/video tools. While the quality of these tools may not yet be suitable for feature films, they do provide accessible options for consumers and less critical video projects, such as corporate, educational, and late-night talk shows. This democratization of tools has the potential to benefit a wider range of users and clients. Another interesting change we are seeing is most AI solutions are web-based which makes them available to a broad range of people since a good amount of post-production work no longer requires high performance workstations.

Question 4: Pick One

A, B, or C: You can only pick one (a) I expect that AI tools will grow my efficiencies and current offerings which will drive my VFX and Post income up. (b) I expect that AI tools will drive my VFX and Post income down (c) I don’t see AI impacting my VFX and Post income for the foreseeable future.

Lucien:I believe that AI will likely drive the overall gross income of our VFX and Post business down, as we’ll probably reduce prices thanks to the new efficiencies but will also need to remain competitive against others who are also cutting their costs and prices.

However, I anticipate seeing an increase in our profits, at least in the short term, assuming prices won’t drop drastically right away. One advantage I see with our current setup is that we have been entirely cloud-based these past three years and no longer have the substantial capital investment that we did during the first twenty-five years of our business. Although cloud computing can be more expensive than purchasing hardware, the flexibility it offers can lead to considerable cost savings. As new AI tools become increasingly cloud-friendly, we can further benefit from their adaptability and integration into our workflows.

Question 5: If You Could Go Back In Time

Of all your memorable projects over the years… which project had a significant production challenge (be specific) that would have been a lot easier if you had access to a current AI tool that wasn’t available then.  Details would be very cool.

Lucien: There are two projects that come to mind, which would have been considerably easier with the help of current AI tools. The first was a music video where we had to create an effect showing a woman’s face gradually becoming more bruised from domestic violence while she sang to the camera. With today’s neural style transfer tools, we could have effortlessly applied this effect to the subtle contours of her face while her face was in motion singing. The second project was a blue-jeans commercial which was accidentally filmed against a blue screen, which required manual rotoscoping for every frame. Modern AI techniques can now recognize people and objects based on their shapes, much like humans do, rather than relying solely on a single color for background replacement. This technology has the potential to replace traditional blue and green screen keying in the future, making tasks like these much more manageable and even reducing production costs and concerns.

Question 6: What else?

For readers to better understand the potential real-life impact of AI on Visual Effects and Post Production… what question do you wish I had asked?

Lucien: An interesting question you could have asked is what other technology from the past has had as significant an impact as AI. My answer would be, not just in post-production, but across all industries. In my opinion, AI will influence our world to the same extent as the invention of the wheel or the harnessing of electricity. The changes brought on by AI will be profoundly transformative, and I think we’re just beginning to grasp the extent of its potential. Until recently our intelligence set us apart from other living organisms on this planet, along with our opposable thumbs, of course. While AI might not be a living organism and may not technically possess “intelligence,” it can simulate intelligence so effectively that we can’t tell the difference. As AI continues to evolve at a rapid pace, it will eventually replace the need for most humans who are paid for their thinking or reasoning skills.  AI’s strength lies in its ability to access information from around the world, connecting the dots to solve problems. The outcome could be a utopia where nobody has to work or a sci-fi horror movie scenario with revolutions and uprisings, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. At least we’ll still have our opposable thumbs!

Well… here’s to our opposable thumbs. Following Lucien’s lead, I personally believe that the biggest AI advancements to come might be in industries like residential plumbing. AI can pass the bar exam… but it’s unlikely that it will soon be able to climb under your sink to replace a pipe. So I believe traditionally manual trades will greatly increase in value as the result of AI pushing many white collar trades out of relevance. So here’s to our future plumbers and their very useful opposable thumbs.

Big thank you to Lucien Harriot and Mechanism Digital for sharing his insightful POV on things to come in Post and VFX thanks to AI. You can check out their work at the link below.

Hey producers… you should invite Lucien to bid on your next project!

Until next time, remember… message over data. And likes don’t mean they’re actually gonna buy a ticket. TTFN.


DEI Pledge of Gabriel Gornell and LocoDistro

Inspired by DEI Commitment Statement from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we’re committed to the following pledge:

We will:

  1. Achieve the impact we want to have in the world by actively listening to our partners and the communities they work within and serve, investing in and elevating their voices and ideas
  2. Create an inclusive workplace culture that recognizes and values all backgrounds, voices, roles, and contributions
  3. Foster practices to help us build a globally and culturally diverse workforce, empowered and supported to perform at their highest potential
  4. Hold our leaders accountable for developing diverse and inclusive teams, making decisions equitably and transparently, and modeling inclusive behaviors

As we work toward these outcomes, we will hold fast to our vision: that every person will have the chance to live a healthy, productive life and be treated with dignity, humanity and respect — in our organization and around the world.

Rihanna before Rihanna: Farewell to the Gambler. 

On this day three years ago we lost Kenny Rogers, one of the best selling music artists of all time. Kenny was Rihanna well before Rihanna. Not only did he chart 120 hit singles, he was a 360° media and business mogul. He even pioneered hick-hop long before Lil Nas X with his 1998 Coolio collab.

Kenny was in the movie business (Six Pack), the food business (Kenny Rogers Roasters), the TV business (the Gambler series) even the automotive business (Gamber Chassis Co). And his legend has been featured in storylines from Seinfeld to HBO’s Big Love to Geico commercials.

I only had the pleasure of working with Kenny for a short period. We were business partners for a couple years and ultimately created our own 360° experience which included a Festival Line-up, Casino experience with MGM Grand, an Oprah episode… and even a TV Special distributed by BBC. Kenny’s legend helped us secure Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie, Darius Rucker, Alison Krauss, Smokey Robinson, Wynonna Judd, Billy Currington, Chris Isaac, the Oak Ridge Boys and so many more.  

When you consider today’s landscape of new and niche festivals across the US… this experience was WAY ahead of its time, just like Kenny. 



Cheers to the cultural contributions of the Irish. From Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ (1729) to Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (1895) to James Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ (1916) to U2’s ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ (2000). For centuries, the Irish have provoked and inspired. And who doesn’t love a pint of Guinness. #culture #stpatricksday #artist #irish

12 Books to Read After You Finished Daisy Jones and the Six…

Or perhaps read it BEFORE Daisy 😉 Maybe I’m a little biased but I’m still super appreciative that Liz Doupnik and W Magazine included ‘I’m With The Band’ by the O.G. Pamela Des Barres on their latest list of must-reads. Big thank you!

It’s the TRUE story that so many stories lifted pages from. And I expect that we’ll be sharing some EXCITING updates on the ONE TRUE tale pretty soon. Stay tuned, music lovers!

You can read Liz’s full article here…


An little old-fashioned seaside table read. Getting everyone on the same page… from client to agency to crew to talent… often comes down to a simple table read. This one is from earlier this week, on location at Dockweiler Beach in Southern California.  Big thanks to JACKERY for trusting us with their incredible outdoors brand.

November 2022, for Jackery, Inc.


Whether they be investors, distributors, networks, or brand clients… If your concept can’t hold the attention of your own stakeholders— those stakeholders will never believe your concept is strong enough to hold the attention of your audience. Creative is everything. But presentation helps. Good luck to everyone at American Film Market this week.

Photographed at Quixote Studios in Los Angeles, November 2022


It took me many years to understand that taking a holiday wasn’t counterproductive to living ‘that producer life’ but actually a necessary reset to be even more productive for the long haul.

Producers understand this: When you’re in it… there’s no half-stepping. You gotta be 110% on. But grind for a few years without a proper unplug, and you get burned out. Especially when living that ‘rise & grind’ within today’s hyper-connected social/zoom/media/call-me-on-my-mobile world.

This June is my unplug, so I can come back swinging in July… fully charged. And the Amalfi Coast ain’t a bad place to do it. Let’s be honest.



I love these brand extensions. Like Hall & Oats, Sonny and Cher, and Chico and the Man… it’s during these trying times we can rest a little easier with the power duo of Martha and Snoop for our evening’s numbnation. In their latest “joint” venture, Martha released a wine under the same label as Snoop, 19 Crimes from Treasury Wine Estates. I honestly had no idea about Martha’s entry until I happened upon this glorious end-aisle display at Trader Joe’s in the Marina (dey Rey).

The Australian 19 Crimes caught my eye almost immediately in 2012 when it launched with a brand and label design which included some pretty cool augmented reality, especially for the time. Each bottle comes with a criminal’s tale, a decent blend, and an even more drinkable price. What’s not to love? 

More recently came the Aussie’s first foray into California varieties with Snoop Cali Red in 2020 followed by Snoop Cali Rosé in 2021. A cross-promo collab which is working well for all parties.

Martha’s Chard by 19 Crimes

And now this… Martha’s Chard in 2022. Despite the complete sh*+ show in Eastern Europe, here at home we can fill our tanks for $6 bucks a gallon, then blissfully motor to TJ’s for an $11.99 bottle of “tell me everything is gonna be alright.”

And the reviews seem to be decent too. She’s taking the piss without pouring it. No her name ain’t baby. It’s Martha. Miss Stewart if you’re Chianti. She went on to say “The world didn’t need just another Chardonnay, so I created one that is clean, crisp, and flavorful without being too heavy or oaky. It pairs perfectly with my delicious recipes or can be enjoyed on its own. I hope you love it as much as I do!

Now putting artist names on perfume bottles at Walgreens still makes me cringe a little (sorry Glow by Jennifer Lopez). But these mass-market elixirs with “artist names on the bottles” actually feels good to me. So with Snoop Cali Red and now Martha’s Chard, yes, everything is gonna be alright.


This one is obviously inspired by my wife and daughter. But it’s in support of all women who kick ass and inspire… which happens to be almost exactly half of the human population. Despite the recent post-woke rhetoric from some noisy (but completely out of touch) middle-aged-white men, the pendulum has NOT swung too far in the other direction. 

Don’t believe the hype: The stats confirm that it’s NOT suddenly harder to be a white male in Film & TV. In fact, gender equality still isn’t even close in ANY of the key positions of influence. Further, gender equality actually dipped over the last 12 months among producers and editors.

We need to get real with this stuff.

Note: The actual stats are from the ‘Center For The Study of Women in Film and TV’ – but I need to credit Evan Shapiro for including this chart in his recent post, or I wouldn’t have seen the stats or his graphic.


I am. And here’s a pic of ERW from ‘WEIRD: The Al Yankovic Story‘ which happens to be a music biopic that I really want to see. Not only is Al Yankovic simply a lovely guy… but his journey and accomplishments are astonishing.

In addition to the first look of ERW as Madonna, Roku Inc. also announced a few more additions to the cast. Rainn Wilson (“The Office”) as radio DJ Dr. Demento, Julianne Nicholson (“Mare of Easttown”) as Weird Al’s mum Mary Yankovic and Toby Huss (“Halt and Catch Fire”) as Weird Al’s father Nick Yankovic.

Curious… the only biopic that I’m more interested in is ‘I’m With The Band’ from Pamela Des Barres. (based on the NY Times Best Seller) Funny… it was at Pamela’s house that I met Al.

And in terms of #WomensHistoryMonth …Today I celebrate MADONNA


The world keeps counting her out but Britney keeps coming back stronger than ever. Here, Rolling Stone ranks the work of one of THE most influential artists of the past generation by counting down every song she’s ever done — from world-changing hits (Oops!, Hit me baby, Toxic, etc) to cha-ching corporate rock like 2004’s “We Will Rock You” with Pink and Beyoncé for Pepsi (which they rank at #70 btw). 
It’s a great trip down Britney lane. And it commands #MusicIndustry respect because every song from her top 25 is likely more culturally impactful than the top #1 song from most charting-artists.


Every Britney Spears Song Ranked


My secondObserving Music + Medianewsletter on Linkedin focuses on International Distribution trends, and how it will impact creative development here in the US. Snipped below. Click the link to read the whole thing on Linkedin.


Errr…um… Less Impossible Burger. And not actually in China. Hollywood will continue to adapt to their growth requirements the only way it knows how… with the continued “dumbing down” of the arts and culture. Why? Because thoughtful, intelligent entertainment is much harder to scale beyond cultural boundaries. And the commitment to develop thoughtful local content is literally impossible to scale at the level required by studios and big-media streamers like Netflix.




Having spent a fair amount of time traveling the land of network on-air promos… those :05 to :15 second bumps that sell an entire program… I got to thinking about socials.  Hmmm… don’t on-air promos look a lot like a TikTok? And haven’t most TV execs banged out more of these :15 second wonders than Charli D’Amelio on one-too-many Red Bulls?

My tour d’ promo was very east coast. MTV, A&E Networks, HBO, Turner, NBC, ESPN, Hallmark, and lots of trips to down Bethesda/Silver Spring. (Who remembers Discovery in Bethesda?)

One of my mentors was/is Steve Lance who as creative director of NBC (and a host of others in the 70s, 80s, 90s) developed a simple promo-measuring-stick that I still rely on today: On A.I.R. Wisdom.  With A.I.R. standing for Attention, Interest, and Recall.

The Zoom-salon went like this.

GABE: In terms of A.I.R… What’s the biggest difference between a :15 second on-air promo and a piece of TV marketing delivered as a :15 second TikTok or IG Story?

STEVE: Great question. (BTW – a few people even remember Discovery in Landover). The answers would fill a book – and there are plenty of them out there. But if I had to boil it down to an easily-digestible blog, I’d have to say this: A.I.R. still applies, but Big Data and Clever Algorithms (can I put a trademark around that phrase?) have changed the dynamics and ratio of the three elements. Let’s re-visit these three basics in the new “social” environment.

“Attention” is really promo-writing 101. How fast can you toss out a hook to keep eyeballs? The folks writing :15-second spots for YouTube, TikTok, etc. [skip commercial in :05…] need to learn from good promo creators. Most of the current :15, :10 and even :05-second ads try to sell the product or message, not hook the viewer. Great promo writing is about hitting someone in the gut or tugging at their heart, not selling them something. No matter what the platform, for writer/producers, the most important part of every promo has to be the first three seconds. And that should be the domain of the creative people, not the marketers. If I were running a promo department today, I would ask all the writer/producers to show me their click bait opening.

“Interest” is where all the new buzzwords reside. Research, big data, data targeting, blah, blah, blah—it’s all a media planning conversation. There’s important information for the creatives here, but it’s not an end in itself. The job of marketing is to determine the target and opportunity. The job of creative is to turn those numbers into an emotional experience people can connect with. That’s a non-conversation to a marketer or media planner, so creative gets smothered under a pile of analytics and there’s no heart to the message. I’m always bemused (and annoyed) by the algorithms “If You Watched This You’ll Love This…” because they’re genre decisions which don’t embrace the intangible emotional experiences I have. Sadly, creatives will have to accept that marketers will continue to harass and annoy them into producing emotionless drivel after the first three seconds.

“Recall” as we’ve discussed before, is almost immaterial. There are no shortage of links, buttons, lists and platforms we can use to make sure a person can find a show again or recommend it to their friends. So a case can be made that “Recall” can now be refined to something closer to “Motivate the click-through.”  Fortunately, A.I.M. is a decent acronym too.

GABE: If all this is true, what’s really changed?  If “attention” and “interest” are still paramount, have SVOD viewing habits actually impacted how we should message and market programming – regardless of TikTok versus On-air as the platform?  It seems like perhaps fans are still fans, and they’re largely still responding to the same cues. Simply on a mobile versus in the living room.  

STEVE: The biggest change, perhaps, is Tentpole strategy. Back in the ancient days of CBI (Cable Before Internet…can I trademark that, too?) smart marketers and programmers knew the best way to utilize resources was a Tentpole Event. This would be a high-visibility, high-E special even that would bring casual viewers as well as hardcore fans to the network. Shark Week was a Tentpole event. For eight days before the traditional Fall new season premieres, Discovery would pump up viewership and use that event to build interest in other programs. We still see it with Disney+ and HBO Max and the other “bonus” programming packages. “If you want to see the world premiere of [XX], sign up now for our PLUS offering.” In this case, it’s the promise of the program rather than the program itself which is meant to serve as a tentpole. 

GABE: Agreed. And beyond immediate tune-in, tentpoles also served as a pillar of the network’s brand foundation. We used to inherently know that Shark Week was Discovery, ‘Must See TV’ was NBC, and Sopranos was HBO.  But today… and perhaps because of the shift in Tentpole strategies… no matter how popular the show, we always ask… Is that Netflix or HBO or Amazon?  

It’s got to be more than shifts in Tentpoles and Fall season premieres.  What are today’s Networks doing wrong regarding owning their content as their own?

STEVE: The final element has been completely shredded the past ten years: Branding. Chris Moseley, former CMO of Discovery was a champion of branding. Whatever people say about the Discovery brand, they owe it all to the work Chris did. HBO built itself by being a brand that stood for something (It’s Not TV, It’s HBO). Promotion delivered the promise of Programming. Discovery, as well (Explore Your World) brought their world-class programs to life. And, of course, countless time slots and programs like Must See TV and SNL

The truth is that marketers, creatives, media planners… just about everyone in our side of the business have largely given up. The accepted “wisdom” is “Young people don’t care what network/channel/device it’s on.” 

That’s simply, well, I don’t know what the young, hip term is for “bullshit.” 

Branding still matters in entertainment the same way it matters in Tech, in Footwear, in every area of peoples’ lives. Is it harder than ever to establish and maintain an entertainment BRAND? Absolutely. Is that a reason not to try? Absolutely not.

GABE: Preach!  Branding still matters!

STEVE: Yes.  And I hope that helps.  Stay safe. Stay sane. And stay smart! It’s the people who ask and think about those questions who’ll thrive in the coming years.

Steve Lance

Steve Lance now leads workshops, trainings and webinars on Taming the Approval Process–giving creatives and marketers 20 tools and tips they can use to get the approval process under control. Yes, it’s possible. Connect with him on LinkedIn or 


Exciting music-meets-fashion project in the works with music-industry leader, Live Nation. Details to come soon. We’re truly excited about this one.

Gabriel is creatively leading this one as writer and director. Stay tuned!


Led the aspirational outdoor brand’s first ever live-stream event as Director, Writer, and Creative EP. The program leveraged the fanbases and followers of several outdoor influencers including Mr. Adventure Tristan Hamm, Pro Surfer Ian Crane, Van-lifers Meghan and Matt, and DJ Disco Shrine on the beaches of Southern California. And together, we drove , Views, Engagement, and UGC for the brand.

In just two hours we garnered…

514,000 Live Views


Thousands of UGC Posts During the Campaign – Over 50K Total To Date

34% Organic Engagement Rate

Director Gabriel Gornell with First AD Roberta Sparta