Research / experimental project directed by Pablo Nunez Palma and Bram Loogman, produced by Mirka Duijn
“Meet Jan Bot, the first filmmaking bot hired by Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum to bring film heritage to the algorithmic age.”
Jan Bot is a computer program that works day and night creating experimental films that match early twentieth century footage with current trending events. This is EYE Filmmuseum’s first robot employee.
How can you breathe new life into an old film collection? Film archives devote endless amounts of time and energy to the preservation of old films. But this work has little significance if these treasures remain hidden from the audience. Seeking a plausible solution to this problem, EYE Filmmuseum collaborated with filmmakers Bram Loogman and Pablo Núñez Palma to envision the future of film preservation. The result: Jan Bot.
Jan Bot is a computer program designed to generate short experimental films based on two ingredients: EYE’s archival film footage, and today’s trending topics. On its website, www.jan.bot, Jan Bot streams an average of ten 30 seconds films per day, which amounts to a total of more than seven thousand pieces to date. Each day Jan Bot chooses one of these videos to post on social media.
To produce this huge amount of original work, Jan Bot makes use of artificial intelligence services found by its creators on the web. “Many big companies, like Google and IBM, are offering tools for image recognition and language analysis, some of them even for free. So we took a bunch of them and glued them together to make films”, says Loogman, one of the minds behind Jan Bot.
The results are unexpectedly unique. If at first glance Jan Bot’s films seem to combine images and text in a random fashion, on a second reading however, its choices for footage and intertitles reveal a systematic if unusual sense-making logic.
To give an idea, one of Jan Bot’s films combines the footage of a Dracula look-alike actor with the news that Stephen Hawking recently passed away. This match may seem absurd if it wasn’t for the editing, which loops the shot of Dracula a few times just before he lifts his hand, making him look as if he had some kind of physical paralysis. Is it our imagination, or is Jan Bot mimicking Hawking’s condition? To this question, Núñez Palma responds: “There is always a difference between the ways in which machines and humans think. Jan Bot’s films are a visual exploration of that difference.”
“I will push my algorithms to make the best found footage films ever made”
At Jan Bot’s website, www.jan.bot, it is possible to watch in real-time what Jan Bot is processing or preparing for its next movie. The site also contains its complete collection of short films and a special section with notes on the research carried out by Jan Bot’s creators.
Jan Bot: bringing film heritage to the algorithmic age, is a co-production between EYE Filmmuseum and Stichting Modern Times.
The motivation to create Jan Bot was twofold. First of all we wanted to find a way to open up Eye Filmmuseum’s Bits and Pieces Archive for a bigger audience. But maybe even more important to us was to explore the aesthetic potential of some of the most popular AI tools available today.
Regarding the first point, from observing the way how media works these days, we realized that the notion of archiving is very much outdated. With so much data circulating online, archiving something is not as urgent as making it visible. That’s how we came to the idea of streaming short films inspired by trending events. This way we keep this collection of 100 year-old images visible in an environment that is eager to have new content.
When it comes to the second point, we noticed that most of the technology presented today as Artificial Intelligence is focused on marketing. For example, image and language analysis are tools commonly used to track the behaviour and sentiments of social media users around a company, a brand, or a campaign. This means that the algorithms that power these technologies are not neutral, but are designed with specific purposes. With Jan Bot we take these algorithms as they are and explore their potential to speak on other subjects, thus creating another kind of story.
Artificial Intelligence services are becoming more and more accessible on the web. They are increasingly cheap and easy to use. Many big companies, like Google and IBM, offer tools for image recognition and language analysis based on AI, some of them even for free. Jan Bot’s algorithm is based primarily on these kind of services.
“Researching and experimenting with innovative forms of presentation that respond to new ways of filmmaking is one of the museum’s priorities.”
Irene Haan, head of the presentation department at EYE