How AI Is Transforming Creativity and Business With Lucien Harriot

John Corcoran 11:02

And what about for new team members that come in? Do you ever struggle to explain to them the importance of, like, following an SOP? You get a new art school graduate and, like, try to explain them well, you got to follow this system. I’m, I’m, maybe I’m ignorant here, but I’m visualizing, like, you know, someone comes in and I’m, I’m a creative, I’m an artist. Like, I can’t be constrained. Like, how do you, how do you explain to them the importance of following a system, following a process?

Lucien Harriot 11:32

I guess it’s just, yeah, you’d have to try to explain it. And then hopefully everybody else in the company sets an example, and does, you know, puts things in their proper boxes. You know, you clean up your desk, and you’re done. And then it’s hard to just teach. It’s something that somebody will go off and on a tangent, thinking they’re helping or being more creative. And then it realizes that it actually causes problems for other people in the chain of command. And then we have to sit and talk about it for a moment. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just part of the learning process. And you know, it’s happened to me a million times, and it’ll happen to everybody who comes into this, you know, the company. 

And you know, we, our SOPs, are not, you know, completely foreign, but every company has their own. And so everybody has to learn something a little bit new. So it is harder with the newer people coming in. Usually the new people don’t think they’re the greatest artists in the world. They’re often very unsure of themselves. And the people who come in that know a lot about creativity and have been around bigger companies have always been around systems. So it’s usually not too hard. Everybody wants to fight the corporate sort of term, but we know it’s a necessary evil to do good work.

John Corcoran 12:48

You’ve got this amazing background of a lot of interesting things. And I’m just going to reel off a few of them because they’re a little mind boggling. All right, Summer, summers in nudist communities, that’s plural. So I want to know more about that living. You lived on a Tennessee School Bus at one point in Amsterdam, a houseboat led a blind rudder through two marathons, volunteered at Ground Zero, and went to Burning Man. Well, I’m in Northern California, so that’s not an oddball one that’s probably the most straight-laced of all of them, racing classic sports cars. I saw somewhere that you’re a pilot, motorcycle crashes, scuba with sharks. I’m probably missing a few, but my question is, other than that, obviously, just making for an interesting life, does that inform the work that you do, or do you chase those experiences in part, because it helps as kind of like a fuel that goes into the creativity that your company ultimately produces for clients.

Lucien Harriot 13:45

Gosh, I love that. It’s, yeah, they kind of work hand in hand. So my dad was an engineer, and I kind of grew up understanding how things work, and then there’s physics. And so some of the jobs that we work on, we do explaining technical things. There’s this company that where we have, it’s a liquid rubber that they seal subway tunnels with, and they’re always trying to explain how things work. And we do this also with healthcare. So how does that sort of work? Swimming with sharks? I don’t know. There’s a lot of technical things that I love, such as playing with, technical toys, scuba tanks and skateboards, and learning to fly. Today, I was actually working with one of my artists. 

We have a show open where there’s an eagle flying and trying to help him understand when the eagle turns, and how it turns and why. And then we started talking about airplanes, and how when an airplane turns, it loses about 720, 5% of its air under its wings, and so you have to pull up to keep it from falling. And so there’s constantly this turning is not like a car. And so that it helped him, and then I explained it like a pendulum. So there’s a lot of fun physics. Soon, I used to build recording studios as well. So that’s kind of how I got into more technical stuff. That was the technique behind the creative. And so all of these life experiences, I don’t know how nudist colonies sort of fits into that. That was something my parents I grew up with, depending on the assignment, I guess. Right, yeah. So I lived on a commune for a while, and we did live in a school bus that had a potbelly stove to heat it, but, and so, yeah, that’s just, it’s a colorful background I try to draw on. So it’s been fun, and we continue to try to do fun things so well.

John Corcoran 15:37

I guess what I’m getting from it, and you can reflect on whether I’m right or wrong about this, but there’s a lot of left brain and right brain going on here. You’ve got a technical side. You mentioned engineering. Father got a creative side also, and both those two meld together like one of the things that you do is helping, helping to create animated videos for healthcare and explaining really complex topics, but in a digestible way.

Lucien Harriot 16:05

Yeah, so the goal, ultimately, is teaching a broader audience, right? If so, a couple of people know, and it can explain something. We have to tease that out of the client. This could be a concept if we were talking about this film where all the oxygen has gone and we had to explain that concrete falls apart. There’s no oxygen on the planet, so the buildings fall down. But also the medical side. And our job is to take these complex concepts, whether they’re entertainment or marketing or education, and then deliver them out to the masses, to the 1000s or to the hundreds of 1000s, million, maybe in the course of a feature film. And I get very excited about not only understanding about the medical and how to explain that to the masses, but also helping the client to understand the process of animation and visual effects.

So people come to us and they say, Well, we think we want this building on fire, and we’re not really sure how to do that, and then my job is to try to figure out what’s the best approach to getting that done. So there’s not just telling the story to the masses, but also helping the client understand their options, what some of the challenges might be of those options, the costs might be, and what might be some of the shortcomings if they choose the lower cost versions, right? Is it going to be a motion capture? Is it going to be a green screen? Should we start using AI, right? This is so I love the opportunity to teach, I guess, and that’s whether it’s within my employees, with the customers, or the ultimate audience. 

John Corcoran 17:40

Yeah, yeah. And you touched on AI, and we’re recording this in beginning of 2024 but last year 2023 there was an actor strike and a writer strike that affected Hollywood, and a lot of the production that actually affected your business, and a lot of it had to do with AI, had to do with this, you know, oncoming revolution in AI. That’s what’s happening, but you actually have embraced it, even though, you know, some might think from the outside that you’re in an industry, in a profession that could be dramatically affected in a negative way from Ai. So take us through that. Why have you embraced it, rather than running away from it? Great.

Lucien Harriot 18:19

Yeah, there’s a lot of mixed feelings about AI in our industries, especially as an artist, because we as artists feel like it might be taking away some of that creative power or fun that we’ve had. So it’s really changing a lot of the way we work. I’m looking at it as a new tool, or it’s not a tool in itself, but AI is now seeping into all these other tools everywhere. And if I could just, you know, jump to the end, is that if we don’t embrace AI, we’re going to get replaced by it sooner. And I don’t think there’s any stopping AI. There’s a lot of moral questions as to whether or not they’re training it on somebody’s copyrighted material. But ultimately, I think it’s an extremely powerful tool, whether we’re creating imagery or video or text or marketing concepts or writing emails, sometimes it’s, it’s an amazing tool in everybody’s industry. So, and there’s a lot of, again, a lot of artists that are worried, you know, that it’s going to be taken away. We do a lot of brainstorming with it. 

So at the beginning of a project, we had a film where a client wanted to see what New York would look like. I mentioned earlier about no oxygen, no water any longer in the river, so under the Brooklyn Bridge, it was all going to be dry. And we were able to type in a few prompts, and this is a year ago. This is fairly early on, and generates a bunch of images. We used, I don’t know, mid journey or dolly or stable diffusion, and we generated a bunch of images which he could react to and decide what he did or didn’t like about different sort of conceptual ways to show the city falling apart, New York City. And after we got a direction, we were able. Start building 3d models and sort of building out what was necessary to animate this so it gave us the opportunity to leapfrog over one of the steps.

We didn’t jump over it, but we got through it very quickly. Now this might be a problem for people who do mood boards or conceptual art, and I can see that this is going to be an issue. And this has always happened in every industrial revolution or every big change in industry. Somebody often is replaced, or they have to switch their job to something else. So we’re seeing we never expected it to be artists. That was the thing that we thought of as creativity, that’s really been kind of a surprise. 

John Corcoran 20:42

A lot of people thought that creativity would come way later, and it’s come much sooner. Yeah, yeah. 

Lucien Harriot 20:52

Sorry to say this, but we thought we humans were very special in our creativity and realized maybe we weren’t all that right, or we’ve been working for, for decades, 100 years, trying to build computers that could replace a lot of work. And all of a sudden it happened. And we’re like, wait a second.

John Corcoran 21:09

What happened? Who would have thought these computers could replace humans? You know, we’ve been working towards it for 3040 years. Yeah, so. And then the other, the other interesting observation is just that there’s no killer app with this revolution. It’s many different apps, or rather like what you said, it’s like every software that you use is incorporating AI into the back end. It’s not just one thing, although there are ones like mid journey you mentioned, or dolly or something like that. But it’s rather like every different tool out there is incorporating AI in some way.

Lucien Harriot 21:42

Yeah, there’s our 3D animation softwares. Now you can type in that you want a particular texture, like if we wanted a brick texture on the side of a house. We used to go find a photograph. Now we just say, Make me a brick texture. Oh, that’s a little bit too red. Oh, the bricks are too big. Oh, make them a little bit irregular. And now we can adjust things, and that’s built into software where there’s some other sort of, almost like motion capture softwares, and finding that they’re all in browsers. So that’s actually a big shift in a lot of software. We should download these really big packages and have them on our supercomputers, and now we go to the browsers, and we can open up these tools in the browsers. 

And there’s many, many tools all over the place, whether it’s hugging face and you have to, you know, get yourself a discord account, or it is, you just log in and you pay $5 a month and and you use it. So we’re constantly pulling from one browser tool and bringing it to another one. So actually, our creativity now we’re finding is finding the tools and putting them together in interesting ways, and always keeping our eye on what the new tools are that are popping up. So it’s like our toolbox is all of a sudden getting all these interesting new tools that there used to be that you could see something and you could nail together, but now they got this thing that saws and nails at the same time. 

And we’re like, Okay, well, that sort of shortcuts a step, but now we can actually build things upside down, because you used to have to build it all on the bench. So it’s, it’s new way of working, and that’s really exciting to me. It’s really a lot of fun.

John Corcoran 23:13

Yeah. Now another one affecting your industry is VR headsets, which, of course, we’re recording this in February 2024 and the apple vision pro just came out, and it’s really interesting seeing some of the actual real world reviews that are coming out of that product. I, you know, a friend of mine, who I respect, who is very technologically savvy, was basically comparing it to the iPhone. Like he said, I remember first trying the iPhone and being blown away, and he felt like it was a similar experience. Do you see that product having a big impact on your industry?

Lucien Harriot 23:47

Yes. I mean, we’ve been working in VR, AR, XR, next gen, whatever you want to call it, for many, many years. It always depended on what it was like. We were creating apps in 2006 on the Apple phone, and that was the new interactive, and the VR and the 360 has been something I’ve enjoyed. We used to have special tripods for it. Now there’s cameras that you can just take a 360 photo of. No big deal. But the headset is always been an interesting way to be in the middle and view something, and so that’s been a fun thing, but I know that we’re going to get these phones out of our pockets, and we’re going to be putting them on our faces and as goggles, and that’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen pretty soon, because it’s silly to always having to pull your phone out of your pocket and look at it. And we’re going to start having, you know, Google Glass tried to get this a while back, and then maybe a little little early, they have a use case.

 And I think they’re actually selling quite a lot of those to a very specific bunch of folks. And then the quest came out Facebook, and that was more game centric. And now Vision Pro. I think so. Finally realized the way to get everybody is to figure out what that killer sort of operating system is, if you will. And you can, I understand, you plug it in and your apple accounts and all of your apps and all of your information shows up, and so now you can be watching a video and while you’re doing a text, while you’re communicating with somebody else outside in the park, and I that sounds a little wacky at the moment, and I’ve seen people walking around New York with them, but that is going to be something that we all do, is that you’re going to be out someplace, and your computer is going to be with you, and it’s just not going to be in your hand. 

You’ll always be seeing it. And you walk up to somebody to party, and you don’t have to remember their name, because it’s going to tell you that’s John over there. Say hi, right? Or be helpful, Where’s, where’s the bathroom? All of a sudden, there’s gonna be this augmented reality area arrow that shows you where the bathroom is. Or, you know, it’s gonna be a heads up display for all of us. And it’s, it’s the future and, and I, I think it’s early right now, and so it looks a little odd, but snap to 10 years from now, and it’s just going to be in our glasses, and everybody who doesn’t wear glasses will start wearing them, because they’re just not going to want to pull this thing out of their pocket anymore. 

John Corcoran 26:10

So, yeah, yeah. I heard someone say, the crazy thing about that particular product is, this is the worst. It will always be. This will always be the worst version of it. You know, it’s just going to get better, and it’s already pretty mind blowing. 

Lucien Harriot 26:22

Yeah, we say that about AI too. This is the worst AI is ever going to be. Yeah. It’s yeah, and anything, everything, right? So, yeah, big changes this year. It’s a it’s, it’s an exciting time to be alive, that’s for sure.

John Corcoran 26:33

What other tools or developments or trends that you’re excited about in the industry? 

Lucien Harriot 26:42

Gosh, I can’t stop talking about AI, but that’s it, I don’t want to make this an AI show.

John Corcoran 26:47

And, no, it’s totally fine. I mean, it is affecting everything. 

Lucien Harriot 26:50

So, yeah, so and the AI, we use mostly imagery, but the text AI is happening, you know, chat gpt is now just becoming a regular thing, and now Google is being really threatened with, what’s the new one? Being chat or no? No, no, it’s a perplexing, perfect city. No. Look out, Google. Perplexity is the new Google. So it’s, it’s just they’ve, they’ve embraced the AI portion of things better, and it sort of works with you and asks you, what do you really need? So there’s going to be a lot more back and forth. I think we’re going to see, you know, the movie here. We’re going to see some things that are like that, where you’re going to be communicating a lot more with your personal assistant. It’s going to a lot of the overseas work that was redundant for us, it’s a lot of rotoscoping and tracking and that stuff. 

They’re going to lose a lot of that work, because AI is just going to start to do that. And hopefully all of us end up elevating right the rising tide elevates all boats. And we won’t have to do the redundant stuff anymore, and we will become more creative. Then we’re gonna we’re more quality control, less creative, and more sort of helping the direction of something. So we still have a while to go. I mean, AI will make a beautiful image, but is it really the image that you needed for the job? Right? It might be fun to cool and beautiful, and maybe you’d want to put it on your wall. But did it really help you, in our case, to sell toothpaste or just to help a doctor understand a concept more? So that hasn’t replaced us yet, and that’s going to be a little while. Yeah, it’s moving fast. 

John Corcoran 28:38

It’s funny, because the one that I have stuck in my head is the idea of an elevator operator. Like before we had elevator operators when, you know, and it was considered a safety matter, like, No way could we have humans press the button themselves. We had to have a guy who stood there. But imagine how mind numbingly boring that was for that person. And I’m sure there was an elevator operators guild that was up in arms about the idea of, you know, automating that or or replacing that human with technology. But, you know, I’m sure it freed up those people to go do more interesting work, rather than just being, you know, opening and closing an elevator door and taking people up and down all day long.

Lucien Harriot 29:20

Yeah, I think there’s going to be an uncomfortable few years here where the people that are being threatened, and this will be more and more of us as AI and machine learning start to get better things, and we’re all going to sort of launch, latch back and try to defend our jobs. But I don’t think we can all have a union that forces everybody to use humans if the machines can help us. And again, I don’t know, do we all go on vacation and get universal base income?

John Corcoran 29:53

Or do we all, you know, find other things they do? Yeah, and I don’t know.

Lucien Harriot 29:56

If I mentioned this before, but if I. Uh, people ask me, you know, how should I learn more about AI? And all those images are cool, and I think it all depends on what your specialty is, so don’t just go learn about mid journey, because you heard that AI is the new thing, unless you’re into creating imagery, or you that’s a personal interest or professional interest. But I think the best place that all of us can be is to learn about AI and the crossroads of AI and what you know, as a, as a professional, as a, as an expertise, because AI doesn’t understand the expertise. 

So we had this happen with a voiceover artist. So we had, we can just type in and have aI create a voiceover, but there’s a lot of inflections and different sounds that should happen at the end of a sentence or on a particular word to build trust, or to make it sound like it’s fun, or make it sound like it’s important. And the AI doesn’t understand that, and the tools actually aren’t good enough to direct it yet, but when they are good enough, the people who understand the inflections and why this inflection was used, whether that’s a director or probably a voiceover artist themselves, that’s going to be a good place for them to be. They should learn about AI voiceover work. Yes, it’s replacing them, but if they can work and grow with it, they can be the content expert for that particular crossroads. 

John Corcoran 31:33

And they know what dials to twist. They know how to adapt and everything. And by the way, right, right, but the dialog and but you know, if they have a week where they’re sick, right, they have a cold or something like that, and otherwise, they couldn’t have worked before. Now, you know, maybe they will be able to work through something like that. 

Lucien Harriot 31:51

Yeah, if it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, then you know, you’re not allowed to use his voice unless you pay him the money for it. But if you’re just an average unknown person who does the radio spot, and you don’t have a well known voice that’s sort of locked down, then you need to learn, yeah, use that as a tool.

John Corcoran 32:12

So, yeah, yeah, it’s, it’s a fascinating time to be following all this stuff that’s happening. You know, I want to wrap up with a question that I love to ask. And so I love to ask people about who they really like, who they admire and respect, who’ve really helped them along in their journey, during their career. And when I ask about that, I love to ask about particularly peers and contemporaries. And I know that you’ve been involved in the EO Entrepreneurs Organization, which is how we connected. Sometimes people will default and they’ll just mention their family or friends or teammates. But I especially love to hear about those kinds of unacknowledged peers, contemporaries, friends, other entrepreneurs out there, other business owners who’ve helped you in ways large and small. Anyone had come to mind when I described that for you?

Lucien Harriot 33:08

Josh, well, EO in general has been amazing. So I’ve been a member here in New York for about five years on the board, and I’m just like drinking the Kool Aid, and everybody’s constantly helping each other and and even though they’re not in the same business as I am, there’s so many parts of business that are similar in the same we all have profit loss statements and the concept of marketing and HR. And I’d been sort of bumping up trying to grow my business for decades, really, and learning from different sorts of business programs. And then I joined EO. And then people started talking about traction and EOS and these operating systems, Entrepreneurial Operating System, which, again, is back to that corporate structure that I kept thinking was so evil. 

And the folks at EO were always so open about it, and talking about and saying, why don’t you come to one of my meetings? You can see how this is done. And I’m thinking, These people must really be on to something. And so I think the organization has been amazing to me and to help to grow the business, to scale the business, to make the business scalable. And understanding SOPs, I wish I could tell you, like a more on the creative side, who that would be. You know, it’s the first thing I ever saw that really clicked for me was the Pixar lamp, you know, the Luxo Junior that hops along. 

I saw that as the original. So maybe John Lasseter probably was part of that. I never had him, particularly as a hero, but I saw that geometry and math and engineering could be applied and make pictures and tell stories, and that was just the cross section that I wanted to be. And my mother bought me a book about visual effects and movies, and she was like, you can do any. Things you want. So I, you know, I got to give a lot of credit to my mom, but just got lucky, and my parents were tremendously influential, and sort of saying, you know, more the technical, more the creative. And I was like, I’m going to figure out how to make these work. 

John Corcoran 35:16

So, yeah, yeah, Lucien, and this would be great. Where can people go to learn more about you and mechanism digital, great.

Lucien Harriot 35:22 That’s our website. I’m also fairly active on LinkedIn. Lucien Harriot. I often do a lot of AI concepts and talks and articles, but come check us out and let’s learn together.

John Corcoran 35:39

Excellent. Thanks so much. Thank you, John,

Chad Franzen 35:45

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