Written by Nathaniel Nelson

Illustration redesigned by Devin Thorpe

Does AI Fix or Distort Our Past?

The News

On Monday, YouTuber Denis Shiryaev published a remastered cut of one of the world’s most famous films: L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (translation: Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat).

Two artificial intelligence algorithms were used in revamping the footage: Gigapixel, which enhances image quality, and DAIN, which can interpret then interpolate frames into low frame rate footage.

The new film runs at 60 frames-per-second in 4K UHD.

Why it Matters

Shiryaev used artificial intelligence to, in a sense, upgrade L’Arrivee. But to what extent did he improve the original footage, versus change it?

As powerful as Gigapixel and DAIN are, neither can capture what existed 120 years ago. While this remaster may appear to be more lifelike than the original footage, it is an even further abstraction. First, there was the original train, then the representation of it in the film. And now, there’s the mathematical re-rendering of it according to what it probably looked like at the time. Though the new footage is two steps removed, it is more realistic than previous renders.

Something to Consider

Despite running only 50 seconds, L’Arrivee is considered a seminal filmmaking achievement. Earlier films simply captured an event–an urban street during the afternoon, a person sneezing, and so on.

By setting up their camera just alongside a set of train tracks, the Lumiere brothers were able to utilize–exploit, even–both their subject and the angle at which they captured it. This technique conveyed the illusion of a train headed straight for the viewer. Urban legend has it that the effect was so novel, so jarring, that audiences shrieked in panic and ran out of the theater.

Are we perceptive enough to discern fact from fiction? Or is the AI just too good now?

Featured Header Image Source: Laughing Squid

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