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Who's In This Podcast
Helen Todd is co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared and the human behind Creativity Squared.
Nik Kleverov, an OpenAI Collaborator, is Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder of Native Foreign, an agency-production company hybrid based in LA.

Ep48. Nik Kleverov: OpenAI’s Sora Text-to-Video Model

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Ep48. OpenAI’s Sora Text-to-Video Model: Beta Tester Nik Kleverov Shares His Experience as a Creative Director and Agency Owner

Getting access to OpenAI’s powerful text-to-video generator, Sora, is like winning a golden ticket to meet Willy Wonka. OpenAI still hasn’t announced a general release date for Sora. As a result, the world has only seen demos of what it can do in creative hands from those who have access to the red teaming model. 

On the latest episode of Creativity Squared, though, we take you inside the chocolate factory with Nik Kleverov, whose been experimenting with Sora through his relationship with OpenAI.

Nik is an Emmy-grade storyteller known for his clean and captivating commercial style paired with a distinctive design sensibility. As an immigrant and son of a nonconformist artist who was persecuted by the Soviet government, Nik’s approach to creative work is informed by his unique life story. Beyond A.I. films, his credits also include work on main title sequences for shows like “Narcos” and live-action commercials. 

Nik has won numerous industry awards as a creative director and launched innovative businesses as a successful entrepreneur. He’s the Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Native Foreign, a woman-owned creative agency and production company all-in-one which is based in Los Angeles.

It’s been almost exactly one year since Creativity Squared’s interview with Chad Nelson, who collaborated with Nik on Critterz, the groundbreaking first-ever animated short film that was 100% designed using A.I. visuals produced by DALL·E.

“A.I. tools have been really instrumental in allowing people to iterate at near-finish level work, and that’s been kind of the big shift over the last year or so. You’re able to really let people know what your vision is. And I think that’s part of this democratization of creativity.”

Nik Kleverov

In Episode 48, you’ll hear Nik’s experience working with Sora in addition to other text-to-video tools. Nik’s perspective is informed by working with clients on commercials, as a filmmaker, and on a team creating original IP.

Nik also shares an agency owner’s perspective, discussing why Native Foreign is going all-in as next gen creatives and establishing an A.I. labs division within the agency.

Tune in to hear about one of Nik’s creative projects he got out of his vault to bring to life and how it will evolve as genAI video does as well. He dives into the creative process, the ever-changing A.I. landscape, and the paradigm shift underway in the advertising industry.

Artists need to be part of the development of A.I. tools and this is your chance to hear what Nik is sharing with OpenAI related to Sora and how you can stay ahead of the curve with A.I. and storytelling.

Making “Critterz” and Working with OpenAI

Critterz (2022) is the first animated short film designed entirely wth A.I.-generated visuals from DALL·E. The film stood out among other videos of that year for how it maintained character consistency which was really hard to do with DALL·E at that time. More than that, it used A.I. and narrative storytelling, going beyond just tech demos of GenAI image-making and video tools.

The essence of “Critterz” is a fun new spin on the classic theme of not judging a book by its cover. It’s a two-minute film that’s set in a fantasy world populated by otherworldly forest critters. The narrative starts out like a David Attenborough nature documentary before veering into a Monty Python-style sketch. 

“Critterz” marked the beginning of Nik and Chad’s relationship with OpenAI, which provided a grant for the project. OpenAI has continued to commission work with Native Foreign, including a video for the company’s first DevDay, highlighting the human side of artificial intelligence. 

With “Critterz,” while they set out to showcase the beautiful visuals that are possible with DALL·E, Nik says that human creativity drove the project forward. Alongside DALL·E tools like in-painting and out-painting, they used traditional filmmaking techniques to bring the film to life.

I think there might be misconceptions about A.I. that you press a button, and it’s done. But there were hundreds of iterations of each character, fixing limbs or eyes or things until they were exactly the way that Chad envisioned them.”

Nik Kleverov

The “Critterz” release made waves in film and tech, showing at film festivals around the world and contributing to discussions around A.I. in creative industries. To this day, Nik feels like there still haven’t been many story-driven projects like “Critterz” created with GenAI. Looking forward, though, he says he’s excited to see how tools like Sora empower creators to produce unique stories that otherwise wouldn’t get made and from new voices.

Not Perfect is Okay: How a Creative Professional Uses Sora in Their Workflow

Nik is the son of Valery Klever, a distinguished nonconformist artist who suffered persecution for refusing to make Soviet propaganda art. His rebellion drew the KGB’s scrutiny, leading to his imprisonment. Eventually, Nik’s family emigrated to America, escaping his status as a quasi-enemy of the state. Today, Valery’s artworks are exhibited in prestigious museums worldwide.

Nik says he sadly didn’t inherit his dad’s fine art skills. Instead, the creative gene manifested as a knack for storytelling that he’s had since he was a kid. He compares himself and his camera compulsion to the Ricky Fitts character in “American Beauty.” 

“I’m the type of creative who’s always thought in motion, in sequences, and in stories. Some of the text-to-image tools are incredible, and I’ve certainly gotten a lot out of utilizing them. However, for me, the ability to think in motion, in sequences, and in stories is where Sora truly excels.”

Nik Kleverov

Nik describes how Sora seems to interpret space in three dimensions — not just horizontally and vertically but also in depth. He says it’s almost like Sora understands the storyboard in his head, turning conceptual scenes into visual sequences and quickly becoming his most effective A.I. tool as a creative director. 

When asked about the kinds of prompts he uses in Sora, Nik emphasizes the messiness of text-to-video prompting. Sometimes, you get the right look on the first shot, and other times, it might take an hour. As a result, Sora is great for storyboarding and other parts of the ideation phase, so to speak, to get what you’re thinking on paper.

The quality of the output isn’t a problem for two reasons. First, to contrast the overpolished commercial work, Nik doesn’t mind the imperfect output that Sora and other text-to-video models produce as a breath of creative fresh air.

Second, in Nik’s line of work, every frame undergoes meticulous scrutiny and editing — whether it’s filmed, CG, or animated. So even an imperfect Sora video can be adjusted to meet the quality standard. The bottleneck is in getting the A.I. to reproduce what you envision and what the right prompt is to conjure the image in one’s mind’s eye.

That high bar for production quality has historically distinguished amateur from professional work.  New A.I. applications are promising to close that gap, both in the world of professional video production and amateur filmmaking.

Fueling Creativity with the Right A.I. Tools

Nik sees a future where A.I. tools are the majority of the filmmaker’s toolkit alongside traditional methods. In the short term, he says A.I. tools will continue to be helpful mainly for fleshing out ideas and pitching concepts.  

That’s no small feat though; enabling creatives to quickly produce nearly finished-quality work is driving a big shift in creative productivity. Nik recognized this quickly through the “Critterz” project. Now he’s building that ethos of A.I. experimentation into Native Foreign by launching an A.I. labs division with plans to take on client work and build a pipeline of proprietary content. 

In the long term, Nik foresees A.I. evolving to handle not only more of the post-production work but also during the production process. He hopes A.I. enables more amateur and indie filmmakers to bring their visions to life by reducing barriers. By removing the need for support from big production studios, A.I. could help empower unique and underrepresented stories. 

He referenced writer and director Cord Jefferson’s recent Oscars acceptance speech, where he asked why Hollywood prefers to fund a single $200 million movie when the same investment could support 40 films at $5 million each.

Nick says that the true value of GenAI, however, is allowing designers and creatives to focus more on what they love — being creative. He sees the A.I. shift not in terms of replacing jobs but transforming them, enabling his team to spend less time on tedious side tasks. He’s witnessed this value himself as a creative at heart who also has to manage the needs of his business ahead of indulging his passion projects. 

“Since I’ve gotten Sora, I feel this genuine childlike creativity reawakened in me, where I’m getting to explore ideas that have just been sitting in a vault.”

Nik Kleverov

His work on one of those projects shows how much A.I. can truly streamline creative development. Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s short story, “The Kiss 1.0” is a film that Nik’s website says “will never be finished.” It’s an animated retelling of a fictional World War One-era soldier whose life devolves into madness after a brief and mysterious kiss from a stranger in the dark.

After years of thinking about it, Nik used ChatGPT to rewrite Chekov’s original story into first-person prose so he could have it translated into Russian and generate a voiceover. He then brought the characters to life and recreated the opulent brutalism of the late Russian Imperial period using a combination of DALL·E with Runway Gen 2, altogether overcoming the major obstacles that kept “The Kiss” stuck in the idea stage and on a creative shelf collecting dust. 

Nik’s goal is to periodically remake new versions of the two-minute film by feeding the same inputs into increasingly advanced generative video models, showcasing the evolution of A.I. video tools. His vision is to display all the versions simultaneously in an exhibit documenting how A.I affects creativity and vice versa. 

GenAI Video Tools that are Safe for Artists and Clients

Nik envisions human creativity collaborating with A.I. tools like a human composer orchestrating the instruments in a symphony, where each A.I. tool has its part to play in the overall creative vision. 

There’s already a wide variety of powerful generative video tools on the market. Nik walks through some of them, explaining how he uses them and what trends he’s excited about. We also discuss the copyright issues around GenAI and how they affect creators. 

He reiterates that Sora is remarkably powerful — just type in words, and it transforms them into video. Runway is similar, offering a tool for editing videos and another tool for adding motion to still images. 

The tools have their limits, though. Currently, you can only create clips up to four seconds long, and typically only the first few seconds are good enough to use before the quality deteriorates. Despite the constraints, Nik says they’ve been invaluable in his experiments with GenAI.

Pika is another tool offering text-to-video, but it’s trained on different data from Runway, which results in a unique look and feel. Pika is also developing features like a sound effects generator. You upload a clip, and it designs sound around it. This feature is still text-based, but one day it might allow sound editors to simply drop in a clip of a sword fight and automatically get a synchronized audio clip of swords clashing. 

Despite these powerful tools, we still have to figure out how to balance innovation with responsibilities like content ownership and respecting artists’ intentions for their work. Especially in commercial work, creators and clients alike can’t risk publishing content that infringes protected work, even if it’s generated content, for obvious moral and liability reasons.

There’s still a lot of gray area as companies like Adobe work to normalize content authenticity credentials and governments move to regulate. Will existing A.I. content be subject to future copyright laws? How will commercially-safe data sets affect the diversity of content on the market?  

We’re definitely in this kind of interesting world of sheer creative power, being able to flex, and then I think everything else is going to kind of have to catch up.”

Nik Kleverov

Regarding copyright, Nik says it’s important for creators and clients to communicate openly about the risks and tread carefully. It helps to work with a professional creator like Nik, who has experience to get the most out of A.I. tools while minimizing liability. After all, certain IP like Mickey Mouse is so widespread in our cultural imagery that a tool might inadvertently replicate something iconic. Ultimately, Nik says the responsibility is on creators to avoid infringing on some one else’s work. 

Artists’ Role in Guiding A.I. Development

As a well-known artist working closely with the world’s most prominent A.I. developer, Nik has a seat at the table where history is being made for artists. Several Creativity Squared guests like Gerfried Stocker, Marlies Wirth, and Domhnaill Hernon have discussed the critical role of artists in helping us interpret, interrogate, and steer technology to benefit society. 

The same concept came up differenty on a recent episode of Hard Fork with award-winning A.I.-collaborative filmmaker Paul Trillo. Host Kevin Roose asked Paul how he feels as an artist about helping an A.I. company develop and market a product that might result in less jobs for human artists. We posed the same question to Nik, as an artist in a similar position. 

Paul told the Hard Fork hosts that he sees GenAI as an opportunity for those without skills to create new content, rather than as a money machine for creative industry executives. He also said that, as an artist with a stake in how A.I. evolves, he’d rather be involved in the process from the inside than looking in from the outside. Nik shared those thoughts as well. 

Honestly, the people I talk to that are most afraid of the tools, I feel more times than not have not really used them. I think if you start using the tools, you’re gonna see, actually, we still need all this creativity to do the things we do. So just try it. And don’t panic.”

Nik Kleverov

For Nik, the diversity of the existing A.I. video projects out there testifies to A.I. being a net positive for creativity. He points to the collection of clips that OpenAI commissioned for Sora’s announcement to show how different artists like himself, Paul Trillo, and Josephine Miller can produce vastly different content with the same tool and access to the same data. He says that the initial buzz around the clips wasn’t just hype for the sake of A.I.; it was well-deserved admiration. 

Nik believes that getting creatives involved was a smart move by OpenAI because artists bring a different perspective, pushing the boundaries of what engineers designed the tools to do. He compares it to the perfect marriage of both sides of the brain, creative and logical. At the end of the day, he says his partnership with OpenAI isn’t about being in a good position in case A.I. takes over, it’s simply about showcasing what humans can create with A.I. and seeing how the world reacts.

The main question for Nik is if Sora is going to be a pro tool or not as that has different implications when it ships publically.

The A.I. Paradigm Shift Is Underway

As the rest of us wait to get access to Sora, Nik is continuing to work with it on projects he says he’s excited to come back and talk to us about when they release. 

“I think that the paradigm shift is underway. And I think that it is a wise choice to get involved with next-gen tools and at least be aware of what’s happening with them and start playing around with them. Because this is the direction things are headed.”

Nik Kleverov

Standing on the cusp of the next generation in generative video, Nik encourages reluctant or aspiring creators to stay ahead of the technology curve and dive in to curb fears.

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Thank you, Nik, for joining us on this special episode of Creativity Squared. 

This show is produced and made possible by the team at PLAY Audio Agency: https://playaudioagency.com.  

Creativity Squared is brought to you by Sociality Squared, a social media agency who understands the magic of bringing people together around what they value and love: http://socialitysquared.com.

Because it’s important to support artists, 10% of all revenue Creativity Squared generates will go to ArtsWave, a nationally recognized non-profit that supports over 150 arts organizations, projects, and independent artists.

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