Los Angeles–based Keith Schofield is an accomplished director, having helmed music videos for the likes of Beck, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Duck Sauce and commercials for Doritos, Bacardi, Apple Music, and Ikea. His work behind the camera has earned him accolades: He won a Cannes Gold Lion for an advertisement for Diesel and got an Emmy nomination for a Volkswagen ad.
But the 44-year-old has not been getting much love from film Twitter recently. On Tuesday, Schofield posted a selection of stills from a 1985 film by body horror auteur David Cronenberg (Crimes of the Future, The Fly) called Galaxy of Flesh:
The thing is, there is no such movie — Schoefield created all the images using the AI tool Midjourney. Some people were fooled, since Schofield didn’t immediately reveal the images were made using artificial intelligence, and others were just plain angry that he had taken the legendary Cronenberg’s name in vain.
“Congrats on stealing art to make a fake movie that looks nothing like the work of the man you’re presenting it as,” user @firagawalkwthme wrote. Others railed against the use of AI: “I get no juice or excitement out of this stuff, man. It’s mostly just super depressing. ‘Ai is a tool’ yeah dude, so is a hydrogen bomb.” One user asked Schofield how he slept at night. Many profanities were lobbed his way, and Schofield said he has received three death threats. (It perhaps didn’t help that he baited some of his detractors on Twitter.)
The dogpile came as a shock to Schofield, who was simply futzing around with Midjourney for fun. The fourth version of the tool, released in November, “had an aspect ratio of three-by-two, which is kind of like a movie,” he said. “All of a sudden, you start playing around. I typed in a prompt about movie stills, and it made movie frames. As soon as I started doing that I was like, Oh, you could do this for the rest of your life.”
Schofield soon realized that he is not alone. A small cadre of movie-mad buffs and artists have harnessed the power of generative AI tools to reimagine classic films — or create entirely new ones — from some of the world’s most recognized names. In December, creator Johnny Darrell went viral for Jodorowsky’s Tron, a reimagining of the classic movie under the eye of avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. Inspired by Darrell, Tacoma, Washington–based Rob Sheridan, the former art director for Nine Inch Nails, used AI to create Jodorowsky’s Frasier.
Sheridan, 42, calls this AI-enabled movement “The New Unreal.” Practitioners include a New Zealand–based illustrator creating a space Western on Instagram and a sculptor from Austin, Texas, making faux retro sci-fi TV shows. Another creator from India is using AI image generators to create their own rich seam of Southeast Asian–flavored sci-fi.
“We’ve started to see this technology as something like a dream engine,” Sheridan said, “tapping into a kind of warped visual consciousness to explore things that never were, or never will be, or never could be. They hit you in a strange way, because they feel very plausible.”
Schofield said he doesn’t know why his Cronenberg rework caught fire so quickly. He had posted multiple prior experiments to Imgur, Reddit, and Twitter, all of which only got between 50 and 100 likes. “The intention wasn’t to create clickbait, but I think it turned into that,” he said. “A lot of people were reposting it and saying, This is terrible. This guy doesn’t understand Cronenberg at all.” Every time they did that, it spread further and instigated another wave of criticism, which instigated another, and another, and another.
Schoefield said that his tweet’s text — simply “David Cronenberg's Galaxy of Flesh (1985)” — could have given off the wrong impression that he was trying to hoodwink Twitter. “There’s no real intent behind this title beyond, Oh yeah, this looks like this could be that,” he said. “But it seemed to really set off people, and I think someone like Cronenberg is maybe famous enough to have a fanbase.
“There’s a lot of people who have opinions on what Cronenberg’s aesthetics are and what they aren’t," he continued, "and what a poor interpretation of his style is.” He fears that people think he’s trying to reduce Cronenberg’s oeuvre to mere body horror.
The frames themselves were generated by giving Midjourney the prompt of a "DVD screengrab” of different scenes from the movie The Empire Strikes Back. “Then it was like: Everything made of skin and joints, tendons, nerves, umbilical cords, stomachs, arteries,” Schoefield added.
Getting the image generator to make gore was challenging — as was getting the Cronenberg style. “You can’t even type ‘Cronenberg’ into Midjourney,” Schofield said. (Sheridan thinks this is because of him: He made a series of Cronenberg-inspired images of the Met Gala in May, and soon after, the term “Cronenberg” was banned from the tool.)
As for the results? “When I look at them,” Schofield said, “I’m like, Yeah. If someone handed David Cronenberg $50 million to go shoot a body horror Star Wars in 1985, I don’t think it’d be completely inaccurate.”
Schofield continues to be puzzled by why the reaction was so visceral. “Why can’t this be some sort of weird bridge between fan-fiction and a full-blown, big-budget movie?” he said. “If you look at Galaxy of Flesh, whatever you want to say about it, this movie will never get made. This movie was never made. The idea that this exists as a series of stills is, for me, fun.”
For Sheridan, the social media pile-on is par for the course. “People see something that’s strange or scary or new, that feels like it’s encroaching on their world, and they want a consensus,” he said. “They want to determine if it’s bad or it’s good, then get behind that. They’ve seen people saying: Look, it’s stealing art without permission.”
In many instances, generative AI tools do use preexisting corpora of art. Sheridan believes that some of the naysayers' claims are valid — if you stop there. But what he and his fellow artists are doing, he argued, is taking things further, probing the limits of the technology to create something exciting.
It’s also not done to get kudos, Schofield insisted. “There’s this assumption that I’m like, Everyone look at me: I’m an artist,” he said. “I don’t necessarily consider these art. I consider these cool JPGs you saw online.”
As a working director, he doesn’t buy the idea that his fun project is killing the industry. “It’s really hard for me to look at it and say, This is taking away the livelihood of artists. How does that even work?” he said. “Like I was going to hire a thousand people and spend $40 million to shoot some stills of crazy prosthetic effects? There’s no world like that.”