Netflix Made an Anime Using AI Due to a 'Labor Shortage,' and Fans Are Pissed

A new short film called 'The Dog & The Boy' uses AI-generated art for its backgrounds.
Image via Netflix

Netflix created an anime that uses AI-generated artwork to paint its backgrounds—and people on social media are pissed.

In a tweet, Netflix Japan claimed that the project, a short called he Dog & The Boy uses AI generated art in response to labor shortages in the anime industry. 

“As an experimental effort to help the anime industry, which has a labor shortage, we used image generation technology for the background images of all three-minute video cuts!” the streaming platform wrote in a tweet. 


The tweet drew instant criticism and outrage from commenters who felt that Netflix was using AI to avoid paying human artists. This has been a central tension since image-generation AI took off last year, as many artists see the tools as unethical—due to being trained on masses of human-made art scraped from the internet—and cudgels to further cut costs and devalue workers. Netflix Japan’s claim that the AI was used to fill a supposed labor gap hit the bullseye on these widespread concerns.   

According to a press release, the short film was created by Netflix Anime Creators Base—a Tokyo-based hub the company created to bolster its anime output with new tools and methods—in collaboration with Rinna Inc., an AI-generated artwork company, and production company WIT Studio, which produced the first three seasons of Attack on Titan.

Painterly and dramatic backdrops of cityscapes and mountain ranges are emphasized in the trailer for The Dog & The Boy. In a sequence at the end of the promo video on Twitter, an example of a background—a snowy road—shows a hand-drawn layout, where the background designer is listed as “AI + Human,” implying that a supervised image generation algorithm generated the scene. In the next two scenes, an AI generated version appears, crediting Rinna and multiple AI developers, some affiliated with Osaka University.   

Demand for new anime productions has skyrocketed in recent years, but the industry has long been fraught with labor abuses and poor wages. In 2017, an illustrator died while working, allegedly of a stress-induced heart attack and stroke; in 2021, the reported salary of low-rung anime illustrators was as little as $200 a month, forcing some to reconsider the career as a sustainable way to earn a living while having a life outside work, buying a home, or supporting children. Even top animators reportedly earn just $1,400 to $3,800 a month—as the anime industry itself boomed during the pandemic amid a renewed interest in at-home streaming. In 2021, the industry hit an all-time revenue high of $18.4 billion.

As the use of AI art becomes more commonplace, artists are revolting against their craft being co-opted by algorithms and their work being stolen to use in datasets that create AI-generated art. In January, a group of artists filed a class action lawsuit against Stability AI, DeviantArt, and Midjourney, claiming that text-to-image tools violate their ownership rights.

Netflix did not immediately respond to a request for comment.