What tricks does Pixar use to make us cry? This AI might know.

It’s not unusual for something made or written on a computer to be able to make you sad.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a somber, melancholy game about dealing with loss and defeat, for instance, and computer-generated Pixar characters — like Bing Bong in "Inside Out" and Hector in "Coco," for example — have made audiences cry for years.

Truly, 'tis like Hamlet. GIF from Disney/Pixar's "Inside Out."


But even though they were made on a computer, behind each of those emotional moments were human beings — be they musicians, directors, actors, or designers. In 2016, a computer wrote the "Sunspring" short film, but, well, it's a really interesting experiment but not the most inspiring story ever told.

In the future, though, a computer might be able to break your heart all on its own. Or at least offer its thoughts on how to do it best.

And the benefit for us? Better movies.

Researchers from MIT’s Lab for Social Machines and McKinsey’s Consumer Tech and Media Team recently taught artificial intelligence to identify emotional moments in popular movies and dissect exactly which lines of dialogue, musical cues, or visuals tugged at the viewers' heartstrings.

This, for example, is how the computer perceived the opening sequence of Pixar’s "Up." The high points represent happier moments while the troughs represent sadder ones.

The researchers taught the AI how to do this by asking volunteers to review thousands of movie sequences then write down their emotions and the triggering moments. The researchers translated this into numbers the computer could understand.

According to researchers, the long-term goal is to create intelligence that can help human filmmakers by suggesting specific shots, lines of dialogue, or musical cues as they’re making the film. Imagine something akin to Microsoft's Clippy saying, "It looks like you’re writing a touching death scene between the protagonist and their mother. Maybe don't go with a chiptune cover of 'All About That Bass' as the background music?"

Though some have reacted to the news with warnings about some pretty science-fiction-esque implications, I, for one, welcome anything that brings robots closer to feeling human emotions. After all, if we have to suffer, so should they.

And if you personally feel like having a trip down the ol' feels-trip lane, we've oh-so-helpfully provided the "Up" official trailer below. Enjoy.

Heroes
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