A Fan Wanted To Make a Scooby-Doo Cartoon, But Ended Up Sparking an AI Debate

scooby doo stop motion animation by eagan tilghman
Eagan Tilghman/YouTube

When 3D artist Eagan Tilghman posted an animation on YouTube, they didn’t expect very much from it. Over the past three months, the 23-year-old had animated, designed, and modeled a retro-inspired, VHS-looking homage to the lovable mystery mutt Scooby-Doo and the horrifying video game animatronic Springtrap from “Five Nights At Freddy’s” (FNAF). Complete with hijinks, door gags, and of course a face mask reveal, it was a love letter to the Hanna Barbera shtick of old and an opportunity to add a new piece to their portfolio. 

“I thought I’d get a couple of hundred upvotes on Reddit and maybe a couple thousand views and a few subscribers,” Tilghman told Passionfruit. “I thought it was good, but I didn’t think it would be this big of a deal.”

But once the short hit the web it gained immediate traction with viewers on social media, who were flabbergasted at the beautiful work that made Scoob and the gang look like they were ripped straight out of a Rankin/Bass Christmas Special. In under three days, the video has amassed over 700,000 views and Eagan Tilghman’s YouTube has reached 33,000 subscribers. But underneath the mask of this project wasn’t just a passionate fan looking to bolster their resume, but rather a deep-seated conversation about the ethics and future of AI.

Ruh-Roh!

Being a sole passion project that they never thought would be seen by many people, Eagan Tilghman decided that they needed a little AI help to recreate some of the classic voice actors of the original Scooby-Doo show. Though they did collaborate with a Shaggy impersonator from TikTok, they didn’t have money to pay any voice actors, so they innocently thought using a robotic tool to emulate the voices of Fred, Daphne, Velma, and the villain wouldn’t be an issue. They even added a disclaimer in the description that they aren’t a “fan of AI” just to cover their bases. 

“Honestly I viewed my project as if it were on the same level as all of those AI song covers or voice memes, and I didn’t see anyone upset at those so I didn’t think it was a problem since I wasn’t making any money and it was just for fun,” Tilghman said. 

Once the video started gaining traction, the AI voices started to become a real point of contention among X users and members of the TV industry. Writer and storyboard artist Jay Lender tweeted, “The inevitable result of this cheap tech will be over-exposure, killing their ability to make a living with their formerly unique instrument.” 

Grey DeLisle, the current voice of Daphne, responded that “I will never EVER work for this person, and I am sharing their name with every voice actor I know!” That comment felt “disheartening” to Tilghman since “to see someone who’s where I want to be chosen to be so quick to try and ruin my chances was hurtful.” 

The fan animator quickly started posting on X in an attempt to try and stop some of the negativity, sharing, “I learned that people on Twitter are much quicker to jump on you than to understand your perspective, but hey that’s nothing new is it.”

In the chaos that is that social media hellscape, amateur voice actors replied that they would have been willing to work on this project for free, which gave Tilghman a fantastic idea. With a new catalog of real voice actors, the creator is planning on redubbing the short with VAs happy to help on such a unique project. 

Moving forward, Tilghman plans to avoid using AI and wants the next parody to be about another beloved oldie group, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as a short film about FNAF.

“I want people to know I truly didn’t mean any harm with the AI voices,” Tilghman said. “I wasn’t a huge fan of AI to begin with but I didn’t really grasp how it fit into the voice actor community, and now I do.”

Jinkies!

Creating quality animation has never been easier than with the help of computers and AI. Mike Judge created “Beavis and Butthead” on a Bolex 14 mm film camera and had to call up animation festivals just to be seen. Now, all you have to do is upload to YouTube and hope the algorithm takes the bait. Fan projects can even get you work, like the 14-year-old who made a fan animation for Spider-Man that led him to get a job on “Across The Spider-Verse.” 

But animation is still an incredibly difficult, time-consuming type of media and AI has emerged as a way for creators to cut corners. Large YouTube channels like Corridor Crew and Curious Refuge have posted their own AI animations that use artificially created images and voices. Though the quality is clearly lower, they are quick to make, still, appeal to the algorithm and pull in millions of views.

Voice actors are deeply protective of their voices because it’s how they make money. AI technology is advancing every day, with programs able to emulate everyone from Joe Biden to Joe Rogan with minimal effort. According to Vice, actors are being asked to sign away the rights to own their voices so that they can be replicated in AI on any other project. It’s one of the reasons why AI rights are such a sticking point in the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. 

For fan creations, things get even thornier. It’s unlikely that Clancy Brown, the voice of Mr. Krabs would have agreed to throw down on a trap rap anthem, but an animation of the song has pulled in over eight million views in two months. Now that fans can basically make any of their favorite actors appear in their content, it feels like it could potentially cheapen their work even if it comes from a place of care.  

What’s your take on AI voice actors? Email [email protected] to share your story.

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