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The owner of Toys ‘R’ Us just used OpenAI’s Sora to animate the zombie brand

The owner of Toys ‘R’ Us just used OpenAI’s Sora to animate the zombie brand

Image: Toys R Us

Do you have fond memories of Toys “R” Us, back before private equity helped lay it to waste? If so, I’m really curious what you think of this partially AI-generated video that the zombie brand is calling “the first-ever brand film using OpenAI’s new text-to-video tool, Sora.”

OpenAI’s Sora wowed the world in February with photorealistic videos created by generative AI — and again when the company’s CTO refused to say where Sora was getting its training data from. (YouTube is the going theory.)

But though OpenAI has reportedly been pitching Hollywood on the tech, one of the first entities to publicly bite is brand management firm WHP Global, which currently licenses the Toys “R” Us brand to stores like Macy’s and is also exploring larger stores. Almost every Macy’s department store now contains a branded toy section, but those are typically a few paltry aisles of toys rather than the toy warehouses that once fueled kids’ dreams.

While some headlines are calling this the first commercial produced with OpenAI’s Sora, the press release doesn’t suggest it’ll air anywhere other than toysrus.com, though it also premiered in front of an audience of ad agency execs at the 2024 Cannes Lions Festival in France last week.

The PR also doesn’t try to claim it’s entirely generated by AI. Native Foreign, the creative agency that produced the footage, had “about a dozen people” working on the video and applied “corrective VFX” on top, according to director Nik Kleverov. Sora “got us about 80-85% of the way there,” he wrote on X:

Here’s a screenshot of the now-deleted tweet we originally embedded in this story.

(Kleverov appears to have deleted his X posts about how the video was made after we published this story.)

It appears that Native Foreign even reused an earlier shot it generated with Sora as part of the Toys “R” Us project. Here’s a bicycle repair shop the company showed off in March, compared to the final corrected clip:

Image: Native Foreign
Note the typos in the sign.

Image: Native Foreign
The Toys “R” Us version.

The old Toys “R” Us also turned to hot technology amidst its bankruptcy filings back in 2017, releasing an AR app to attract customers. But 2018 was the end of the road for the giant toy store, as it began closing or selling its final 800 locations. The UK has recently launched some dedicated toy stores under the Toys “R” Us brand, however, as well as outlets inside of WHSmith stores.

WHP Global has also opened two larger Toys “R” Us stores in the US, and had publicly planned to open as many as 24 stores in 2024, as well as ones in airports and aboard cruise ships.

Disclosure: Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company, has a technology and content deal with OpenAI.

Update, June 26th: Native Union creative director Nik Kleverov appears to have deleted all his tweets about how the video was made; we’ve replaced our earlier embed with a screenshot.

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