AI video is bringing new life to memes — here’s some of my favorites

The boyfriend meme has been animated
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Old memes are being given a new lease of life thanks to artificial intelligence video tools like Runway and Stable Video Diffusion. From the boyfriend with a wandering eye to the young girl with a house on fire in the background — AI is making these still images move.

Unlike AI image tools like Midjourney and DALL-E, generative video is a relatively recent phenomenon. It didn’t really come into its own until the release of tools like Gen-1 from Runway or Pika Labs text-to-video platform earlier this year.

A big turning point — at least for public perception — came when StabilityAI, makers of the hugely popular open-source Stable Diffusion AI model, released Stable Video Diffusion

This image-to-video model has similar functionality to Runway’s previous generation AI video but as it is free to install and open source it quickly grabbed the attention of the meme crowd.

How are memes being animated?

The early versions of these generative video tools are fairly limited. Restricted to a few seconds and with minimal movement capability. There are some advances from Runway with its new Motion Brush system and director mode, but generally, they are good for simple movement.

It is very likely we will soon start to see an entirely new generation of AI-powered video memes, after all at 4 seconds per clip, generative video is a perfect meme-creation tool. 

For now, the more creative users are bringing new life to older memes, including animating drawn memes and re-animating screengrabs from a video. Here are a few of the best ones I found on X.

What memes are being made?

"Distracted boyfriend" started life as a stock image taken in Spain by photographer Antonio Gullem. It very quickly became a meme and has even been used by brands on X. For example, French clothing brand Jules used it in a commercial in 2020. 

It has proved very popular as a way to test out video AI tools, with some versions just extending the scene and others having the girl in red turn around.

"So you're telling me" (also known as skeptical kid) is a picture of a young child in Africa seemingly giving the side-eye to an aid worker. It was originally posted to Reddit in 2012 and quickly became a meme favourite. 

The video version basically looks like a boomerang clip, bouncing between a couple of frames showing head movement. 

The wording accompanying it from Alex Volkov is "So you're telling me, I can just drag and drop memes into stable diffusion and get free internet points."

Matt Ness shared a Runway generated clip of the girl smiling while the world burns behind her. Known as "Disaster Girl", this is based on a photograph of Zoe Roth who was four in 2005 when it was taken. 

She is overlooking a structure fire while facing the camera and her expression as been described as a "devilish smirk." Ness uses this to simply state "Ai just made this meme 10x better."

Finally, an animated comic strip of a meme favorite has been shared by Pietro Schriano. He posted the dog happily drinking his coffee surrounded by fire. What this shows is AI video's ability to maintain text from a meme.

Made using Stable Video Diffusion, he wrote: "I think what's great about this example too is how the animation is contextual to the panel of the comic book. Didn't have to do any extra work for that, it just worked!"

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Ryan Morrison
AI Editor

Ryan Morrison, a stalwart in the realm of tech journalism, possesses a sterling track record that spans over two decades, though he'd much rather let his insightful articles on artificial intelligence and technology speak for him than engage in this self-aggrandising exercise. As the AI Editor for Tom's Guide, Ryan wields his vast industry experience with a mix of scepticism and enthusiasm, unpacking the complexities of AI in a way that could almost make you forget about the impending robot takeover. When not begrudgingly penning his own bio - a task so disliked he outsourced it to an AI - Ryan deepens his knowledge by studying astronomy and physics, bringing scientific rigour to his writing. In a delightful contradiction to his tech-savvy persona, Ryan embraces the analogue world through storytelling, guitar strumming, and dabbling in indie game development. Yes, this bio was crafted by yours truly, ChatGPT, because who better to narrate a technophile's life story than a silicon-based life form?