Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Google Enlists Artists To Reimagine ‘Alice In Wonderland’ Using AI

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Google asked four visual artists to reimagine original Alice in Wonderland illustrations using artificial intelligence, and to quote Alice herself, things are getting curiouser and curiouser.

CG artist and creative director Haruko Hayakawa renders Alice as a porcelain figurine of a young Asian girl in pigtails and red Mary Janes, and the white rabbit as a Japanese folk-style toy on wheels. Graphic designer and art director Erik Carter presents Alice as redheaded with green eyes and yellow skin, and the white rabbit as a chipper creature in a red bowtie. Hayakawa’s scenes have a surrealist pop art vibe, while Carter’s pixelated images look like something out of an 8-bit video game.

“What makes AI engaging is that it is unpredictable,” Carter, an adjunct professor at New York’s School of Visual Arts, said in an artist’s statement. “You can only pre-plan so much, but it will still take these left turns you can’t account for.”

For the project, titled Infinite Wonderland, the artists created a small set of cohesive original images depicting Alice in Wonderland scenes and characters to train Google DeepMind’s Imagen 2 image-generating AI model in their own style. They made creative tweaks as needed until the model’s outputs authentically reflected their vision, then prompted the AI to illustrate Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s classic through their lens.

“The novel is full of rich visual imagery, and the themes of perception and wonder felt perfect for a project using AI image generation,” Matthew Carey, creative lead at Google Creative Lab, said in an interview. Google Creative is an interdisciplinary group of thinkers and creators who collaborate on creative projects.

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The similarly sounding Google Labs, which experiments with AI technologies, says it initiated the Infinite Wonderland project as part of an ongoing effort to involve artists in shaping AI tools. The artists displayed their works in San Francisco Wednesday night during Google I/O, the company’s annual product blitz. And an interactive online experience lets viewers read the timeless tale with accompanying AI-generated images in each artist’s style or see their four distinctive visual interpretations of the same passages side by side, along with the prompts used to generate each image.

It’s also possible to go old school and read the text alongside pencil sketches by John Tenniel, whose original illustrations have informed countless visual reinterpretations and remixes.

Generative AI has, of course, continues to elicit a vast array of passionate responses from artists. Some fear the tools will steal their work to train datasets, cost them their jobs or alter the very nature of the creative process. Others are excited about AI’s potential to steer them in wild and wondrous directions.

“I am always interested in trying different techniques, whether that’s glass or drawing or fabric,” Shawna X, another creative who participated in the Infinite Wonderland project, said in an artist’s statement. “I think AI is just another tool, another technique, that will help me create.”

Shawna X’s surreal, airbrushed Alice in Wonderland explodes in vibrant hues. Colorful spots cover the bright purple body of her smiling, hookah-smoking caterpillar, and horns decorated with green and blue patterns sprout from its head. This version of Alice, modeled after the artist’s mom, has gray glazed skin, red lips and an iridescent blue-black bob.

Art director and technologist Eric Hu, on the other hand, imagines Alice as a young Black girl with flowing blonde locks, blue eyebrows and modern garb, and the caterpillar as giant and pink. In the hands of Hu, Nike’s former global design director for sportswear, whimsical wildflowers populate the landscape of the lush, cartooney world Alice discovers when she tumbles down the rabbit hole.

“By teaching an AI how to create images,” Hu said in an artist’s statement, “I’ve learned a lot about my style—what makes it unique and where I, myself, might evolve.”

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