I still have misgivings about using AI-generated art to create final designs without human intervention, and I think AI art needs to address the copyright issue in a meaningful way, but speaking as an artist into cosmic horror, it sure can create some creepy images that are great food for thought. Here's a couple of cool ones from a recent project that I've been working on - great design concepts, whether or not they get used.
Bonus points if you can guess which work this art is designed to illustrate.
SO, one of my favorite characters is Porsche, a centauress warrior from the thirty-first century who populated many of my first tranche of as-yet-unpublished science fiction stories. (I think she only appears in one published story, "Stranded" in the anthology of the same name, and even that, just as a cameo). And while I have worked a lot to improve my art, I wondered what Midjourney could do. And I got the above result from the following prompt:
a centauress with long, rich curly purple hair, very beautiful, with half-asian, half-english appearance, and pointed ears, wearing an armored space costume like a combination of ghost in the shell and star trek, and bearing a double-bladed scythe with black glowing blades
- the Centaur
Wow. This is really spot on. Her hair is right, her face is right, her skin tone is right, her armor is right ... heck, even her slightly haunted look is right, and to go beyond even that, one of the variants looks like a slightly older, more grizzled variant, which completely checks out with her storyline:
Kudos to you, Midjourney, except ... she's not a centauress. She's just a person, a fetching one, I admit, but not a half-woman, half-horse creature with the pointed ears and black twin-bladed scythe of the prompt.
Well, shoot. What if we look at some of the other variants?
This one is creepily good in a sense ... it's got her forehead dot (she's a First Contact Engineer, and wears a pheromone bead she used to communicate with a scent-based alien hive species) and even hints of her mechanical arm and possibly ear. But this is just coincidence. Look at this other variant:
What appears is just chance. Here, her ears are rounded, the dot's gone, and the weapon looks even less on point. A lot of what looked right to me is just random features onto which I was projecting, like cloudbusting.
Well, double shoot. What if we refine the prompt? What do we get?
a centauress (a creature with the upper body of a woman and a lower body of a horse) with long, rich curly purple hair, very beautiful, with half-asian, half-english appearance, and pointed ears, wearing an armored space costume like a combination of ghost in the shell and star trek, and wielding a scythe with black glowing blades
- the Centaur
Yerk. That's ... just jumbled nonsense. Tweaks to the prompt to make it simpler just produced women on horses. Midjourney does not apparently understand the concept 'centaur' in any meaningful sense. I tried just the prompt "centaur", and ... um ... yeah ... no, I'm not going to show you those. They're just a guy with a horse, or sort of on a horse, or ... sort of ... in a horse? A centaur as envisioned by The Thing.
Okay, one last try. What if I give it one of my pieces of art, and then ask it to render it anime style? Let's hold that piece of imagery till the last, but the prompt is:
an anime style centauress with purple hair and a double-bladed scythe jumping in front of a waterfall
Oh, lordy. And I'm not going to show you the one it tried to generate from the prompt "anime style".
Oh wait, I am!
Wow. Evocative - the top left reminds me of Cinnamon Frost - but it has little to do with the image I put in, and the attempt in the top right especially is nonsensical.
I am inspired by Midjourney. It's definitely a better renderer than me, and has good ideas about composition which I have already used in my artwork.
But I stick by my comment that it is an amateur which has taught itself to render very well, and cannot take meaningful art direction. As limited as I am, I'll stick with my own drawing, thank you!
Like this one, the image I gave to Midjourney above. It's not perfect, it's not well rendered ... but it is mine:
And she has four legs, a scythe, and pointy ears, dag nabit.
SO automatic image generation is a controversial thing I think about a lot. Perhaps I should comment on it sometime. Regardless, I thought I'd show off the challenges that come from using this technology using a simple example. If you recall, I did a recent post with a warped bookstore picture, and attempted to regenerate it using generative AI with Midjourney. Unfortunately, the prompt
a magical three-dimensional impossible bookstore in the style of M.C. Escher
failed to pick up the image for some reason. After a few iterations with the Midjourney Discord interface, I got the very nice, but nonsensical and generic, AI generated image you see up top. After playing around with the API, I realized that I likely had formulated my prompt wrong, and tried again to include this image:
On the second pass, I got another, more on-point, yet still nonsensical image as you see below:
These systems do LOOK impressive. But they work like ... amateurs who've learned to render well. They can produce things that are cool, but it's very hard to make them produce something on point.
And this is above and beyond the massive copyright issues that arise from a system that regurgitates other people's copyrighted art, much less the impact on jobs, much less the impact on the human soul.
Day 206, a sketch of Montgomery Scott from Star Trek:
How ddid I do? Still can't seem to draw a correctly tilted head, and face to hair proportions continue to be off:
Day 207, Nyota Uhura:
Umn, well, it is the same person, sort of, but she's looking down, and the original, up:
So, no real way to make these line up, but it isn't totally terrible:
Day 208, Hikaru Sulu:
Again, more or less the same person, but I made him look down, and what happened to his chin?
Overall comparison cannot be made to line up:
Day 209, Pavel Chekhov. I don't have the original reference on this computer, but I'm sure a comparison would be equally terrible to all the others, if not worsee.
Drawing every day, posting when i get to it.
Day 200 - Khaaan! Let's see how I did:
Meh. Head not wide enough.
Day 201 - Khan, the man himself:
Day 202 - Spooock!
Let's see how I did:
As I recall, there was no good way to line up the face and the hair.
Drawing every day.
Day 196: Quick sharpie sketch of Janeway, from the below image.
The comparison is not great - the face is way too long compared to the original:
Day 197, Sharpie over non-repro blue roughs, from the same image:
Slightly better comparison this time, though still not perfect:
Day 198 was Richard Branson ... in spaaace:
That's from this fisheye lens image ... while it isn't perfect, it captures a lot of energy. I particularly like the smile in the reflection (in both my drawing, and in Branson's window - he's having fun!). No comparison this time; this exercise was in capturing the feel more than the precise lineup.
Day 199 was Martin Sheen from The West Wing:
Not an entirely terrible likeness ...
... but my perennial problem of having a face out of proportion to the head continues.
Look at that hair, man. You can make the eyes and mouth line up, but that hair, man.
Still, drawing every day.
Congratulations, Sir Richard Branson, on your successful space flight! (Yes, yes, I *know* it's technically just upper atmosphere, I *know* there's no path to orbit (yet) but can we give the man some credit for an awesome achievement?) And I look forward to Jeff Bezos making a similar flight later this month.
Now, I stand by my earlier statement: the way you guys are doing this, a race, is going to get someone killed, perhaps one of you guys. A rocketship is not a racecar, and moves into realms of physics where we do not have good human intuition. Please, all y'all, take it easy, and get it right.
That being said, congratulations on being the first human being to put themselves into space as part of a rocket program that they themselves set in motion. That's an amazing achievement, no-one can ever take that away from you, and maybe that's why you look so damn happy. Enjoy it!
P.S. And day 198, though I'll do an analysis of the drawing at a later time.
You know, Jeff Bezos isn’t likely to die when he flies July 20th. And Richard Branson isn’t likely to die when he takes off at 9am July 11th (tomorrow morning, as I write this). But the irresponsible race these fools have placed them in will eventually get somebody killed, as surely as Elon Musk’s attempt to build self-driving cars with cameras rather than lidar was doomed to (a) kill someone and (b) fail. It’s just, this time, I want to be caught on record saying I think this is hugely dangerous, rather than grumbling about it to my machine learning brethren.
Whether or not a spacecraft is ready to launch is not a matter of will; it’s a matter of natural fact. This is actually the same as many other business ventures: whether we’re deciding to create a multibillion-dollar battery factory or simply open a Starbucks, our determination to make it succeed has far less to do with its success than the realities of the market—and its physical situation. Either the market is there to support it, and the machinery will work, or it won’t.
But with normal business ventures, we’ve got a lot of intuition, and a lot of cushion. Even if you aren’t Elon Musk, you kind of instinctively know that you can’t build a battery factory before your engineering team has decided what kind of battery you need to build, and even if your factory goes bust, you can re-sell the land or the building. Even if you aren't Howard Schultz, you instinctively know it's smarter to build a Starbucks on a busy corner rather than the middle of nowhere, and even if your Starbucks goes under, it won't explode and take you out with it.
But if your rocket explodes, you can't re-sell the broken parts, and it might very well take you out with it. Our intuitions do not serve us well when building rockets or airships, because they're not simple things operating in human-scaled regions of physics, and we don't have a lot of cushion with rockets or self-driving cars, because they're machinery that can kill you, even if you've convinced yourself otherwise.
The reasons behind the likelihood of failure are manyfold here, and worth digging into in greater depth; but briefly, they include:
The Paradox of the Director's Foot, where a leader's authority over safety personnel - and their personal willingness to take on risk - ends up short-circuiting safety protocols and causing accidents. This actually happened to me personally when two directors in a row had a robot run over their foot at a demonstration, and my eagle-eyed manager recognized that both of them had stepped into the safety enclosure to question the demonstrating engineer, forcing the safety engineer to take over audience questions - and all three took their eyes off the robot. Shoe leather degradation then ensued, for both directors. (And for me too, as I recall).
The Inexpensive Magnesium Coffin, where a leader's aesthetic desire to have a feature - like Steve Job's desire for a magnesium case on the NeXT machines - led them to ignore feedback from engineers that the case would be much more expensive. Steve overrode his engineers ... and made the NeXT more expensive, just like they said it would, because wanting the case didn't make it cheaper. That extra cost led to the product's demise - that's why I call it a coffin. Elon Musk's insistence on using cameras rather than lidar on his self-driving cars is another Magnesium Coffin - an instance of ego and aesthetics overcoming engineering and common sense, which has already led to real deaths. I work in this precise area - teaching robots to navigate with lidar and vision - and vision-only navigation is just not going to work in the near term. (Deploy lidar and vision, and you can drop lidar within the decade with the ground-truth data you gather; try going vision alone, and you're adding another decade).
Egotistical Idiot's Relay Race (AKA Lord Thomson's Suicide by Airship). Finally, the biggest reason for failure is the egotistical idiot's relay race. I wanted to come up with some nice, catchy parable name to describe why the Challenger astronauts died, or why the USS Macon crashed, but the best example is a slightly older one, the R101 disaster, which is notable because the man who started the R101 airship program - Lord Thomson - also rushed the program so he could make a PR trip to India, with the consequence that the airship was certified for flight without completing its endurance and speed trials. As a result, on that trip to India - its first long distance flight - the R101 crashed, killing 48 of the 54 passengers - Lord Thomson included. Just to be crystal clear here, it's Richard Branson who moved up his schedule to beat Jeff Bezos' announced flight, so it's Sir Richard Branson who is most likely up for a Lord Thomson's Suicide Award.
I don't know if Richard Branson is going to die on his planned spaceflight tomorrow, and I don't know that Jeff Bezos is going to die on his planned flight on the 20th. I do know that both are in an Egotistical Idiot's Relay Race for even trying, and the fact that they're willing to go up themselves, rather than sending test pilots, safety engineers or paying customers, makes the problem worse, as they're vulnerable to the Paradox of the Director's Foot; and with all due respect to my entire dot-com tech-bro industry, I'd be willing to bet the way they're trying to go to space is an oversized Inexpensive Magnesium Coffin.
P.S. On the other hand, when Space X opens for consumer flights, I'll happily step into one, as Musk and his team seem to be doing everything more or less right there, as opposed to Branson and Bezos.
P.P.S. Pictured: Allegedly, Jeff Bezos, quick Sharpie sketch with a little Photoshop post-processing.