Have you ever wondered what famous figures from the distant past really looked like? San Francisco-based artist Nathan Shipley answers the question with his series of AI-generated portraits. He uses historical paintings and illustrations as the framework for AI technology to create realistic renditions of notable leaders, musicians, and writers who all existed before the advent of photography.
Shipley transforms painted portraits—or in the case of Benjamin Franklin, his image on the $100 bill—into three-dimensional faces that look like you could reach out and touch them. They include characteristics absent from the source materials, such as wrinkles and freckles. The addition of these attributes is vital in making these iconic folks feel real.
To craft these alluring images, Shipley has taken advantage of the strides made in artificial intelligence. “There are some fascinating developments in the realm of using AI to generate imagery—everything from these realistic face recreations to beautiful generative abstract art,” he tells My Modern Met. “Coming from an animation and visual effects background, I love to explore creating things that were previously impossible. We are really just at the beginning of seeing what people will create using machine learning tools.”
Since the AI is creating these portraits using certain parameters, models, and datasets, the results can vary with just a few adjustments to the variables. However, this challenge of finding the perfect fit is part of the fun for Shipley. “In creating this work, the journey is really the destination,” he says. “The process of learning, experimenting, and making is often more exciting than the finished result.”