Artist uses AI to create stunning realistic portraits of historical figures

Is this artificial intelligence or a time machine?

Bas Uterwijk, an Amsterdam-based artist, is using AI to create extremely lifelike photographs of historical figures and monuments such as the Statue of Liberty, artist Vincent van Gogh, George Washington and Queen Elizabeth I.

Using a program called Artbreeder, which is described as “deep learning software,” Uterwijk builds his photographs based on a compilation of portraits, reports the Daily Mail. The program pinpoints common facial features and photograph qualities to produce an image.

“I try to guide the software to a credible outcome. I think of my work more as artistic interpretations than scientifically or historically accurate,” the artist tells the outlet. On Instagram, he details the many variations that go into creating his work.

So far, he’s created more than 50 of these images.

Vincent van Gogh (French, 1853–1890), Self-Portrait, 1889. An AI recreation by Bas Uterwijk.
Vincent van Gogh (left), “Self-Portrait,” 1889, and an AI re-creation by Bas Uterwijk.Getty Images/Bas Uterwijk

It’s not all technology: “The software tends to drift to averages easily because of its nature, so for that last one, I sometimes need some extra tricks and methods to get what I want,” Uterwijk says. His portraits need to stay true to the original person and what they looked like and also have expressions worth looking at.

Some of his creations feature real people, such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Niccolò Machiavelli. Others are of important but made-up characters, such as Lady Liberty and the Girl with the Pearl Earring, a figure from a famous Johannes Vermeer painting.

A 1790 portrait of George Washington (left) with Bas Uterwijk's AI re-creation.

Getty Images/Bas Uterwijk

Jacques-Louis David's 1812 portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte (left) with Bas Uterwijk's AI re-creation.

Getty Images/Bas Uterwijk

Nicholas Hilliard's 1575 portrait of Queen Elizabeth 1 (left) with Bas Uterwijk's AI re-creation.

Getty Images/Bas Uterwijk

“I work on many images at the same time, sometimes leaving them for weeks to pick them up later when I have new inspiration or have stumbled on additional source material,” says Uterwijk.

His next work of art will be a photograph of Anne Frank: “There are several known photographs of her — so I might make her older, at an age she never reached.”

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