Thursday, June 13, 2024

AI Classic Movie Art

Whether you like AI (artificial intelligence) or not, it is the wave of the future and is here to stay. Right now, it is in its burgeoning infancy but even as a mere tot, it impresses me every day. For the past year, I've been enjoying playing with Midjourney AI, a text-to-picture image generator and - almost on a daily basis - I think of "prompts" to send it off on a picture-making journey. It is unlimited to what it can output and it is always exciting to think of new keywords to try. The only downside to this app is that I cannot think of a darn thing to do with all of the pictures it creates! 

Since I "made" a number of images already, I thought it would be fun to share some of the Midjourney creations here on the blog... especially since most of them are classic movie related. Each month I will post a few pictures from a hodge-podge of topics (feel free to suggest some, too) and all of the posts will begin with the heading "Midjourney at the Movies" so you can easily find them - or avoid them, if you'd rather. I will also share some images that others created with a classic movie theme. 

Before I begin however, let's give a brief overview of what Midjourney is capable of doing. I won't go into details on how AI works because I haven't a clue how it does, but I can tell you what it can and cannot do:

The app allows you to use phrases called "prompts" that dictate what you want it to create in the picture it is building. All prompts begin with "Imagine". Here is an example "/imagine a screenshot from a 1937 MGM film starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, Clark Gable is wearing a white suit and is standing next to Joan Crawford, they are at a racetrack"

Thirty-seconds later this image pops up:

By default, Midjourney gives you four variations to choose from. You can re-generate your prompt and it will give you four fresh choices, or you can pick one of them and refine it. Let's get four fresh ones instead because none of these fellows look like Clark Gable or an old movie. 

/imagine a DVD screenshot from an old 1937 black-and-white MGM film starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, Clark Gable is wearing a white suit and is standing next to Joan Crawford, they are at a racetrack --ar 4:3 

I've added some more description and also changed the output aspect ratio to 4:3. The more details the better the output but if you add too many the machine jumbles things up (e.g. it may give Joan Crawford a Gable-like mustache). 20-seconds later here is what pops up:

Better, but they still don't look like Gable and Crawford. By default, Midjourney does not duplicate faces exactly... although sometimes it can come really close to capturing the features of a particular person. Also, you cannot prompt it to create anything indecent. Keywords like "topless" or "naked" would give you a rejection message. It abides by the Hayes Code, thank goodness. ;-)

But we can help it create faces closer to Gable and Crawford. So I will repeat the same prompt and this time provide it with image urls to Clark Gable and Joan Crawford facial portraits.  

It does a great job of smooshing hundreds of people's faces into one. These actresses all look like Hollywood stars and yet they don't look like any one actress in particular...and certainly not like Joan Crawford (although that woman in the bottom right image does have a hint of a Crawfordesque glance). 

Let's click on the Regenerate button and get four fresh shots:

I like the bottom right photo so I will upscale it (that means select it) and not only does it give you a larger resolution image but there are also more bells and whistles and magic buttons to play with then. My favorite is the Vary Region button. By clicking on this, I can lasso an area that I want to change/regenerate without affecting the rest of the image. Since the AI version of Clark Gable looks pretty good here, I just want to change Joan Crawford. 

And 30-seconds later, here is the result: 

Oops! Now how did that happen? Unfortunately, the machine can often take a turn into the Land of Bizarre on a whim. You just have to put up with its quirks. I wonder what became of the woman who didn't look like Joan Crawford?

Let's try this again. 40-seconds later: 

Oh dear. Perhaps it is past its bedtime. 

That dress with the little hands sticking out of it will never catch on. 

Anyway... you get the idea of how it works. You just have to play with the buttons. As Midjourney's own instructions state "Experiment and have fun!". Which is just what I will be doing. You can check out what I create in future posts but, for now, here are a few (better) creations from other Midjourney users as well as my own:

Here's a lovely 1940s style Kodak publicity photo of the famous redhead Lucille Ball. It did a good job of creating a 1940s-style dress and the image even looks hand-color tinted. 

This one is really neat. A user prompted "Rue McClanahan as a Southern belle" and look what Mr. Midjourney came up with. The texture of the dress and the feathers is quite amazing. 

As tempting as it is to use the generator to get an exact result, it's much more fun to "see what it comes up with". One user prompted a fictional name "Salarda de Cadenet, Hollywood actress, diva extraordinaire" and wow! what a great image. 

Martha Scott as Hera, the Ancient Greek goddess. Midjourney doesn't just make photos, it really excels at doing different textured images. This was prompted with the keywords "1960s magazine pulp art" and look how it captured the colors and the half-tone screen printing of an old magazine. 

Here's a book cover painting of "A 40-year-old John Wayne as a US Navy Seal". Clever prompt. 

A 1980s style painted movie poster with a lead character like Lee Majors. Pretty good. 

And speaking of paintings, this one is amazing: "a 1965 Rolly Crump concept illustration of Dame Judi Dench as Witch Hazel from the movie Pufnstuf". There are loads of possibilities to try with that prompt alone!

Well, I think that is enough to get started on. This "Midjourney at the Movies" series will reappear monthly or just when I feel like sharing some interesting creations... and there are a ton of them so I hope you will check out future posts in this series. 


  1. It's not a matter of "liking" AI or not, it's a matter of the ethics of AI, and how it should be regulated, and how the massive theft of uncredited artist's works will be addressed. Generative AI is fundamentally based on the theft of images, and depriving artists of income.

    1. I understand what you are saying and heard this a lot but, personally, I don't think it is theft of any individual work but rather theft of a "style"...and that would be very difficult to claim authorship to. In art, styles are freely shared. Every artist begins by copying a style/technique from an artist that they admire. For example, when Charles Wysocki became famous for his American folk art, a slew of artists (such as Jane Wooster Scott) copied his style and made a name for themselves. Wysocki didn't claim that they stole his art or that he should have been paid every time an artist made a work similar to his style. Now Midjourney AI has the capability of mixing styles, so if I want to input a photo of France and request a painting "in the style of Wysocki and Claude Monet combined"...whose work is being stolen? Especially when the output is different than anything seen before.

  2. This was amusing. And also kind of scary. So AI couldn't tell a man from a woman or is that just a quirk? Even though the faces didn't look like the actors, the style and coloring is quite wonderful. These really looked like those old photos. If I didn't know what these actors look like, I might think they are real people, well, not the weird man-woman ones.

    Have a lovely day