How AI is changing the outlook for illustrators

How AI is changing the outlook for illustrators


Tomm Moore needed to vent his annoyance. The Irish-based filmmaker’s animation studio, Cartoon Saloon, has spent years creating Oscar-nominated films that ripple with illuminated beauty. Yet here’s a Twitter user who wanted an easy “hack” to copy the studio’s art style – thanks to the explosive public use of artificial intelligence.

The user posted a tweet looking for help to “mimic” the look of acclaimed films such as “Kell’s Secret” And “Song of the Sea” writing in December: “Is there a trick I don’t know?” Could such an imitative image be produced using AI?

Moore tweeted his concise response: “Or you could learn to draw.” The cutting remark sparked a flurry of responses, hitting the center of the tumultuous controversy over AI generators that allow users to enter text prompts to produce algorithm-based images, sometimes to imitate the styles of specific artists. These software tools have prompted questions such as: are they ethical? Are they legal? And what defines a digital image as art in a pixelated age of ever-blurry lines?

“I think many of us who have studied and worked for years to achieve our signature style and process have taken offense to the idea that we would just become something like an Instagram filter that people could apply to their AI prompts,” Moore says via email. He was irritated because his studio’s hand-drawn animation – which affectionate nods to Art Nouveau and medieval art – was reduced to a superficial “cheat code”.

Moore’s view is shared by many professional illustrators and other artists who believe that the rise of AI imagesespecially over the past year poses a creative invasion.

“To be honest, I feel like it’s a soul violation,” says Oregon-based cartoonist Sarah Andersen (“Sarah’s Scribbles”) and bestselling author (“Fangs”). “My work, like any other artist, is influenced by my lived experiences, my upbringing and my life and, therefore, it is deeply personal.”

Andersen also sees AI art generation as a violation of the law. So much so that she became a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit in the Northern District of California that could have ramifications in the world of AI art.

In January, Andersen and fellow artists Karla Ortiz and Kelly McKernan filed a lawsuit against Stability AI, which helped develop the open-source Stable Diffusion AI model; Midjourney, which used Stable Diffusion for its text-to-image generator; and the online creative community DeviantArt, which uses Stable Diffusion for its own image generator.

To train, AI art generators rely on billions of existing images that are gathered – or “scraped” – from the Internet. Ethical and legal issues come into play with unrestricted open source AI tools, as many images are copyrighted and used without permission.

“The AI ​​stole my work,” Andersen told The Washington Post over the phone, and “did it up in a way that I think it can eventually create perfect copies.”

Once AI generators can produce indistinguishable copies of art by humans, they become even more of an existential threat to artists’ livelihoods, say Andersen and other illustrators.

Stability AI, however, wrote in a blog post last year that Stable Diffusion “will allow both researchers and soon the public to manage this [tool] under various conditions, democratizing the generation of images. We look forward to the open ecosystem that will emerge around this and other models to really explore the limits of latent space. (Stability AI, Midjourney and DeviantArt did not respond to interview requests from The Post.)

Dave McKean, the British artist, graphic designer and rock star comic book illustrator (“The Sandman”), sees AI as a major trend. Rather, he calls it “an almost evolutionary change in our culture.”

Once McKean began exploring how AI-generated imagery worked and how it could quickly produce endless galleries of end results, he says he “spent a day on my studio floor in position fetal”.

“My immediate response was: Well, my career is over,” he says. “Why would someone pay me to do album art when anyone can type a few words into Midjourney and within minutes start downloading endless possibilities for free?”

In his background in the illustration industry, McKean – who last year wrote a book “Prompt: Conversations with AI”, about artificial intelligence and the creative process – says the power has moved away from the artists. For decision makers who prioritize high speed over creative originality, “AI is their wet dream.”

However, organizations that represent professional artists seek to discourage the use of AI imagery. The National Cartoonists Society and the Society of Illustrators have issued statements in an attempt to protect the interests of their members.

Jason Chatfield, president of the National Cartoonists Society, says that many artists primarily seek credit, consent, and compensation from AI art generation companies. He adds: “Legislators will take forever to understand the technology, let alone build guardrails, so it takes things like litigation and public debate to move the needle on the ethical use of this technology. .”

Tim O’Brien, the former president of the Society of Illustrators, warns against unrestricted licensing of AI art generators that, for example, allow artist names to be used as text prompts: ” We can shrug our shoulders or do the braver thing: come out in favor of human creators and not accept this form of artistic automation.

AI can now create any image in seconds, bringing wonder and danger

Princeton computer science professor Arvind Narayanan paints a similar picture of the conflict zone between AI and many creatives.

“The companies behind the AI ​​art generators developed and deployed them in a way that was hostile to artists, such as scraping training images without consent or compensation,” Narayanan explains. “Allowing tools to produce images in the style of a particular artist seems like a clear case of appropriating an artist’s work and visual distinction.”

In Narayanan’s opinion, however, it didn’t have to be that way.

“Developers could have treated artists as partners and stakeholders, rather than raw material to practice on,” he says. “Those who claim it was inevitable are just making excuses for companies’ failure to responsibly develop technology.”

The Society of Publication Designers also issued a statement last month, to stand “with our fellow illustrators”. The organization, many of whose members hire artists, says its views on AI are part of an ongoing conversation.

The SPD board says the group is “built on the relationship between the artist, the art and photography director and the journalist, so we want emerging technology to add to those relationships, but not take away from the ‘artist”.

Ideally, the board told The Post via email: “There are safeguards put in place where AI [generators] may shoot, either on its own initiative or through legal regulation. This could mean creating “an image and artwork bank that is a mix of public domain images, user-generated content”, as well as a setup “where an artist has signed up and collects on a per-request basis,” similar to television screenwriter royalties. Andersen, who helped bring the lawsuit in Northern California, says she can consider a similar system.

Some visual humor creators feel safer than other illustrators. The question posed: can computer technology create and “tell” a joke? Amsterdam-based editorial artist and comics site editor Tjeerd Royaards cartoon movement, says the dozens of political cartoonists his site recently interviewed weren’t particularly concerned about AI. “I think most cartoonists don’t feel threatened (yet) because AI is currently not able to produce satire,” Royaards said. written last month on his site. He noted, “I think there’s still a long way to go before AI can match the skill and spirit of a good draftsman.”

In addition to protection, credit and compensation, some artists express concern about the ability of AI tools to produce images of creative value.

Painter and cartoonist Carson Grubaugh touts AI as “the greatest artistic development since the first hominid spitting pigment on a wall to draw his hand”. He also disagrees with those who say AI-generated images aren’t “art.”

Grubaugh has created what he calls the first comic book series in which the art is generated solely by AI, collected in “The abolition of man: the deluxe edition” should be released later this year. Grubaugh, in collaboration with the publisher Sean Michel Robinsonused the tools to interpret the writings of CS Lewis and Luciano Floridi.

“The only way forward for artists and educators,” Grubaugh says via email, “is to totally re-evaluate how to highlight the emotional and psychological benefits of the struggle to become good in a world where the end result can be reached quickly.”

Moore, the Irish animator, doesn’t see AI art generation as an existential threat to all artists, but predicts it will affect many aspects of visual editing, including budgets and deadlines. . He played with technology to find out more about his “enemy” and finds it “honestly mind-blowing” how “something that I had always felt to be very human and complex can be automated so well”.

Moore is also still evaluating what AI generators are: “I sometimes wonder if it’s even less of a tool and actually a low-cost worker. Is it a robot artist or a very advanced brush? I feel in many ways that he is a robot artist.

McKean, the British artist, says that for him, creating art is more about the experience than the finished work.

“It doesn’t vomit art by any definition of the word that means anything to me,” McKean says of the text-to-image AI software. “Art, to me, is a process — it’s not just about the end result. Doing something involves an intention, a context, a story, a journey, testing oneself, growing. … Arrival is the least important part of the experience.

So although the AI ​​could produce a “technically stunning tsunami” of images, McKean says, he began to dive into generating text to image and quickly got a painful feeling – that in that space, the individual human creativity is meaningless.

“If everyone can draw like Michelangelo,” he says, “there is no Michelangelo.”