Orchestrating Pixels: How AI Art Direction is Redefining Creative Industry
Last week, the Prague-based nonprofit initiative prg.ai celebrated the pinnacle of AI innovation in the Czech Republic for 2023. At the grand ceremony, the distinguished winners were presented with AI-generated visuals framed in recognition of their achievements — artworks born from a unique synergy between AI and my creative direction. As a designer and researcher dedicated to integrating AI tools into creative practices for over five years, I embraced the challenge of crafting art pieces that not only honor the laureates’ accomplishments but also stand as a hallmark of the evolving capabilities in post-Gen AI graphic design.
The pervasive worry among artists is that generative AI might usurp their roles, seducing the industry with the allure of quick and cost-effective ‘generate’ buttons. I hold a contrasting view. To me, generative AI opens a realm of vast creative potential, augmenting human ingenuity rather than supplanting it. It’s a partnership that enhances our creative authority, not diminishes it. In this article, I delve into the intricate workflow of this project, highlighting the crucial role human oversight plays in the generative process and introducing a vanguard in creative professions: AI Art Direction.
Generating images with AI tools might seem straightforward — select an app, engage its user-friendly interface, and with a single click, voilà, art emerges. But the reality often diverges from expectation. Astonishing as the results may be, they seldom align precisely with your vision. That touch of serendipity from AI, while delightful during a brainstorming flurry, can turn to frustration when you’re tasked with a specific brief. The art lies not in the mere imagining of the visual but in meticulously orchestrating the steps to bring it to life. Let me take you through the nuanced journey of creating the visuals for the AI Awards 2023, where the role of an AI art director comes to life.
The brief called for six distinct visuals, each crafted to encapsulate the laureates’ accomplishments, formatted to specific dimensions, and destined for a custom frame with calligraphic flourishes. The frames and calligraphy were done separately by other professionals, and the inclusion of the generative prompts themselves was also a request — adding another layer of complexity to the task.
There’s no way you can just simply write a prompt describing that you want “an AI award for developing innovative technology and building a successful business that has become one of the global leaders in financial services fraud detection and a pioneer in the fight against financial crime” and get a reasonable outcome. The generative models, when given such prompts, tend to grasp onto familiar tropes like ‘award,’ churning out trophies amid a jumble of ambiguous symbols and indistinct letterforms. The result? A semblance of an idea, a visual that teeters on the edge of completion but ultimately falls short of being presentation-worthy.
Have a look at a MidJourney outcome — it combines all kinds of visual cliches from the fintech world, matrix-like references, and the best of all — nothing specific. The challenge intensifies when envisioning a cohesive series of awards. The aesthetic must be versatile enough to translate across all six categories, a task for which this particular visual language seems ill-suited.
Turning to Stable Diffusion only compounded the dilemma — the outputs leaned towards a grim, post-apocalyptic aesthetic, replete with unnerving metallic robots devoid of any celebratory essence. The attempts at a certificate of achievement were marred by the model’s inability to render legible typography. The hope for coherent text or recognizable vector symbols and icons was quickly dashed, leaving us with elements far removed from any familiar language or visual syntax.
In contrast to MidJourney and Stable Diffusion, DALL-E 3 presents a pleasantly unexpected turn — producing an image of an actual trophy, aptly framed with corresponding symbols. However, it’s not without its faults; the typography and icons suffer from distortion, rendering them into what can only be described as visual gibberish. These icons give the illusion of relevance to finance and security, yet upon closer inspection, they fail to coalesce into meaningful imagery.
Now it’s clear that the prompt needs to be crafted better, requiring detailed descriptions of the icons and a cohesive visual style to unite the suite of awards. This is where the ‘AI Art Director’ steps in, bridging the chasm between AI’s randomness and the artist’s vision.
While a consultation with Chat-GPT might yield a trove of creative suggestions, layering the correct symbols and visual elements, the result often lacks the depth of a seasoned professional’s touch. Chat-GPT can check off the boxes, presenting ideas that initially dazzle, yet on deeper analysis, lack the finesse of a masterfully crafted concept. It doesn’t draw upon the rich local context or the intimate anecdotes that a human designer, steeped in the culture and history of the recipients, can weave into the narrative. Insider jokes, subtle nods to local visual traditions, the ineffable qualities born from the human psyche’s depths — these are the strokes of genius that AI has yet to mimic. These subtleties might seem trivial, but they resonate profoundly with an audience, making an indelible impact.
In this project, it was my human touch that sculpted the visual narrative, selecting a palette that whispered of opulence, a central motif that spoke of victory, and stylized icons that narrated each triumph against a backdrop of lavish baroque florals. In my mind’s eye, I visualized a tableau alive with the dance of flowers and foliage, tendrils of ribbons, and the sheen of gold and platinum — all cast in the moody hues of indigo, dark green, and ruby red. These elements were poised upon a pedestal, bathed in the dramatic light cascading from above, against a backdrop shrouded in mystery. This visual feast was a deliberate alchemy of dynamic vitality and structured symmetry, weaving together the threads of classic and contemporary motifs into a tapestry of refined excess. The selection was far from arbitrary, drawing from a wellspring of expertise in visual communication, art history, and contemporary visual trends, honed by years of professional experience.
The crafting of prompts began — an arduous journey to translate my vision into AI’s language. MidJourney, with its flair for the ornate, initially seemed a natural ally. Yet, it became apparent that a division of labor would serve best. DALL-E 3’s latest iteration, with its adeptness at rendering crisp, ‘vector-like’ icons, offered a complementary skill set. This strategic delegation necessitated a fusion of outputs, a seamless blend achieved through careful photoshopping, where Generative Fill also played a role.
The final outcomes are all a bit different, yet part of the same visual concept. The awards are a testament to the state of the art of Gen AI in 2023. They pay homage to the sophisticated tools at play and radiate the essence of current generative art trends. Echoing the opulent days of Baroque and Rococo (with a bit of a Gucci spark), these images marry the extravagance of the past with the sleekness of modern design. It is a dialogue between ages, showcasing AI’s progressive nature while rooted firmly in the rich soil of human artistic heritage
Each award, adorned with intricate gold filigree and bursts of floral splendor, is an embodiment of luxury and achievement. Gold, the timeless emblem of prestige and prosperity, takes center stage, lending an air of distinguished honor to the awards. Against the mysterious canvas of deep purples and blacks, the elements of the design emerge with striking clarity, inviting onlookers to delve deeper into the narrative.
The lush botanicals are not merely decorative; they symbolize the blossoming potential and relentless growth inherent in AI. The elaborate swirls and ornate patterns evoke the complex networks and algorithms that are the lifeblood of AI technology, a testament to the symbiotic relationship between human creativity and artificial intellect.
This endeavor goes beyond mere aesthetics; it stands as a beacon for the future of creative collaboration, where AI extends the canvas and the artist wields the brush with intent and insight. The awards celebrate not just the achievements they represent but also the innovative process behind their creation — a harmonious symphony of human and machine, each amplifying the other’s strengths. As we look to the future, it’s clear that the role of AI Art Direction will become increasingly significant, shaping the vistas of AI’s creative potential and guiding it to complement and enhance our deepest artistic expressions.
Heartfelt congratulations to all the laureates. May these awards stand as beacons of your achievements, bringing joy and a profound sense of pride to your endeavors!