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Artist uses Stable Diffusion to imagine time travel to places like ancient Egypt


What’s a selfie taken during one’s time travels called? A stelfie. What do you do with that? Put it on social media, of course.

“Stelfie” is also the name of a fictional 41-year-old man from Italy who documents his time travels on social media, including Twitter and Instagram.

There’s a stelfie of Stelfie hugging Vincent van Gogh on a starry night, shaving Salvador Dali, and teaching Albert Einstein a now iconic tongue face.

And then there’s Stelfie running away from a mammoth and sailing with the Vikings. He has also visited ancient Greece and posed in front of pyramids under construction in ancient Egypt.

He appears to have traced the roots of the famous “distracted boyfriend” meme back to ancient Rome, where Julius Caesar checked him out as Cleopatra frowned.

The idea

While Stelfie is a reminder that every action we make shapes the future, it is also a playful contribution to the debate on AI’s role in art that emerged with the rise of ultra-realistic image generation models like Stable Diffusion last year.

“Each era has had its own debates, its own masters, its own shapes,” the project’s website noted.

Stelfie was a continuation of art’s “constant evolution since the first line was drawn on a wall millions of years ago,” it said.

Settling a winner in the debate over AI-generated art was not the project’s goal, the website said.

“But we do want to prove that combining good artist skills with good use of AI technology [can] unfold a fresh new branch to add to the art evolution,” it said.

The process

The website also features the artist’s account of the creative process behind Stelfie, noting that it wouldn’t be possible without “many hours of work” that includes prompting in Stable Diffusion and manual editing in Photoshop.

It takes one to three hours to have a “rough” version of the artwork and 15 hours or more to finalize it. Occasionally, the scene has to be sketched out on paper for better visualization.

“There is 0% chance to prompt all the elements of a scene and have it ready to go,” the artist said.

Scenes of the initial environment created by AI then go through “outpainting” and “inpainting.” Different programs can be used for different image elements to achieve that hyper-realistic look, including natural and coherent lighting.

Proportions and camera focus are adjusted in Photoshop. Stelfie, the time traveler, is based on several pictures of a real-life model doing different poses and facial expressions and later fine-tuned in a DreamBooth program.

“Faces, hair, beards, animals are very challenging; they are what defines the artwork [is] realistic or not, so I take extra care of it,” the artist said.

Recent art projects involving AI use include The Follower, a satirical work on influencer culture, and Ghostwriter, a poem-generating vintage typewriter powered by GPT-3.


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