An AI took my job and I like it


18/02/2023 08:00
AIs are all the rage now. I have heard lots of people praising or condemning them, but I haven't actually tried interacting with any of them. Until now. Come with me and in this blogpost I will tell you about my experience with Midjourney and how I utilised the wonderful brain of the Midjourney Bot to improve the look of my game.

What is Midjourney?

Midjourney is technically the name of the research lab that came up with an AI, the Midjourney Bot, that is able to generate artwork in seconds, using a series of words as a prompt.

In order to use the bot, first you need to join their Discord. (If you don't know what a Discord is, think of it as a bunch of chat rooms.) Once there, you can use a number of commands to communicate with the Bot and ask it to draw something for you.

For example, you can ask it to draw a "teenage boy with golden hair in a psychedelic cartoon style" and it will come up with 4 images like this:
From there on, you have the opportunity to create variations of these or upscale them, or ask for more images with the same prompt.

If you want to see something more specific, you can feed it some pictures and ask again...
Ok, I have had my fun. Now it's time to see if it can actually help me somehow.

Midjourney Bot as a concept artist

Last time I found myself without a concept artist, I started to draw the character concepts for myself. Some were good, others... well... There was one specific character which I was REALLY struggling with: the Fae. I will avoid spoilers as much as I can, so I will only talk about the appearance of the character and not about her role in the adventure.

The Fae. She is supposed to be this magical creature, seemingly human but she has something almost supernatural about her. So I decided she's gonna have light blue hair. She is also close to nature so she will be wearing a crown of flowers, and I added some extra flower heads to her hair.
I was off to a good start, but for the life of me, I couldn't get her face right. I didn't want all female characters to be either grannies or insta models barely of age. Besides this character is supposed to be experienced and wise, also kind and motherly. I just felt that my drawing was lacking some of those qualities. I decided to put the concept away for a bit and work on something else and come back here later. Maybe I'll find some inspiration in the meantime.

Enter Midjourney.

Because this concept has been bugging me for so long, I thought I'd ask Midjourney to help me out here.
I wanted to see pictures with a similar art style to ours, so I fed some screenshots and existing character references to the Bot and asked for a "beautiful lady with flowers in hair". I got some... well, somewhat funny results.
I guess, our big headed cartoon style got mixed with realistic paintings and produced this weird look. I mean it's not all that bad. In the second set I actually thought that one character had a pretty face that I could use as a reference, even if she had a waaaay too long neck.

Okay, so this is not too bad, let's try some more! But let's change it up a bit, because obviously I didn't give enough information to the Bot. I changed the prompt to be "beautiful lady, light blue hair, flowers in hair, cartoon style" and added a few more screenshots to the mix, hoping that the outcome would be closer to our style.
Okay, this is definitely going in the right direction! But these girls are a bit too young for a wise, motherly character. So what if I add age to the prompt?
Okay, so apparently women in their 40s start to grow glasses... XD
I love how none of them actually wear glasses, but the AI couldn't "decide" between glasses and no glasses. Well that's one way to solve this, I guess. :D
You know what? I couldn't draw the face I wanted for this character either, so who am I to judge? Good job, AI! Well done.

After a few more tweaks and reruns we've reached an image I could actually use as a reference.
Yeah, I know she also has glasses growing on her face, but I generally I like how she looks. She's got the eye shape I wanted, I like her hair, her bodyshape is much more realistic. So I fired up good ol' Photoshop and updated the character I had, based on this new image I got from the Bot.

Take a look at the before and the after...


So, is this helpful as a tool?
For an artist, yes. Tremendously.

I am not saying I will give up on drawing my own characters from now on. Not at all. But this is a great way to get some inspiration, to help you out if you get a little stuck with something.

Isn't it going to take your job as an artist, though?
I would say: not yet.

I could (and probably will) experiment some more to get even better results. But the images I got so far are not quite the same style as our game. So I definitely can't use them 'as is'. Besides, to do animations and whatnot, even if I had a perfect image to start with, I would still have to replicate it in Photoshop and cut it up to bits so I can animate it. I also would need to fill in some blanks. For example, I know that as the character moves, some bits that are hidden on the picture will need to be revealed. Like bits of her hair that's behind her body now.

I still have to do all this work before she can even appear inside the game. I can do it, because I do work as an artist too and I have considerable experience with drawing and using Photoshop. But for a programmer who's never done such things, it would be very hard if not impossible to just stright up use AI images instead of hiring a real artist.