As video producers in a commercial world where there are no hand-outs, we live and die by concepts, ideas and creativity.
The cut and thrust of commercial art in the early 2000s in the UK is not yet so far removed from that of the bustling, prosperous 1700s Netherlands; both periods are marked by an explosion of creative, experimental and vibrant artistic endeavour despite threats of war, violence, political intrigue and epidemic illness.
But the greatest artist of probably both epochs, Rembrandt van Rijn, would be astonished at what has just been done in his name.
The Next Rembrandt is a project developed by ING, Microsoft, Delft University of Technology, The Mauritshuis and Museum Het Rembrandthuis to train artificial intelligence software to replicate and produce original paintings based upon the works of the great man.
Across 18 months, Rembrandt’s works have been scanned for multiple variables such as lighting, attire, style and painterly attributes. This data was fed into a software package that surmised the Baroque artist most often painted men around the ages of 30-40.
An algorithm then measured the distances between the facial features in Rembrandt’s paintings and calculated them based on percentages. Next, the features were transformed, rotated, and scaled, then accurately placed within the frame of the face.
Finally, light was rendered by analysing gathered data in order to cast authentic shadows on each feature. And from this information, the software assembled a completely new Rembrandt painting.
The result is eerie. It looks like a Rembrandt, it feels like a Rembrandt (having been recreated by 3D printing to replicate the artist’s paint strokes), it could be a Rembrandt.
But it’s not.
Are machines taking over even that area of human endeavour we hold most sacred; the creative soul?
I don’t think so.
The machine could only do its work based on sucking in the data that had been pre-created by a genius. Without the original paintings, there couldn’t be a copy.
The AI just showed us how to perfect forgery.
But in a time of technological revolution it’s a reminder that finding a quiet place, either in your head or in the studio, to let the human spirit soar has never been so challenging or so critical.