Digital Artist Recreates Historical Figures Showing How They ‘Really’ Looked

Before photography our ancestors relied on the creativity of artists to document their life and times. Nowadays, the recovered and preserved creations of the old artists serve as a window. So, we can see how and what the people around the world were like ages ago. Unfortunately, not all the artifacts can provide us with a clear picture of the person or era they represent. After all, every artist has a signature style when depicting their subject. So, historians and intrigued artists are turning to digital art to give historical figures more recognizable and lifelike appearances. One such artist with this pursuit is Amsterdam-based photographer Bas Uterwijk.

Digital art has certainly flourished over the years and every artist has their own way to use the art medium. Some use it to turn real live people into caricatures. Others create mind-bending images that blend fantastical elements and reality together. While, many lean on Photoshop to create their digital artworks. Bas may use it for his photography projects as he has a background in computer graphics, 3D animation and special effects. But he uses a more sophisticated software for fleshing out popular and historical figures. Through generative adversarial neural networks, he is able to remove the old artist’s vision to present what would most likely be the real face of his iconic subject.


So, this is the artwork that started it all, here is the artist’s recreation of Billy the Kid


and the next historical figure he transformed was Napoleon


This Amsterdam-based photographer brings to life historical and popular icons through digital art

He began experimenting with this type of art in 2019. His first subject was Billy the Kid. The good outcome encouraged Bas to continue. But this time, the photographer decided to work on someone who lived in the pre-photography period. So, Napoleon became his next subject. And while the outcome of his experiment was nice, he said that it was “not perfect”. So he decided to practice some more before re-working his second recreation.


“I think the human face hasn’t changed dramatically over thousands of years and apart from hairstyles and makeup, people that lived long ago probably looked very much like us, but we are used to seeing them in the often distorted styles of ancient art forms that existed long before the invention of photography.”


The portrait below was originally created over 500 years ago so it really shows how amazing the digital technology is.


But, it isn’t just historical figures that have been transformed but also video game characters to.


Bas uses generative adversarial neural networks to create lifelike recreations of popular historical figures

Bas uses Artbreeder, a program that uses Generative Adversarial Networks or GANs. Ian Goodfellow and his colleagues created GANs back in 2014. This form of Artificial Intelligence has definitely changed the way we see digital art. You may not be familiar with this innovation. But if you’ve ever used an app to instantly age yourself or turn to turn yourself into a member of the opposite sex, then you’ve used GANs. This is the very program that Bas uses to give his chosen popular historical figures their fleshed-out appearance. And the photographer believes that GANs will be the “successor to photography”.


“These ‘Deep Learning’ networks are trained with thousands of photographs of human faces and are able to create near-photorealistic people from scratch or fit uploaded faces in a ‘Latent Space’ of a total of everything the model has learned.”


The artist uses artificial intelligence and neural networks to produce a realistic human face. Most of the time the program bases its end-product with the image Bas inputs, using what it knows about how faces look. The program also makes use of its ‘knowledge’ about how light behaves in photography to give the most accurate results.


Vincent Van Gogh and other famous icons look more relatable through these digital recreations


Moreover, Bas has digitally transformed non-human historical icons like The Statue of Liberty



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A post shared by Bas Uterwijk (@ganbrood)

“I try to do everything as procedural as possible and let the AI do most of the work, but sometimes I need to cheat a little in Photoshop because GANs don’t do clothes or classical hairstyles yet.”


Here is his version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Monster


“Although I see my creations as artistic impressions than as scientifically justified, in some cases, the results for me feel much closer to reality than most other methods that are used in reconstructions so far.”


The artist even created a realistic depiction of Jesus Christ


In addition to this, he has also managed to create convincing portraits of the Fayum Mummies

So, even though his digital experiments certainly give historical figures a more human appearance, Bas feels that he still has a long way to go with regards to perfecting his digital recreations. According to the photographer, he wants to capture the “essence” of the subject’s character like the old masters did because capturing the subject’s essence is any artist’s ultimate goal. Do you think Bas has achieved this feat? Which among the recreations struck you the most? Tell us in the comments!

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