See How A.I. Brings These Historical Figures in Paintings to Life

Nathan Shipley is using artificial intelligence to bring historical figures to life, in ways we’ve never seen before. Most of these figures lived far before the advent of photography, so there are no photographic records of them, only paintings and drawings. His clever use of AI is making these figures photorealistic for the first time. And in doing so, he’s breathing unique life into them.


We caught up with Shipley to discuss his latest work, which builds on years of research using GAN, or Generative adversarial networks. It’s a growing field of study, and one that will surely impact our lives in the coming years.


Marie Antoinette


Shipley explains some of his education and process for this unique work:



“I definitely can’t claim full credit for this process – it is built on code that researchers have generously released.  However, I have done my own modifications to that code and am building a custom library of face attributes that I can use to direct the output.  My favorite part of these kinds of processes is learning how they work, how to use them, and then how to break them or use them for techniques not originally imagined!”



It’s still somewhat surreal to see William Shakespeare or Marie Antoinette as a photorealistic person, and we’re struck by how accurate the models seem to be.

Marie Antoinette

We’re familiar with the notion of ‘deep fakes’, or image creation that is used with the intent of manipulating or tricking a system, but Shipley has utilized this technology on historical paintings, bringing almost an archeological perspective to the science.


“StyleGAN is a kind of machine learning architecture that can be used to “learn” how to create more of a particular kind of image that you show it.  For example, if you show it a dataset of images of cats, it will learn to create new images of cats that aren’t direct copies of the input.  Properly trained, it can make cats that don’t exist!


I come from a VFX and animation background, so it’s been fascinating to see how images can be created that would previously have been impossible.  It’s pretty technical but a really fascinating area to explore!”

William Shakespeare


Shipley is quick to say these visual experiments aren’t saying “this is what William Shakespeare looked like”



“I consider these recreations to be experiments that I am sharing publicly.  The AI doesn’t “know” what Shakespeare really looked like, but it’s fascinating to see how this particular combination of variables can come together to give us a glimpse!”



Check out more of his impressive work with StyleGAN below, and be sure to follow Nathan Shipley’s fascinating work on his website and Instagram.


Images used with artist’s permission.

George Washington

Anne Bolyen

Queen Elizabeth I

Princess Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

Mary Tudor, AKA “Bloody Mary”

Edward VI

Henry VIII

Benjamin Franklin

George Washington

Ulysses S. Grant

Andrew Jackson


Mona Lisa