Google has created an AI-powered nightmare creature generator

Devin Coldewey
·2 min read

Google has taken the wraps off Chimera Painter, a web-based tool that lets anyone generate terrifying cryptozoological entities in an interface that looks like MS Paint by way of Diablo. Why, you ask? Well, isn't it obvious? No... no, I suppose it isn't.

Surely the strangest thing to hit Google's AI blog for at least a month, the Chimera Painter does actually have something like a reason for existing. The team was looking at ways to accelerate the creation of art for games, which is often fantastical and creative. An AI assistant that could produce a reasonable image of, say, an owlbear on the hunt, might be helpful to an artist looking for inspiration. In 2019 Nvidia released a similar tool to generate photorealistic landscape images.

To pursue this somewhat esoteric goal, the team naturally decided to build an entire fantasy digital card game where players combine animals and make them fight. So far, I think you'll agree this is pretty standard stuff.

Image Credits: Google

The idea was that if there are a hundred animals in the game, and each can be combined with each of the others, that quickly makes far more combinations than any artist can be expected to draw. But machine learning systems never complain, or invoice you.

To make an AI agent that can create arbitrary creatures, the team first trained it on extant animals and their many parts by feeding the system thousands of images of CG creatures and corresponding images labeling their parts: claws, front of leg, eyes, etc.

Soon the agent was able to generate plausible-looking animals from user-generated assemblies of parts, painting in fur, skin and other features according to how it had learned "real" creatures looked. It's a generative adversarial network or GAN, which means it's two working in concert: one generates an image, the other criticizes it, then the first takes the feedback and generates again, and so on.

Image Credits: Google

Crucially, the system doesn't bat an eye (or should I say, dino-bat-hybrid an eye) when the assembly of labeled parts looks nothing like a real animal. For all the chimera generator knows, there are dogs with chameleon heads, long noses and tiny, useless wings. Why not?

And now, I must rescind my recent assertion that Google lacks generosity, for they have made the Chimera Painter available for all and sundry to play with. I must warn you, however, that it barely worked for me, allowing only the largest brushes, and seemingly choosing from a selection of deli meats for its different textures.

Not that it was any hindrance to the execution of my vision:

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / Google

Splendid!

In conclusion, asks Google: "What can one create when using machine learning as a paintbrush?" Indeed, it seems there are no limits whatsoever. But perhaps there should be.