This posse of uncanny faces comes courtesy of Pixel2Style2Pixel, a machine learning framework developed by Elad Richardson and Yuval Alaluf. It builds on the StyleGAN model, which has been used to generate highly plausible artificial faces (you can sample some at the website This Person Does Not Exist).
Richardson, Alaluf, and their colleagues explain how the framework works in a blog post. The software can be applied to a range of image-to-image translation tasks, including the “toonification” of real faces. Shipley has effectively done the reverse.
Shipley’s “realified” faces smooth down some of the original designs’ cartoonish extremes, but their proportions remain caricatured. One user asked whether the faces could be made even more realistic, and Shipley obliged, although he didn’t specify how he carried out that second translation:
These experiments with design are interesting because they mirror trends in the entertainment world. One is a growing tendency toward photorealism in some animation and vfx; Shipley’s transformations look almost like a parody of Disney’s approach to its remake of The Lion King. A closely related phenomenon is the rise of synthetic influencers, who are meant to look at once idealized and naturalistic. Lil Miquela looks “realified” to begin with, but Shipley cheekily submits her to the same process as the other characters:
Image at top from Nathan Shipley’s Twitter account.