Sex, Drugs, and AI Mickey Mouse

On January 1, Mike Neville gave Midjourney the next immediate: “Steamboat Willie drawn in a vintage Disney style, black and white. He is dripping all over with white gel.”

There’s no well mannered method to describe what this immediate conjured from the AI picture generator. It appears to be like, very a lot, like Mickey Mouse is drenched in ejaculate.

At the beginning of yearly, a crop of cultural works enters the general public area within the United States. When copyright expires on significantly beloved characters, folks get excited. This is an particularly eagerly anticipated 12 months. An early model of Mickey Mouse, colloquially often known as Steamboat Willie, entered public area in 2024 after almost a century of rigorously enforced copyright safety. Within days, an explosion of homebrewed Steamboat Willie artwork hit the web, together with a horror film trailer, a meme coin—and, in fact, a glut of AI-generated Willies. Some are G-rated. Others, like “Creamboat Willie,” are decidedly not. (Willie doing medication is one other fashionable theme.)

While a contingent of the folks sharing naughty Willie photographs are merely goofing round, others had surprisingly sober-minded intentions. Neville, an artwork director who posted his picture on social media utilizing the deal with “Olivia Mutant-John,” has a vigorous humorousness, however his experiment wasn’t solely a scatalogical joke. “My interest in generating the assets was to explore copyright thresholds and where the tools are currently,” he says. He’d seen that it was simple to search out examples of copyrighted characters on fashionable image-generating instruments (a degree additionally lately made by AI scientist Gary Marcus, who posted AI-generated depictions of SpongeBob SquarePants for example) and wished to see how far he may push a picture generator now that Steamboat Willie was within the public area.

Neville isn’t the one individual conducting AI Willie experiments with copyright on his thoughts. Pierre-Carl Langlais, head of analysis on the AI knowledge analysis agency OpSci, created a fine-tuned model of Stable Diffusion he referred to as “Mickey-1928” based mostly on 96 public area stills of Mickey Mouse from the 1928 movies Steamboat Willie, Plane Crazy, and Gallopin’ Gaucho. “It’s a political stance,” he says.

Langlais firmly believes that individuals needs to be paying nearer consideration to the place AI instruments get their coaching knowledge; he’s engaged on a number of separate initiatives centered on creating fashions that prepare solely on public area works to that finish. He whipped it up in hours, as a result of it’s primarily a filter laid atop of Stable Diffusion, not a completely customized knowledge set. (That could be a much more labor-intensive mission.)