- Artist and filmmaker Marco Brambilla used AI to make the highest-resolution video collage of all time, dedicated to rock star Elvis Presley. The work debuts at the Sphere, a new venue for immersive entertainment in Las Vegas, as part of a new limited residency by U2.
- With a storyline about the gradual growth and collapse of an icon, Brambilla employed what he calls “the language of excess” for “The King,” inspired by Hollywood spectacle and the work of painters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel.
- Brambilla calls AI “a blunt instrument” that helps with references and inspirations, but it doesn’t really create intention. “That’s still the artist’s department. For now.”
A 16K resolution AI-generated immersive artwork for the opening of Sphere in Las Vegas celebrates the “king of rock’n’roll” with suitably exaggerated excess.
The latest Elvis extravaganza is the work of Italian artist Marco Brambilla. He was commissioned to create the largest video collage ever to fit the giant Sphere screen and to display during U2’s inaugural residency at the $2.3 billion entertainment complex.
The four-minute, hyper-detailed, image-dense video depicts Presley in different incarnations from young army officer to swaggering movie star to bloated has-been — as well as Vegas itself, “which somewhat similarly evolves from a small desert oasis into the neon epicenter of debacle-spectacle,” writes Jori Finkel at The Art Newspaper.
“I’m using the language of excess,” Brambilla told Finkel. “I wanted it to be a spectacle in the tradition of Hollywood, Busby Berkeley and Irwin Allen. It’s really over the top.”
“The storyline is really the gradual growth and collapse of an icon and also how Las Vegas went from being a desert to a glamorous destination to a mega Disneyland,” Brambilla told Jo Lawson-Tancred at Artnet. “Those two hyperboles seemed very well connected to me.”
“I’ve always been inspired by Bruegel and Bosch and this idea of multiple storylines existing in the same frame, but with video.”
How He Made It
Given that he had only four months to make it, which is much less time than it has taken to create his previous video artworks, Brambilla turned to AI to help out.
“The AI allowed me to work much faster in finding the material I wanted. The process became a kind of stream-of-consciousness exercise between myself and the AI model,” he explains to Lea Zeitoun at designboom.
He started out by feeding over 12,000 film samples of Presley’s performances, including the 33 movies he starred in, into Stable Diffusion. This allowed Brambilla to catalog hours of footage and select what he needed with ease. For example, he could simply search his dataset for “crowd in a concert,” and the AI model would pull all of the related clips up immediately for his sampling.
He then used both Stable Diffusion and Midjourney, another AI model, along with his own text prompts to generate the fantastical versions of Elvis: an Elvis rising from a casino table out of piles of coins; a surrealist Salvador Dali-style guitar; a statue of the singer’s head modeled off the stainless steel sculptures at Rockefeller Center. He also “revamped some looks from Elvis (2022), the biopic by Baz Luhrmann, who shares something of the artist’s aesthetics of excess,” per Finkel.
READ MORE: Elvis returns to Las Vegas in Marco Brambilla’s new video for the Sphere, created with AI (The Art Newspaper)
One prompt was “What would Elvis look like if he were sculpted by the artist who made the Statue of Liberty?”
Another was “Elvis Presley in attire inspired by the extravagance of ancient Egypt and fabled lost civilizations in a blissful state. Encircling him, a brigade of Las Vegas sorceresses, twisted and warped mid-chant, reflect the influence of Damien Hirst and Andrei Riabovitchev, creating an atmosphere of otherworldly realism, mirroring the decadence and illusion of consumption.”
The artist also used CGI to edit the samples and inject more details into the video collage, collaborating with a post-production studio in Paris.
After stitching together all of these images, Brambilla ran tests to make sure the video did not feel dizzying. He switched from a vortex-like format, which he found to be too intense, to a scrolling model much like how we view content on phones. He also slowed down a number of the clips so they would be easier to digest at this scale.
“It’s like looking through a window. If the work doesn’t cut too quickly or move too fast, it’s actually quite soothing,” he says. He described the Sphere’s screen, consisting of thousands of LEDs, as more membrane than wall. “There’s no feel of architecture when you’re inside. This is the first time I’ve seen something that is impossible to replicate at home or in a conventional movie theatre.”
By the end, Elvis is represented by a monument that towers over the video’s frenetic activity. “It’s almost like we’re in Elvis’s head,” he tells Artnet. “It’s his own memory of Vegas, of how it started. It’s a very subjective point of view so it’s all the neurons firing and everything coming together.”
AI: Tool or Collaborator?
What are Brambilla’s thoughts on using AI as a tool or a collaborator?
“I see it more as a tool at this point, he tells designboom, [but] I assume it may become more of a two-way dialogue at some point. Technically, this project is more of a hybrid – it uses the collage technique combined with AI and computer graphics to create a more seamless ‘Canvas’. The process of making it was also informed by the ‘Collaboration’ with the AI tool, which often led to unexpected associations that found their way into the work.’”
He reports that only about 20% of the output images actually looked like Elvis. “But some really interesting accidents came out of it,” he told TIME. “It was a stream-of-consciousness experiment: You’re working with a tool prompting you to make associations you wouldn’t have made. AI can exaggerate with no end; there’s no limit to the density or production value.”
Brambilla continued this line of thought with Finkel: “What I found is that it was very good at sketching, making conceptual sketches and hybrid images. It often comes up with things that are very magical.”
He found that AI was a huge help in speeding up the process of ideation. “What it doesn’t do well,” he told Artnet News, “is make an output that’s really specific. It fights backs, so you never quite get the exact result but you get options. What I chose to do is take these imaginations and use them as a sketch for CGI artist to modify.”
He added, “AI is a blunt instrument that helps you get references and inspirations, but it doesn’t really create intention. That’s still our department. For now.”
King Size will play during U2 concerts at the Sphere (29 September-16 December, appropriately enough, during the group’s 1991 hit, “Even Better than the Real Thing”; Brambilla then plans to show the work at his Berlin gallery, Michael Fuchs Galerie, using an Elvis-inspired soundtrack.