The Coming Death of Commercial Costume Design

I think the last time I was personally involved in costuming of any kind was sometime around 1968, when I covered several cardboard boxes with aluminum foil and walked the neighborhood during Halloween as a “robot”.

Oh, no, that’s not true.  I also did Halloween as Frank-n-Further from The Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was in college.  I don’t know why there aren’t any family pictures of me as the robot (maybe my parents were still trying to kill my interest in science fiction?), but there is one of me as Frank.

You’ll have to read all the rest of this post if you want to see that!.

A good handful of days ago I wrote a piece on the death of “commercial” art at the hands of the new AI art programs.  The programs (using neural networks and “trained” by being exposed to tens of thousands of examples) have started to produce startling good output and artists are worried, as they ought to be.  When a company can purchase or license software that can (presumably) serve all of their graphical art needs (from product packaging to hotel lobby decoration and everything between…), and can do so without all of those pesky human things like needing to eat or misunderstanding the commission, or insisting that creating art, even commercial art, takes some time.

The point of the word “commercial” is that cost is a primary concern.  Reduced Cost and Reduced Time (because time=money).  Business generally finds that human-centered things are detrimental to the bottom line.

Which means that as soon as AIs can do a truly competent job of creating commercial art on demand (and of modifying it to order on the fly), “graphic artist” as a profession, is going to go bye-bye.  Art for art’s sake will still require people and might even enjoy a renaissance owing to it being entirely produced by meat bags, but folks trying to make a living by designing company logos and the illustrations in instruction manuals are going to find themselves competing with Fan Artists at convention, fighting over who is going to illustrate my name tag.  Lowest bidder wins.  Payment upon acceptance only.

Over here at Amazing HQ, where we occasionally have to work with artists of both the creative and commercial varieties (they’ve been largely indistinguishable until now) (we have to work with their wordsmith counterparts too, but the less said about that the better), our Creative Director, who is an artiste in his own right, has been playing with a handful of art-producing AI programs and has unexpectedly discovered that they have a hidden talent –

as costume designers.

In discussing various aspects of science fiction as one tends to do around the offices of a science fiction magazine, we were following discussions online related to the fact that Lucille Ball is the Patron Saint of Star Trek.  One could even argue that her support for Star Trek and that show’s subsequent success makes her the Patron Saint of all televised science fiction.

Regardless, the main point here is that the subject of Lucille Ball and Star Trek came up, which inspired our ever-inspirational Creative Director to task his AI minions with creating illustrations of Lucille Ball in Star Trek crew uniforms.

Yes, there are a few already out there, usually photoshops of Ball’s head on Nichelle Nichols body;  with sufficient effort they can actually be made quite well.  But that wasn’t the point of the exercise.

The point was the following:

Color image of Lucille Ball in a 1960s Star Trek uniform.

The caption is the seed that Kermit prompted his AI with.

I’d say “Not Bad!  Not Bad At All!” if asked for my opinion.  It could be tweaked here and there – the Enterprise’s badge is a bit incomplete, Lucille’s eyes are just a tiny bit off, the eyebrows and eyelashes a tad exaggerated.  On the other hand, the flame red hair is sport on.  Lucy’s hair was SO red, you could see it on black and white television!

(Yes, I’ve a bit of a thing for the younger Lucy.)

That rendering turned out to be so good that it prompted Kermit – who is a costume designer and wearer in his own right (he’d be called a cosplayer now but might be considered a tad old for that moniker by the street urchins who are trying to replace us…) to wonder what the AI would do if he prompted it for Star Trek uniforms.

The length, breadth, depth and alacrity with which it responded were, in a phrase, out of this world.

Before sharing some of the designs with you, a bit more commentary.

We added this entry to the “Death of” series (alternate title – our robot overlords will do  us in not with a bang but with lack of employment) for at least one reason:  costume design by its nature has to involve creating a large number of variations that are being constantly revised.

That’s labor-intensive art work – the precise target these AI programs are aimed at.

Human artists working on a show that requires costumes can do quick proof style sketches for a director fairly quickly (the “I was thinking something like this” kind of sketches), but in refining the design for actual production, things can get mired in re-do after re-do after re-do.

That will still be a necessary step, but now it won’t require meetings or phone calls or waiting hours for scans of the modified designs to arrive.  Now it takes just a matter of minutes to generate dozens of variations.

Inspired by Lucy (her influence never fails), variations on existing Star Trek uniforms (they’ve changed almost as frequently as Klingon foreheads, I think) were created, with instructions including “on a mannikin” (which is why some of them look eerily eerie).

Here’s a gallery of some of my faves so far:

That last was created for “Star Trek:  Killer Bees”, an as yet unproduced series.

You’ll note that the AI still has issues with human hands and faces, not to mention secondary sexual characteristics.  On the other hand, any variation in the realm strongly suggests that the AI understands that there are differing costume requirements based on the sex of the costumed.

Another curious thing that was noticed following the creation of numerous variations is that the Ship badge on the uniform was ALWAYS placed in the proper location and orientation, suggesting that this particular AI has been trained on badges and military insignia.

Here’s another handful:

This one has been dubbed “Star Trek: Boy Band” and even includes a variation for the lead
Gold Sneakers in Space! Oh yes!
You can react to this as if the AI had some issues with human faces, or you can assume that the AI has accepted the Star Trek Variegated Forehead concept and transferred it to the lower half of the face.
Looking closely, you’ll realize that the AI gets the concept of sexual dimorphism…kinda
Here we see Federation couriers just about to deliver the sumo wrestling belts so desperately needed by the colony on Kelp IV
Note from the other variants that this is one of the few that creates a uniform with more than two colors. Note also that the new Security uniform has been changed to baby blue, following all of the whining from red shirts.

Yes there are flaws. Yes, most use only two colors and yes, many of the faces and hands are effed up. But on the other hand, you type in “Mannikins wearing 1960s Star Trek Uniforms” and a few minutes later you get a huge variety, many of them even invoking later Trek uniforms that actually appeared on the screen.

Not to mention the variants that are just plain fun. Star Trek jumpsuits – like they wore on Enterprise! Dress uniforms like they had in some of the films.

It is uncanny, amusing, intriguing and even a touch scary.

And then. Then we get this variation on Lucy:

Sure the badge is in the right place and almost the right size, but Star Fleet would never get anyone applying for communications officer if that’s the ear piece they have to wear.

It’s also doubtful that a younger Ms. Ball, looking like that, would ever have been cast for the Ziegfield follies.  (And ignore the hand.  BTW, the console she’s sitting at is not a Trek image – it was created by the Ai.

Based on the evidence so far, it’s not going to be long before an AI get’s hooked up to a 3D sewing machine.  Bad for the costume designers guild, but probably good for the future of Cosplay!





…and one final one that we think was from a screen test when Lucille was thinking about portraying the Salt Monster from the first aired episode – Man trap.

And now, the image you’ve all been waiting for – from a 1978 performance in New Jersey –

I don’t know.  I think I might be prettier than Lucy was….

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