Elvis Is Back in the Building, Thanks to AI

A shot from Marco Brambilla’s artificial intelligence (AI)-generated video collage “King Size,” which pays homage to Elvis.

Elvis Presley is everywhere in Las Vegas—his image can be seen on pictures and street art, and Elvis impersonators can be seen all over the strip. But starting on Friday, the King of Rock and Roll will receive what may be his biggest tribute to date: a video collage that depicts him hundreds of times, hundreds of feet in the air, in incarnations both young and old, gyrating and reclining, in bas relief and gold, all made possible by generative AI, a technology developed long after his passing.

The video collage was made by artist Marco Brambilla, who also directed the music videos for Kanye West’s “Power” and Demolition Man, among many other artistic endeavours. Hours of footage from Presley’s films and performances were fed into the AI model Stable Diffusion by Brambilla to create an easily searchable library to draw from. The AI model Midjourney was then asked questions like, “What would Elvis look like if he were sculpted by the artist who made the Statue of Liberty?” to produce surreal new images.

The kaleidoscopic outcome, dubbed “King Size,” will make its debut during U2’s concert performance on opening night at the Sphere, a $2.3 billion entertainment complex that aims to become the newest mega-attraction in Las Vegas. The Sphere is 366 feet tall, and according to its designers, it has the largest spherical framework and the highest-resolution wraparound LED screen in the world.

For TIME, Brambilla produced an exclusive film that includes an excerpt from the wider collage. It is accessible above. As part of their three-month residency at the Sphere honouring their 1991 album Achtung Baby, the band U2 will perform their song “Even Better Than The Real Thing” while Brambilla’s Elvises dance over the screen of the Sphere, which is four times the size of IMAX. The members of U2 have long been ardent admirers of Elvis, and in 2020, Bono even published a letter in Rolling Stone expressing his feelings for the artist. U2 commissioned Brambilla and Jenny Holzer and other artists earlier this year to produce visual pieces to go along with their performances of particular songs.

The sumptuous backdrop of the Sphere and U2’s affection for the artist led Brambilla to believe that paying homage to Elvis would be perfectly appropriate. In order to capture both the exhilarating highs and dreary lows of not only Elvis Presley but also the city of Las Vegas itself, he set out to produce a maximalist piece. In a phone interview, Brambilla explained that the play was about excess, spectacle, and the breaking point for the American Dream. Only three and a half months, or less than half the time Brambilla usually spends creating video collages, were allowed to Brambilla to carry out his idea. So, for both efficiency and luxury, he turned to AI tools. According to Brambilla, “AI can exaggerate indefinitely; there is no cap on the density or production value.” And this seems to be ideal for this.

First, Brambilla fed hours of video into Stable Diffusion, allowing him to quickly catalogue and choose the snippets he wanted from dozens of films featuring or portraying Elvis. For instance, by just searching his dataset for “crowd in a concert,” the AI model would instantly bring up all of the relevant footage for his sampling.

He then created the fantasy versions of Elvis and his accessories using both Stable Diffusion and Midjourney, another AI model: A statue of the singer’s head based on the imposing stainless steel sculptures by Isamo Noguchi at Rockefeller Centre. An Elvis rising from a casino table out of heaps of coins. A Salvador Dali-style guitar.

Elvis Presley dressed extravagantly in the style of ancient Egypt and fabled lost civilizations, in a happy mood, was one of the exact instructions he typed in. A battalion of Las Vegas sorceresses encircling him, twisted and deformed in the middle of their chant, represent the decadence and illusion of consumerism while drawing inspiration from Damien Hirst and Andrei Riabovitchev.

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