Note: If you're a visual person, I'll be releasing an accompanying TikTok/Reel explaining how to do this soon!
I've spent years skimming longingly through Fiverr (and other freelancing websites) in search of an affordable artist to commission my character art through, only to be disappointed that a single mock-up was usually around $200. And as a creator myself, that is 100% fair. Let's be clear that I'm not arguing against these prices in any way—I just can't afford them right now, so the strategy I've been using to create my own has been a solid alternative.
Eventually, after seeing tons of AI-generated mock-ups of everything under the sun, be it an artistic portrayal of heaven, scoliosis, or depression, it finally dawned on me: "What if I used this technology to generate my own character artwork?"
Lo and behold, it's been the solution I've been looking for, and not just because I'm getting this artwork completely for free, but because it's versatile enough for me to personally make my own adjustments to the artwork itself. For example, when I saw Apollo's original mock-up for the first time, I thought, "He's got an angrier edge to his eyes." I was personally able to make that adjustment myself until I felt satisfied, and that's some really cool stuff.
Here are a few of the mock-ups I've come up with. Note: They're still a work in progress!
These are what I've got so far for Eos, Apollo, and Mia. I love that they all have similar artistic styles, in that they have a fantastical touch to them but are also semi-realistic. Now, when AI originally generated these, I will say one thing: For some reason, every character was a little too fantastical. They looked like babies, with huge eyes, lips, and chubby faces, but all of my characters are stuck in the middle of a world-ending apocalypse. None of them would look nearly so well-rested or youthful. They're meant to be a little more battle-hardened. So, after reaching the limits of AI generated mock-ups and my ability to adjust them, I thought, "How else can I tweak these portraits?"
The thought sort of drifted out of my mind. A few days later, I was scrolling through TikTok in the early afternoon and came across a video accusing a beauty influencer (I swear this relates to what I'm talking about) of using "FaceTune" to filter out her flaws and adjust her features.
Ah, ha! The idea sprung into place. "I'll use an app like FaceTune to adjust the mock-ups of my characters," I thought immediately and leapt into action. Thankfully, I've already got such an app installed called AirBrush, which I use to edit out specks of dust on my keyboard, nicks on my desk, and other such ugly things.
It was perfect. It just so turns out that AirBrush is just as disturbing as FaceTune in its ability to completely manipulate a face (seriously, install this app at your own risk — and if you're at all dysmorphic, I wouldn't install it at all). I went through each portrait and mad their lips and eyes smaller and their faces a little less youthful; I heightened their foreheads, added texture to their under-eyes, and changed Eos's eyes to a brownish-green (they were originally blue in the AI's mock-up).
Again, while there's still a little tweaking to do, I'm overall blown away by the fact that I have solid mock-ups of my characters completely for free (except for the AirBrush app, which may be like $3 or something; I'll check later).
So, what AI generator was I using? It's a completely free website called www.ArtBreeder.com.
— Create an account.
— Search for "portraits" and input the style you're looking for. I used "realistic" for mine.
— Select an image that's closest to the one you have in mind for your character.
— Use the editing tools at adjust as much as possible, and once you've reached the limit for those adjustments, download a high-quality PNG of the photo and rev up your AirBrush app, or some "FaceTune" equivalent.
— Use the app to adjust your character's features as desired, and boom! You're done!
Again, I'll be releasing an accompanying TikTok or Reel for those of you who want to see me go through the motions of this step-by-step — which will be attached to the end of this post for your convenience!
So, do you think you'll give this a try? If so, I'd love to see your character artwork! If you're in the Writerverse Critique Group (a benefit of Tier Two), let's create a Discord channel where we can share our mock-ups. That'd be so fun. And I bet we could use aspects of this to make other things, like maps or even images of certain kingdoms or setting. I may get to work on that now to see if it's possible!