So a couple of weeks ago I was in the middle (or maybe near the end) of a foggy algorithm-led safari on Instagram when I came across a reel of what I thought were vintage photographs. Sucked in by the pastels, filmic wash, and kitschiness of them, I delved a little deeper and quickly found myself immersed in the world of Planet Fantastique… Cue Bowie-like theme music.
Planet Fantastique is made up of people, buildings, food, vehicles and gadgets. Here, soft pinks and warm yellows collide with 60s-inspired fashion, velvety meeting rooms, and the candid faces of the innocent-seeming inhabitants. It’s a place where the nightlife is buzzing and people get along, with a flower power energy simmering beneath it all.
It was born inside the mind of Sienna O’Rourke, a 30-something London-based creative from small-town Queensland. Powered by AI art generation, Planet Fantastique is one of (and easily my favourite) a string of collections being constructed using the new technology to produce highly stylised realms of visual delight.
This form of human-driven, tech-produced art is surrounded by ethical concerns for artists, mystery for those of us with no idea how it works, and endless possibilities for society as a whole – topics that are too subjective, fluid, and high-concept for peasant art lovers like myself.
I reached out to Sienna to hear about her process, the direction of her marvellous opus, and her thoughts on the dilemmas above. Read it below and follow Planet Fantastique on Instagram here.
I first started to experiment with AI software because I work as a commercial designer who creates artwork and gets paid to do so and AI was being heralded as a real threat to our work. I wanted to explore what it was all about and see what the software was capable of and how I might be able to use it as a tool rather than see it as a threat. What I discovered was that it enabled me to actually put out some of my most creative ideas in a way I never would have been able to with the tools and budgets available to me.
I came to it very blank canvas, just messing around really to begin with and as I got better at using the software I realised it was such an amazing tool to create these really cinematic images. It’s like a movie where there is no budget and you have a real chance to explore a world, from the amazing hero shots right down to the mundane. I come from a very film obsessed family and I have always resonated strongly with those films that have amazing detail and art direction, where the story can almost become secondary to the imagery.
I have been using this project as a way to explore the idea of Utopia. We are so obsessed with the exploration of dystopia in the stories that we tell. The world is shit and understandably there is a bleak kind of catharsis in seeing it fall apart and watching the carnage, but I am a positive person at my core and I think there is space for more joy and moments of escapism that don’t pull at the pit of your stomach.
As humans we have this amazing ability to think beyond ourselves, and project a vison of ourselves into the future. We also have a strong and sometimes irrational connection to nostalgia, often for something that never existed. This work aims to take those two ideas and use them to asks what is Utopia, would we know if we found it? and do we even deserve it?
I usually start by thinking about a geographical location and begin creating some random spaces within that place then I start to introduce the colour story and any other motifs. Once I have created the visual language of the location then it’s all about experimentation and exploration. For each final image there are a lot of versions that I go through to get it right, sometimes in the hundreds. Once I’m happy with the image I will do a bit of clean up and colour grading and then it’s done.
When I realised the endless scope of what you can achieve, I couldn’t stop. The process itself is really addictive, I was ill and basically in bed for a couple of weeks in December and the time passed so quickly as I was just so inspired and busy creating.
It’s great to let it go and see people interacting with the work, creating their own interpretations, making up story lines and imagining themselves in the spaces. I absolutely love to see that. I really do have to restrain myself though, for every image released there are dozens and dozens that won’t be, it’s very easy to get carried away!
Retro futurism with a pastel world view.
I do but I like to keep them to myself to an extent. I’ll give you the introduction, show you a peek into their world and then give you a chance to imagine what their life is like.
I don’t think I could pick just one but I really enjoyed creating the football players in Marigold. Such a joy to see these masculine figures wearing these fuzzy knitted helmets and adorned in pink florals.
I would love that, it feels like there is so much crying out to be translated into the real world. I am working on a few exciting projects at the moment which I can’t talk too much about unfortunately. Someone give me the budget, we need a TV series!
Aside from a few trolls who are very concerned about the death of art, the response has been so amazing and positive! There have been a few people who have commented that a character looks really similar to a family member or that a space reminds them so vividly of their own experience and that in itself is wild, as it is all a constructed reality.
I totally understand the ethical concerns surrounding AI generated artwork and I do think it is an important responsibility for anyone using the software to act in good faith. There is so much potential to use AI to assist artists and that is a really exciting prospect. There are so many areas where this technology can help with pitching and prototyping, especially in the film industry. If you can create an image of your world you can use that to secure funding for its realisation, which means more interesting art for us all to consume.