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The viral ‘Harry Potter in Star Wars’ AI images are just the start of a global competition

Competitors put Harry Potter in The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, anime, and a lot more

A series of AI-generated images for the Harry Potter Reimagined AI competition shows Harry Potter characters as they might appear in Star Wars, with Harry Potter holding a blue lightsaber, Voldemort holding a red one, a mashup of Hagrid and Chewbacca, a Jedi Knight version of Dumbledore, and a young Jedi version of Hermione. Image: Abderrahmane B./Freelancer.com
Tasha Robinson leads Polygon’s movie coverage. She’s covered film, TV, books, and more for 20 years, including at The A.V. Club, The Dissolve, and The Verge.

Because it’s May 4th, aka Star Wars Day in some sectors of the galaxy (because “May the 4th be with you,” you see), Star Wars memes and references are all over the internet today. And so are a series of AI images that depict Harry Potter characters as Star Wars characters, with Jedi and Sith interpretations of Harry Potter and Voldemort, a Wookiee/Hagrid mashup, Severus Snape as a pointy-eared alien, and more. These images, cropping up on Twitter and TikTok, often aren’t properly credited, which is a shame both for the sake of the creators and because knowing where they’re from is an invitation into a huge gallery of fandom mashups. At the same time, these images really show off the limitations around AI tools, and their tendency to repeat certain patterns.

These images are from Freelancer.com’s Harry Potter Reimagined competition, a worldwide contest that specifically asked entrants to use AI tools to generate images of Harry Potter characters in alternate settings. The Star Wars mashup images were submitted by Abderrahmane B., an Algerian artist and graphic designer who earned runner-up status in the contest. The winner, Bangladesh designer and web developer Rabbi Ali, put Harry Potter characters in The Walking Dead, imagining them as victims of a zombie apocalypse. (Or in Voldemort’s case, as a zombie.)

A six-panel image montage of AI portraits of Harry Potter characters in The Walking Dead: A very bloodied Harry and Ron Weasley (as played by Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint) screaming; Severus Snape (played by Alan Rickman) in biker leathers, leading a motorcycle gang; Voldemort as a zombie; Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) bloodied and hiding in a darkened school bus. These images were generated for Freelancer.com’s worldwide Harry Potter Reimagined contest. Image: Rabbi Ali/Freelancer.com

In a press release announcing the winners, Freelancer.com communications manager Marko Zitko said the contest was meant to push the site’s freelancers-for-hire into experimenting with new AI art generation tools. “Our latest Fast 50 data shows there’s a growing demand for generative AI skills,” he said, “so we wanted to create a contest that will let our freelancers experiment with powerful AI tools and see how they can use them to generate things we’ve never seen or thought about before. In this case, we thought: what if Harry Potter was filmed as a completely different genre.”

A gallery of all the entries is publicly available online, and it makes for some fun — if sometimes repetitive or deeply uncanny — exploration. The contenders came from all over the world, putting Harry Potter characters in Aardman Studios-style claymation, The Matrix, a Clint Eastwood-esque Western, the DC Snyderverse, and even Peaky Blinders. There is also a wide variety of anime-influenced designs, from a more Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water approach to a chibi Dragon Ball Z piece, among many, many, many others. In total, the contest received nearly 650 entries.

The results are worth exploring in part because they use a range of different AI tools, and they clearly show the benefits and limitations of those tools. Many of these images have visual limitations and errors, especially when it comes to rendering mouths and hands. Others, in the signature Midjourney photorealistic style, are such literal, exact renderings of Warner Bros.’ existing movie versions of these characters that they barely feel like artistic choices were being made. And a great many of the images, coming from the same AI engines, don’t look distinctive or specific, and tend to blur together.

Put together, they offer up a current portrait of the state of AI art, and how much it relies on copycatting existing artists (some of whom have filed a class-action lawsuit to protect their work from AI infringement), on detailed input to get a desired result, and on a specific, imaginative direction from the creator, in order to generate something different from everyone else’s images exploring the same prompt. For instance, UK entrant Nikki V. went in a different direction from everyone else by putting her Harry Potter characters in the world of The Hunger Games.

A grid of nine portraits of Harry Potter characters from the Warner Bros. films (as played by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, and so forth) with arm tattoos, in leather armor, carrying bows and arrows, and standing outdoors in a forest, all in the style of the Hunger Games movies. This image was generated for Freelancer.com’s Harry Potter Reimagined contest. Image: Nikki V./Freelancer.com

As with any art contest, there are some real gems in the gallery, and some duds. Very few of them really offer a thoughtful alternate universe option that even the most hardcore fans would want to explore. Unlike one of the most popular AI art experiments on social media these days, the “What if Wes Anderson directed Star Wars” (or any other franchise movie) fad, these aren’t really “What if?” prompts, they’re just visual experiments and AI test cases. More than anything, they’re a window into the minds of the designers playing around with AI tools right now, seeing what those tools have to offer.

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