Golden Demon 2024

AI in Miniature Painting

Golden Demon Musings

Golden Demon is never one to shy away from controversy and the Adepticon 2024 Golden Demon has been no exception.  The Aeldari Exodite entry that won Gold in the Warhammer 40,000 Single Miniature has caused quite a stir with it’s AI generated backdrop and in this post I go over my own views on this piece.

As ever, I’ll start off with a disclaimer.  This post isn’t going to go down the rabbit hole of if AI Art is the best thing since sliced bread or a scourge on the creative community.  We all have our own opinions on this which vary wildly depending upon our own backgrounds and views on this exceptionally divisive topic.  Instead I’m going to be looking at this specific entry and if using an AI backdrop justified the reaction it received.

Golden Demon 2024 Golden Winning Single Miniature Warhammer 40,000 Regardless of your views congratulations has to go to Neil Hollis on picking up gold for his exodite.  It’s a beautifully executed paint job on a really nicely converted miniature, combining a Seraphon Agradon with Eldar pieces and well poured resin elements to make a unique and really thematic piece.  It’s seamless and you’d be hard pressed to not think this is a standard miniature sold by Games Workshop.

Where the controversy is coming from is that the backdrop that’s been used has been generated using AI.  Getting the technical bits out of the way – there’s nothing in the Golden Demon rules that says you cannot supplement an entry with computer generated elements – be that items composed in Photoshop or AI generated items.  The only real stipulation is that the entry is painted, sculpted and converted entirely by the entrant.  So to be clear, this miniature hasn’t broken any competition rules as far as I can tell.

In this case the backdrop is a load of trees and vines that blends into the sculpted portion of the base.  I’d say it’s pretty generic and you could likely make similar with a photograph and filters in Photoshop.  Additionally, Neil hasn’t pretended that he’s painted it or drawn it himself, so is it justified for him to be getting as much flack as he has been?

I’d say partly.  Most people should be aware that AI generated art evokes some exceptionally strong opinions, so to use this quite as prominently on a piece was always going to elicit some less positive reactions from the community.  I do feel it’s important to remember that although it added to the “ambiance” this miniature is demon worthy without the backdrop, so for people slating the entire piece simply isn’t a fair argument.

Interestingly before I had even heard anything about the controversy, I made the comment that I would have preferred the model without the large static backdrop as it makes seeing the actual miniature quite difficult.  Although thematically there’s an argument that an Exodite should blend into it’s surroundings, it’s a Golden Demon single miniature entry which is at it’s heart should highlight a beautifully painted miniature which can be viewed from all angles.  The point I’m making is that I don’t feel the backdrop was needed in this instance.

There have been some comments that by winning a trophy, this entry sets a dangerous precedence and opens the flood gates for more AI generated art.  This is a logic that I don’t follow and if we’re being honest, it doesn’t matter how good the backdrop on a model is, if the painting on the model doesn’t come up to scratch it’s not going to win any prize.  Golden Demon isn’t a canvas painting competition, AI art isn’t going to ruin the event although we may start to see more backdrops on miniatures going forward.

That said, I do think the Golden Demon guidelines are very weak on clarifying what is acceptable and uses some very wishy-washy terminology (e.g. “appropriately sized base”).  Over the past ten years or so we’ve witnessed an increase in 3d printers and AI art – we need some clarification on what is and isn’t going to be deemed acceptable.  As great as it is to have free reign, nobody wants to be at the centre of unpleasantness because they’ve done something people don’t agree with because the rules “don’t say they can’t”.

In summary.  I don’t think the backdrop was really necessary and by using it, it’s caused controversy that could have been avoided.  I also don’t agree with people writing off the piece because they’re vehemently against AI art, however justified their viewpoint is, but I do think that this is an opportunity to ask for better guidelines that hopefully identify some of these topics.

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