Creating Photorealistic Character Portraits with Artbreeder.com
In this tutorial/ walkthrough, I'll show you how you can create character portraits like this, no prior art knowledge or skill necessary!
Artbreeder has three modes, but the one we're interested in is portrait mode. In the portrait mode, you edit the character by adjusting the gene sliders that control things such as eye colour, hair length etc.
Limitations - However, the sliders for each gene don't only edit the feature they're named after, they work by overlaying another image on top of your portrait. So increasing the 'blue eye' gene will unintentionally alter their other facial features, such as face shape, skin tone, hair colour etc. This means you may need to edit your finished projects in another program, such as I need to do with the following image (image 2) to remove the stubborn earing (they are hard to get rid of, even though there is an 'earing' gene). Don't let this put you off, because you can still create fantastic images using this website!
Artbreeder isn't the most intuitive site to use, so I'll try to explain things as simply as I can. While the gene sliders are a useful tool, they're tricky to get the hang of. Learning how to use Artbreeder mostly boils down to three things: Trial, error, and patience! As the example below shows, sometimes you'll need to edit the final product with another program/ website (especially for skin tone adjustments, textured hair, dreadlocks, and scars).
If you want the full-sized images, check out the Imgur thread here.
After you sign up and make a free profile, click on Create (top right corner) > Portraits > Compose. You'll be given a screen that looks like this:
This screen allows you to create a base image by adding parent images that you can breed together. To add your first parent image, click either the select or random button in the parent's column. If you click Select, you'll end up with the following screen (except your Starred tab will be empty because your account will be new):
On this screen, click search, trending, or uploaded (your personal uploads - only available to those with a paid subscription) to select two parent images. What you're looking for are front-facing faces that have features you'd like your character to have. Due to how tricky the gene function is to use, most of the battle is choosing the correct parent images, so choose carefully. If you're trying to get the hang of Artbreeder, I recommend choosing two random faces from trending to experiment.
Alternatively, if you find a single image you like in the Trending or Search tab, you can open that and edit it without crossbreeding it. For this, skip to Step 3.
Once you've chosen your parent images, Artbreeder will automatically generate three basic options and you'll have this screen:
From here you have a two options.
Firstly, if you like any of the generated options, click on the image and it'll save it below the purple icon (this is your 'clipboard' so to speak). You won't get redirected to the image, so you can do this as many times as you like while generating new children images. Clicking the purple refresh button will give you three fresh images.
Secondly, if you don't like the results Artbreeder is giving you, you can begin to edit the genes of the children in the genes column. They're all sliders, so for example, to change the gender you go into the negatives for feminin looking faces and the positives for masculin looking faces.
Gene Splicing Top Tip - Be sparing with your gene slider adjustments! This is usually the stage where people quit because the gene sliders are tricky to use. Adjust a single gene at a time by a small amount (I'll usually start with 0.2 or -0.2 adjustment) until you get used to the controls (note - your changes won't become visible until you hit the Refresh Button). Because each gene slider overlays a whole image onto your character and not just the gene in question, you can end up with unintended consequences if you use adjust the sliders too mch or edit multiple genes at once. Above all, be patient! This can be tricky, but it's very rewarding.
Keep going until you find a face you resonate with. When this happens, click on it where it appears in the clipboard (which appears below the purple button) and it will open in a new window.
The exciting part (or the dreaded part, depending on how patient you are with gene adjustment!). This is the screen you'll be presented with:
This is where you can fine-tune the image by altering its gene sliders. Adjust one at a time in small increments until you get a hang of the basic UI and get a feel for how strong or subtle each gene is. As you fiddle around, you can save your progress by clicking on the heart button under the preview image. These saves will be displayed on a clipboard at the bottom. If you ever regret your gene editing choices and wish to backtrack, you can click on any of these old versions to revert back to that stage.
Once you've played with the default genes, you're ready to search for new ones. Click the dark grey add gene button, and it will take you to this screen:
Type the feature you're after into the search bar (such as short hair) and it'll show you the available community created genes. Bearing in mind that Artbreeder works by layering images, on this search page the images on the left are the image that will be overlayed when the slider is in the negatives, while the images on the right are what will be overlayed when the slider is in the positives.
Pay attention to skin colour and facial features on these genes, because these genes will alter their whole face, not just the intended parts. When I'm changing hair length, for example, I'll use three or four different hair genes and increase their strength by a little, rather than using one gene and increasing the strength by a lot. This reduces the unintended face changes while maximising the intended ones.
Remember, this whole stage is a really fiddly process so be patient and keep 'backing up' by using the heart button.
The genes in this search engine are all community-created, so they can vary in quality. Not all genes are created equally, apparently.
(Also, you add new genes by clicking the image, not pressing favourite)
If you've been fiddling with the genes but can't reach the result you want, or you want to find a middle ground between two previous drafts, the Crossbreed function is for you. As you can see in Image 6, you're automatically working on the Edit-Genes tab, but there are two more (Children and Crossbreed). If you want to merge two versions of the same image together, click the Crossbreed Tab and it'll take you to this screen (the character has changed because these screenshots are from a different project):
Click Select an Image. If you want to cross it with a new image, you can use the Trending or Search tabs. If you want to cross it with a previous draft, search for the desired backup in the Starred tab (provided you saved the desired draft with the heart button). Once you click on the desired image, you'll end up with a screen like this (I'm merging this image with a previous version):
The original image is now in the middle, and my chosen image is on the right. Artbreeder will automatically generate a middle ground image, which will be displayed on the left.
The style slider is about the art style while the face slider is facial features. Unlike the gene-editing sliders, I find these sliders are less sensitive so you can make bigger adjustments with smaller results. Click the purple save button to save the option to your clipboard. From there you can create new options with different slider positions, or click on the clipboard version to open it in a new gene editor and start the gene-editing process again.
I don't have any screenshots for this, but the Children tab works like a cross between the Crossbreed tab and Step 1 in which you created child images from parent images. With this tab, you can choose a second parent to create children images with. I've only used this feature once, but as far as I can remember, the difference between this step and step 1 is you use the same sliders as in step 4 (the style slider and face slider instead of the individual gene sliders). I could be wrong though!
That is pretty much all you need to know. As I said in the introduction, most of the learning process behind Artbreeder comes down to trial, error, and being patient with how tricky the gene sliders can be to use, but I hope this has helped you get to grips with the basics. I'll try and answer any questions you have but before that, I want to add a few final points:
1 - Clean Your Profile! - Especially if you've been saving a lot of images to your clipboard or generating lots of child images. After you've finished your character portrait, click on the Profile tab at the top of the page. It automatically displays your created images and depending on how many backups you made, it might be cluttered. Like the ones you want to keep by hovering over the image with your cursor and click the heart and delete the ones you don't want to use so your profile is clean for your next project.
2 - A Note on Textured Hair - From my experience, Artbreeder's gene sliders don't handle textured hair very well. I tried creating a character with dreadlocks, but the Artbreeder's sliders butchered his hair. This brings me to point 3...
3 - Be Ready To Edit in Other Programs - Artbreeder has limitations, which sometimes means you need to edit the finished product in another art software or run it through another filter. I have experience with digital painting and photo manipulation so I can fall back on my free version of photoshop, but if you don't have those skills there are other image filters you can use. If you know of any, suggest them in the comments.
4 - It's a Freemium Site - While you can use Artbreeder for free, there are some limitations. On the free version, you can't upload images of your own to edit/ breed with, and you can't download high-res version of your images (or you're restricted to a certain number,I can't remember). However, the free version doesn't limit the number of images you can create and a screenshot of your image is just over 500x500 pixels which works fine for RoyalRoad.
I'm in the face editor with all the sliders. https://www.artbreeder.com/i?k=c5935c33eb9528fa82e9ca0787f7
And I have a pretty awesome face going - but when I click on the "lineage" icon, the lineage editor starts with the DEFAULT, not with my designed face!
Similarly, when I download the image in highres (Using up one of my 4 free slots.) I also get the default face, not my current design. Something's broken.
I tried in Chrome and Firefox.
I managed to make a pretty cool one of one of my main characters, I might go over all of my roster when I have the time.