Since the beginning of civilization, science has been preoccupied with the seemingly impossible task of bringing someone back from the dead. As of May 2019, interactive digital technology may have effectively beaten science to the punch thanks to an interactive kiosk that makes it appear as if a dead person is addressing you. And who was the lucky candidate for this surreal, Frankenstein-like experiment? Why, Salvador Dalí, of course—the man behind the melting clocks and vivid landscapes that popularized surrealism on the canvas as well as the silver screen (check out his infamous and controversial collaboration with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel on the silent short called Un Chien Andalou— dubbed “the most famous short film ever made” by late critic Roger Ebert).
Dalí Lives, the latest permanent exhibit at The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, indeed presents visitors with an opportunity to converse with the mustached painter as if he was alive and well. Thanks to advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and more than 1,000 hours of machine learning, a system was able to analyze over 6,000 existing frames of Dalí to master his mannerisms and speech patterns. The illusory figure can effectively chat with guests about topics ranging from his life story to the weather.
“Like everything we aspire to do at The Dalí, this experience was inspired by Salvador Dalí himself,” said Museum Marketing Director Beth Bell. “Throughout his career, he explored myriad mediums and new artistic avenues to express himself. He was also famous for his sense of his own eternal significance, and he ranked himself with the great artists of history. He even said ‘If someday, I may die, although it is unlikely, I hope that the people in the cafes in Cadaques will say ‘Dalí has died, but not entirely.’ Who better to explain the works and life of Salvador Dalí than Dalí himself?”
Dalí Lives has produced 45 minutes of “new” Dalí footage, comprised of 190,512 possible combinations, which ensures that each interaction with the artificial painter feels unique. To achieve this technological miracle, the Museum turned to San Francisco-based agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GS&P). They developed both the AI technology and the screen design. GS&P also used an open-source neural network code that utilizes TensorFlow, Python and Adobe After Effects and uses Touch Designer for the real-time interactions.
According to Bell, “If visitors can have a stronger connection with Dali himself, they may feel a stronger connection to the art and its meaning. We are able to bring Dalí back to life in a sense. We truly embrace the role technology can play in the museum experience. We study visitor behavior, motivations and interests and have continually found that digital experiences can deepen visitor understanding and generally enhance their visit.”
The upcoming Visual Magic: Dalí’s Masterworks in Augmented Reality opens June 15. It employs augmented reality (AR), which allows visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning behind Dalí’s work. This experience will also offer a free Museum app that visitors can use for a virtual tour and a complementary audio feature. Check out the video below for a closer look at the current Dalí Lives exhibit: