Dali Lives: A.I. Tech Resurrects Legendary Artist

“I do not believe in my death.”

Salvador Dali died in 1989, but the legendary artist still lives.

With the help of artificial intelligence, the Spanish-born surrealist has been resurrected for his 115th birthday to greet guests of his St. Petersburg museum.

“Dali himself was at the forefront of technology and was always experimenting and trying new things,” Dali Museum Marketing Director Beth Bell told the Smithsonian. “We feel obligated to keep that legacy going. We think he would love these types of things. It’s in the spirit of Dali himself.”

The A.I. artist is part of the new “Dali Lives” exhibit at the Salvador Dali Museum that aims to teach visitors about his life, his work and his creative process.

“People want access to art. They want a way in,” said Dr. Hank Hine, the museum’s executive director. “This technology lets visitors experience his bigger-than-life personality in addition to our unparalleled collection of his works.”

The museum tasked Goodby Silverstein & Partners with recreating Dali. The San Fran-based advertising agency fed their A.I. tech thousands of Dali-related media, such as interviews and written works, to have authentic Dali dialogue and facial movements.

Over 6,000 frames were analyzed by the A.I. system and more than 1,000 hours of machine learning went into making the digital Dali.

“Our system learns exactly what he looks like and how his mouth moves and how his eyes move and his eyebrows and every little detail about what makes Dali, Dali,” explained GS&P Technical Director Nathan Shipley.

GS&P then brought in a voice actor to read lines from the A.I. scripts. The audio recordings were sent to an actor with a similar physique as Dali to play out his movements.

“The learning process to get it right was interesting,” explained GS&P interactive producer Severin Sauliere. “We had to tell the actor what kind of movements to make. If he moved in the wrong way, the A.I. wouldn’t know how to interpret it.”

After everything it pieced together, the A.I. system superimposed Dali’s face to the actor.

“This is actually a recreated version of Dali. It’s not a person playing Dali with makeup. It is actually Dali, ” said Jeff Goodby, GS&P co-chairman and partner.  “We’re very careful to use his words so that you learn a lot about what he thought and the way he thought.”

Visitors can interact with this life-sized Dali on video screens at three locations within the museum, including taking a selfie with him at the end.  

In total, there are 45 minutes of new Dali footage, 125 interactive videos and 190,512 possible combinations depending on the time and day.

“Some people have cried,” said Hine. “Just the fact that someone has been resurrected, it’s pretty amazing. It has this spiritual impact. If you can see Dali come alive, then why not believe in resurrection, eternity and your own immortality and the immortality of those you love. It’s very uplifting.”

If someone ever believed they could be immortal, it was definitely Dali, who once wrote, “If someday I may die, though it is unlikely, I hope the people in the cafes will say, ‘Dali has died, but not entirely.’’’