AI helps develop digital version of celebrated painter Li Kuchan

The power of artificial intelligence combined with raw video footage has been harnessed to create a lifelike digital image of the celebrated Chinese painter Li Kuchan to help introduce his work to a younger audience.


In 2022, a team from the Tencent Media Lab developed "Digital Li Kuchan," an ultrarealistic digital figure based on high-resolution images and video footage. It was the first successful attempt to recreate this kind of digital representation within the circle of painting and calligraphy. Within 72 hours of its launch on a Wechat mini program, it attracted over 20 million views.

The team manually modeled Li Kuchan based on his photos and videos from 40 years ago, with Li Yan, the master's son, voicing the narration. Since Li Kuchan knew martial arts and Peking Opera, an actor was invited to play him, helping the team to capture movements to recreate Li's image as realistically as possible.

"Digital Li Kuchan," an ultrarealistic digital figure, is developed by the Tencent Media Lab. /CGTN

"Digital Li Kuchan," an ultrarealistic digital figure, is developed by the Tencent Media Lab. /CGTN

"When we saw Li Kuchan's footage for the first time, it was clear to us that the restoration of the footage was going to be a very tough task. We applied our self-developed algorithms, featuring scratch removal, distortion adjustment, and super-resolution techniques, throughout the restoration process. Finally, we completed the task by using restoration and enhancement techniques," said Xia Zhen, expert researcher at Tencent Media Lab.

At the same time, an interactive interface has been designed to showcase the life and work of the late master Li Kuchan.

Simply by scanning a QR code, a path opens up and users are led to the digital version of Li Kuchan, a digital rendering of the painter based on his original figure. Users are then invited to create their own paintings in the style of Li Kuchan. The site also leads the viewer to the painting "Exuberance of Summer," Li Kuchan's most famous masterpiece. By zooming in and out, viewers can examine the finer details of the painting.

Details of the painting
Details of the painting "Exuberance of Summer" by Li Kuchan. /CGTN

Details of the painting "Exuberance of Summer" by Li Kuchan. /CGTN

In light of the advantages of these digital products, artists and art curators hope they can open their doors wider and draw young people's interest in the physical artworks and ultimately encourage them make in-person visits to their museums and galleries.

"These digital products are easy to distribute and attract the attention of young people. But the ultimate goal is not just to lead them to the digital products alone, but to attract a wider audience to the museum and appreciate the real artworks. That's irreplaceable," said Du Pengfei, executive director of Tsinghua University Art Museum.

Qiu Zhijie, vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts also praised the role of digital technologies such as AI in helping the public to better access traditional culture. However, he noted that the experience of visiting a gallery cannot be replaced by searching the internet, adding that they were two very different experiences.

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