Base Design embraces the ‘AI look’ in uncanny opera house campaign

Fate is the central theme of La Monnaie’s programme this season, so Base put the outcome of the campaign in the hands of Dall-E and Runway.

Date
18 September 2023

It’s not always easy to spot an AI-generated image, but there are tell-tale details – AI seems to have as much of a hard time drawing hands and eyes as the rest of us, for one. Some might say that these creepy imperfections might be a drawback when it comes to commercial use, but it’s exactly what Base Design was looking for in its new work for La Monnaie (De Munt), the Brussels-based opera house.

Base delivered the campaign for its new programme which is a retelling of the epic music drama Wagner’s Ring. The theme of the programme is Fate and Base has responded by asking playwrights at La Monnaie to summarise their plays into a single line – in some cases, spoiling the ending of the story and feeding them into AI tools as prompts. This brought an “exciting edge to the project”, says Aurore Lechien, design director at Base Design. The studio would be surrendering control over the final image and, as a result, the destiny of the campaign.

While the prompt-to-image process might sound straightforward, it took Base months to refine the copy enough so that the images would reflect the nuance of each play. For the opera Cassandra, for example, climate-related imagery was teased from the AI tools to reference the apocalyptic nature of the performance. The entire process was done in collaboration with the playwrights, while the plays were still being written.

Rather than hiding the imprint of AI in the final images, Base chose to embrace the “bizarre, almost creepy touch” that AI-generated images are known for. “We actually loved this aspect of the campaign visuals, as we were not looking for perfect images,” says Bruce Vansteenwinkel, designer at Base. “It brings about this sort of otherworldly feel to the images. It’s slightly unsettling, and this echoes the darker, more foreboding content of the season in general and this year’s Wagner’s Ring world premiere in particular.”

Base made some tweaks, primarily through motion design; the characters in the posters are animated so they appear to talk and move. For this, the team at Base used a webcam, capturing their facial movements and feeding them into another AI application (TokkingHeads) to bring them to life. Transitional effects were also used to emphasise the process of moving from prompt to image. Finally, Base implemented typographic animations to elevate the AI-generated aesthetic into something “slightly more classic”, but digital.

After 16 years of working with La Monnaie, Base has freshened up its ongoing collaboration and created something cutting edge for the 167-year-old institution. “AI has been a hot topic in the creative sector, as some argue it threatens our role as designers and artists,” says Manon Bails, Base strategist. “There is this question surrounding the fate of the creative industry, of design and the status of the artist in today’s society. We challenged this notion head-on by giving into the fate of AI.”

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Base Design: La Monnaie (Copyright © Base Design, 2023)

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Base Design: La Monnaie (Image copyright © Lydie Nesvadba, 2023)

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Base Design: La Monnaie (Copyright © Base Design, 2023)

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Base Design: La Monnaie (Copyright © Base Design, 2023)

Base Design: La Monnaie (Copyright © Base Design, 2023)

Base Design: La Monnaie (Copyright © La Monnaie, 2023)

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Base Design: La Monnaie (Copyright © Base Design, 2023)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.

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