Local photographer uses AI to create whimsical woodland creatures

It’s like “Where the Wild Things Are” meets “Ex Machina”


Behold, the forest spirits of the North Fork Nehalem River.

Photo by Rob Brooks

The snap of a branch. A splash in a stream. Rustling feathers and the sound of scales sliding over a mossy path.

Shrouded in fog, the forests of Northwest Oregon truly are a magical realm. But to find the enchanted beings that live there, you’ll need a bit of imagination — and the help of artificial intelligence.

Rob Brooks is a creative director with Lake Oswego-based ad agency Fort West, but in high school he dreamed of becoming a character designer for films and video games. That passion, paired with a surplus of free time, led him to start experimenting with Midjourney over the holidays.

“It had my brain spinning. I paid for the membership and next thing you know, I was going to bed at three in the morning. I went deep on it,” Brooks explained.

By supplying the AI program with various text prompts, the bot would draw on its database to create original, rather whimsical images. Brooks tinkered to get a consistent look for the characters and ended up with a captivating menagerie of cryptids: wooden, owl-faced forest folk, the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s brother (and his son), a friendly, oversized banana slug.

A family poses with a large blue ape creature in a verdant forest

Brooks shoots for as long as his twin toddlers will sit still.

Photo by Rob Brooks

“I started thinking — I didn’t get to do a Christmas card this year because I was too busy,” he said. “So, I thought about doing a New Year photo to make up for that.”

During a visit to his cabin outside of Cannon Beach, Brooks began photographing his family with his Sony camera, setting up scenes that he could blend with the AI-generated images. “I don’t have industry technical knowledge, but what I do have is a pretty good eye for composition, lighting, and I have retouching skills as well.”

It took quite a bit of elbow grease in Lightroom and Photoshop, but the final products turned out incredibly realistic. Many of his social media followers asked where the wild things were, thinking they might be costumed actors or art installations you could visit.

As for the future of this tech in his industry, Brooks has a lot of questions.

“How can we use AI as a tool without completely diminishing craft or replacing jobs, but perhaps instead make our ability to sell a vision stronger? Well, the answer might mean something different by tomorrow, but for today I see some useful benefits.”

You can read his full thoughts on LinkedIn.

More from PDXtoday