Three posters show Tom Holland as Link, Emma Watson as Zelda, and Idris Elba as Ganon.

Image: Nintendo / Dan Leveille / Kotaku / Dmitr1ch (Shutterstock)

Convincing fakes have been a menace since at least the advent of photography, so what’s shocking about a set of AI-generated Zelda posters that are making the rounds on social media is the number of people who’ve decided that they are real. As of writing, these fake images of a supposed Netflix-produced Zelda series have garnered almost 30,000 shares, many of them from people who seemingly take them as real. Come on, folks. The original post by creator Dan Leveille even says that they’re fakes!

I say this, but it’s easy to see how people would have been fooled. Leveille picked some major A-list actors like Tom Holland, Emma Watson, and Idris Elba. Their faces are so well-known that they help sell the fantasy, even if you don’t have any context for whether a movie or TV series is in production at all. And when fans want something to be true badly enough, they’re probably not thinking too hard before hitting that “Share” button. But seriously, y’all. Leveille says in his third line: “JK. Made with #midjourney, inpainting with #dalle, some facial correction using Tencent ARC, and a bunch of Photoshop.”

However, that didn’t stop fans from sharing the post without comment, or tagging their friends in the repost. Many included eyes, heart eyes, or fire emojis. Others complained in the comments that Netflix was ruining their beloved franchise. Some racists snidely said that the casting was fake because Netflix would have used more actors of color.

Three images shows how an AI image creator instructs the AI to take another pass at creating a character’s hat.

If an AI like Midjourney doesn’t nail a detail on the first pass, you can instruct it to iterate on the trouble spots until it does.
Image: Dan Leveille

Midjourney is an AI lab that creates photo-generating software, and Dall-E is the name of a software from another group that also creates images from text and art sourced from the internet (and without the original artists’ consent). So at no point did Holland ever sit for a photograph in Link cosplay. Even if they realize the images aren’t depicting reality, someone who isn’t terminally online might assume they’re the product of simple image-editing software like Photoshop. But unlike traditional image manipulation software, it doesn’t require much training to become proficient at generating deepfakes, so we’ll be seeing plenty more of these kinds of fakes in the future.

Poster creator Dan Leveille told Kotaku about his process over email. First, he created a prompt to feed into Midjourney. “In most cases, I ran the prompts well over a hundred times, so I would let them generate throughout the day,” he wrote. “The main challenge was to get the faces to look like the actors, and then also like the characters. 95% of the time, the face doesn’t look close enough to the actor.”

The AI generator adds a blue earring to Tom Holland's elf ear.

The image from Leveille shows how he instructed the AI to refine Holland / Link’s ear lobe.
Image: Dan Leveille

They solved that problem by using a facial correction tool, and then used Dall-E to “regenerate” specific features. He corrected any remaining errors in Photoshop.

Leveille has previously made a Zelda movie poster out of Tom Holland’s image. Several news outlets picked up the story, and Google searches for “netflix zelda” ballooned from September 25 onward. The articles note that the posters were created with artificial intelligence, but Leveille did manage to fool a real film distribution company, which showcased the fake poster alongside actual upcoming productions like the third season of The Witcher, Constantine 2, and Black Adam. Come on, y’all. Google exists!

In the meantime, you can get 100% true and factual gaming news at a little-known website called Kotaku.

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