More Culture:

February 20, 2023

Frightening, AI-generated images of Phillie Phanatic were a 'horrible mistake,' fan says

OpenAI's DALL-E 2 went haywire with a prompt about the beloved baseball team mascot

Social Media Technology
Phillie Phanatic AI Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

The mythical Phillie Phanatic, already a strange creature, turned diabological in AI-generated images on OpenAI's Dall-E 2 platform.

Putting artificial intelligence in the hands of the masses is a social experiment the likes of which we're only now beginning to comprehend. Putting it in the hands of Philadelphia sports fans is a hazard to mankind.

On Sunday, Phillies fan John Foley decided to fool around with OpenAI's DALL-E 2 platform, one of several popular AI art generators that use natural language prompts to produce images. Foley's Twitter account is a well-oiled, Phillies meme machine with more than 22,000 followers. 

It's understandable that Foley was bored. It's been one week since the Eagles lost the Super Bowl, the Phillies are in spring training, the Flyers remain irrelevant and the Sixers were off due to the NBA All-Star break. To spice up the weekend, he decided to get some AI art of the Phillie Phanatic.

It went terribly and hilariously awry. The images DALL-E-2 created are monstrosities that look nothing like the Phanatic or anything else from the Galapagos Islands. 

They look like a mix of Godzilla, Kermit and some kind of mutant, crocodilian Kremling from "Donkey Kong Country."

One of the tricks of using AI art generators is phrasing the prompts in a way that influences the style and themes seen in the images. It takes some experimentation to get it right, depending on the platform. Some are more realistic than others and seem to have a better grasp of pop culture references.

Craiyon, based on an earlier iteration of OpenAI's DALL-E deep learning model, tends to be more responsive and literal in its interpretations of prompts. Phillie Phanatic prompts on Craiyon resemble the fluffy mascot pretty faithfully.

Foley's prompts on DALL-E 2 took a bizarre, dark turn.

"(I) messed around with a bunch, but best I can remember they all started with 'photo of Phillie Phanatic in a ballpark,'" Foley said. "Then I'd mix in 'green' because I was getting lots of strange-colored Phanatics, plus terms like 'Phillies' and 'baseball' because it seemed to help the images get more baseball-y. Things seemed to really go off the rails when I added 'popcorn.'"

Some of the reactions to Foley's tweets are priceless.

One Twitter user requested that Foley do the same thing with Gritty, but Foley didn't want to do any further harm. The Phanatic was enough of a blight for him. 

"It was a horrible mistake and I'm sorry I brought these creatures into the world," Foley said.

Just for fun, we tinkered around a bit with Gritty prompts on DALL-E 2. It seemed to repeatedly interpret "Flyers" as some kind of bird. The best image we got was from the prompt, "Picture of Gritty the Philadelphia mascot." It put him on a baseball field and made him look like a hellish cross between Chewbacca, Pete Rose and Dry Bones from the Super Mario World universe.

Gritty Dall-E 2Source/OpenAI/DALL-E-2

One of DALL-E 2's AI-generated images of Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers mascot.

OpenAI's ChatGPT and DALL-E-2 have become playgrounds for mining memes over the last several months, even as society comes to terms with some of the more serious implications of these technologies in the realms of design, marketing and education. 

Maybe, after losing the World Series and the Super Bowl, a grotesque, popcorn-loving Phillie Phanatic is the cleansing medicine this city needs.