What did George Washington really look like?

There are many portraits of George Washington, but the earliest, shown at right, was painted when he was 40 years old. We really don’t have a very good idea of what he looked like when he was in Allegany County as a young man, some twenty years earlier.
The earliest known portrait of George Washington was painted in 1772 by Charles Willson Peale. It shows him at 40 years old in the uniform of the Virginia Regiment
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Although his portrait was painted many times when he was a general and later, when he was President, each artist depicted him quite differently!
Portraits of Washington as an older man show a wide variety of features
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Painted in 1783 at age 51
by Joseph Wright
Painted in 1787 at age 55
by James Peale
Painted in 1790 at age 58
by John Trumbull
We decided to apply the power of artificial intelligence to the question of what Washington looked like when he visited Allegany County as a younger and older man.
This unfinished portrait of George Washington (above left), was created by Gilbert Stuart in 1796 when Washington was 65. This painting was used for the engraving on the current design
of the one dollar bill, which was introduced in 1928.

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Step 1
The Houdon Terracotta Bust
So where to begin? It turns out that Washington’s niece, Nelly Custis, and nephew, Bushrod Washington, thought a particular sculpture of George Washington was the best representation of General Washington’s face they had ever seen. It was a clay bust they had seen at Mount Vernon, left there by the French sculptor, Jean-Antoine Houdon.
Jean Antoine Houdon’s 1785 sculpture
is now at Mount Vernon
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Houdon had created the sculpture from life on a visit to Mount Vernon in 1785, when Washington was 53.

So, working with George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Allegany Museum acquired photographs of the sculpture, taken from all angles.
Multiple views of Jean-Antoine Houdon’s 1785 sculpture
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Step 2
Bringing the Bust to Life
Computer experts working on solving problems with artificial intelligence (AI) are interested in using computers to recognize faces. A team of researchers at Michigan State University and Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Big Data and Brain Computing created software that could take a face and make it look younger or older.
The software, however, did not work on clay busts. It required the realistic color of photographs. To solve this problem we asked Rodrigo Avila, a 3D character artist, to bring the Houdon sculpture to life by giving it skin color and texture, eyes, and hair. His starting point was a 3D model created from the many photographs of the sculpture.
Computer models created by Rodrigo Avila based on the Houdon bust
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Rodrigo Avila created a digital colored version of the Houdon bust
and created many images like this from different angles
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Step 3
AI Aging and Rejuvenation
Once Rodrigo Avila was finished bringing the Houdon bust to life with skin textures, eyes, and hair, he created multiple views of the bust to send to the AI team.

The AI software had been “educated” by studying thousands of photographs to understand how people age. The system was tested in 2019 on a number of publicly available photographs, including celebrities. Some of the results of both the computer-generated aging process and rejuvenation are on the next page.
Images of aging and rejuvenation
produced by AI software
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio aged using AI software
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Actor Billy Burke made to look younger using AI software
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Results of AI software to make Washington
look older and younger than the Houdon bust

Note that the aging applies to facial features and not to hair
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Age 16 - 19
Houdon bust age - 53
Age 62
Step 4
Applying the AI Results to the 3D Model

Using the results of the AI study as a guide, Rodrigo Avila modified the 3D computer model of George Washington to create a younger and older version.
Avila’s model of a 16 to 19 year old
George Washington based on the AI results
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Some characteristics of Washington, such as skin texture and hair color, are difficult to know. We know his hair was reddish in color as a young man. We also know that by age 53, his hair was no longer red. Red hair does not turn grey, but instead turns yellowish before turning white. So Avila has depicted him here with yellowish-white hair.
Avila’s model of a 53 year old
George Washington based on the AI results
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Washington’s skin texture in Avila’s model is based on what we see in the many portraits, which is light skin with reddish cheeks.

Since Washington was quite an outdoors-man, however, Avila added freckles and other ruddiness than could be attributed to a life spent in the sun and on horseback, whether on a farm at Mount Vernon or in the woods of Western Maryland.
Avila’s model of a 62 year old
George Washington based on the AI results
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This project was made possible through the courtesy of:
George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Anil Jain of Michigan State University

Hongyu Yang, Di Huang and Yunhong Wang of the Beijing Advanced Innovative Center for Big Data and Brain Computing, Beihang University

Christopher Logdson

Rodrigo Avila

Dan Bittner and Sandi Saville

Russell Shorto
No images may be reproduced without permission.

The artificial intelligence images are ©2020 Hongyu Yang, Di Huang, Yunhong Wang and Anil K. Jain.

Content developed by Transmedia Design. The 3D model images are ©2020 Transmedia Design. For permission to reproduce any images, contact chris.sloan@sciencevisualization.com.

Narration by actor and voice artist, Dan Bittner.

Interactive created by Finerfox Media - finerfoxmedia.com