Early Mickey Mouse is now in the public domain—and AI is already on the case

Enlarge / AI-generated results of a gangster Mickey Mouse, Eldritch Horror Mickey Mouse, and Basketball Mickey Mouse created by a model trained on 1928 public domain Mickey Mouse cartoons. (credit: Schroedingercat, Kevin Elliott, David Binkowski)

On January 1, three early Mickey Mouse cartoons entered the public domain in the US, and AI experimenters have wasted no time taking advantage of it. On Monday, a digital humanities researcher named Pierre-Carl Langlais uploaded an AI model to Hugging Face that has been trained on those public domain cartoons, and anyone can use it to create new still images based on a written prompt.  While the results are rough and sometimes garbled, they show notable early experimentation with integrating public domain Mickey into the AI space.

The new model can create images of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Peg Leg Pete. “The generated images aims adhere [sic] to the 1928 design in order to have Mickey, Minnie and Pete and in the public domain,” writes Langlais on the model card. “This is still a work in progress: while the model is in development, generated images should be checked to ensure they really are in the public domain design.”

To create the model, Langlais fine-tuned a version of Stable Diffusion XL with 34 cartoon image stills from Steamboat Willie, 22 stills from Plane Crazy, and 40 stills from The Gallopin’ Gaucho—all released in 1928 and now in the public domain. More stills would have equated to more cost and training time, so he likely kept the number of images low for practical purposes, although that created lower-quality results. And Langlais writes in the model card that the training stills aren’t as high quality as possible, but that might change over time: “Hopefully with the cartoons now being part of the public domain, higher definition versions should be available.”

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