Creator of Viral Pope Photo in Puffer Jacket Was Tripping on Mushrooms When Idea for AI Image Came to Him

“I just thought it was funny to see the Pope in a funny jacket,” says Pablo Xavier, who now thinks that AI shouldn’t be used to create images of public figures

AI image of Pope Francis
AI image of Pope Francis (Pablo Xavier)

An image of Pope Francis rocking a stylish white puffer jacket went viral over the weekend, with many people admiring the pontiff’s “drip,” and joking that he was inspired by Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime dancers. Not everyone realized that the image, which was first posted to Facebook, was created with AI tool Midjourney.

Creator Pablo Xavier had no idea it would get so big, or that so many people, including Chrissy Teigen, would think it was real. He told Buzzfeed News on Monday that he was tripping on mushrooms when he came up with the idea.

“I’m trying to figure out ways to make something funny because that’s what I usually try to do. I try to do funny stuff or trippy art — psychedelic stuff. It just dawned on me: I should do the Pope. Then it was just coming like water: ‘The Pope in Balenciaga puffy coat, Moncler, walking the streets of Rome, Paris,’ stuff like that,” he said.

After seeing the real images of the Pope, he decided, “they were perfect.” He posted his images to a Facebook group called AI Art Universe, and then on Reddit, where he was quickly banned.

He did not expect the fake photo to go viral: “I was just blown away,” he said. “I didn’t want it to blow up like that. I figured I was going to get backlash. I just didn’t think it was going to be to this magnitude,” he added, explaining that he was raised Catholic and harbors “no ill will toward” the pontiff.

After seeing people share the AI-image to rebuke the Catholic church for its lavish spending, he said, “I feel like s—t. It’s crazy.” A similar design Balenciaga puffy jacket, like the one that Ezra Miller wore to an event in 2018, retails for $6,200 at Bergdorf Goodman. A Moncler long down jacket sells for $2,100.

One of the people joking about the Pope’s new look referenced Kanye “Ye” West’s newfound love of Jewish people thanks to watching Jonah Hill in “21 Jump Street”: “Mr. pope, mr. pope – red alert. we’ve lost kanye to the jews. jonah hill has captured kanye’s heart and soul” “dios mío…… we need to win back kanye. bring out….. the jacket,” tweeted Jeremy Kaplowitz of Hard Drive magazine.

Xavier said the experience has changed his mind about using AI images. “I didn’t even think about that [before]. It’s definitely going to get serious if they don’t start implementing laws to regulate it.”

He added that the technology is fine for a “[fake] Vincent van Gogh [painting],” but, using it for public figures, that might be the line.”