AI meets Art – celebrating 150 years of the All England Lawn Tennis Club

By | 3 minute read | June 11, 2018

In 2018, the Official Championships Poster celebrates the 150th anniversary of The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC). The Club was founded in 1868 with the first Championships being held in 1877. The earliest poster in the Museum’s collection date from 1893 – a railway poster advertising how to get to The Championships. Over the years, the Official Championships Poster has featured a range of styles, designers and world-famous artists.

With such a rich heritage and a significant milestone to commemorate, the selection of an image for the 2018 poster proved to be an interesting challenge. Which of many thousands of images of The Club over the years should be chosen? An intriguing answer surfaced: why not use all of them?

The image for the poster features the Clubhouse during The Championships and on a quick glance looks like a water colour image. On closer inspection, you can see that it is in fact made up of a mosaic of images. Over 300,000 separate images were reviewed from the entire historical Wimbledon photo archive, before nearly 9,000 images were selected to make up the final design. While mosaic images are not uncommon, the approach used to create this image is a unique combination of art and artificial intelligence.  Working with IBM iX (IBM’s hybrid digital agency and consultancy) as well as IBM Watson (IBM’s industry leading artificial intelligence capability), AI became the artist.

The task of looking through such a large photography archive would have required significant time from a dedicated designer.  A typical mosaic approach would also look to match only colour tone. The unique approach taken by Watson for this poster is that images from the archive have been matched to specific parts of the original image: photography of ivy to match the ivy on the Clubhouse; ball girls matched to ball girls; grass courts to grass courts. The mosaic is actually a number of different mosaic images stitched together.

To create the poster in this way, Watson was taught to recognise various elements within the original image. Once taught, Watson was able to search the entire archive for the best images to make the mosaic, finding the right context for the picture and the highest confidence match for each mosaic tile to recreate the original. Watson was also used to find elements within larger images that could be cropped out and included in non-object regions of the mosaic such as the sky. The result is 150 years of archive photography creating a single beautiful image.

The AELTC has developed, grown and thrived by never standing still. Blending the celebration of such a historic milestone with the latest artificial intelligence technology is a visual demonstration of how Wimbledon is never afraid to innovate in their own pursuit of greatness.

photo courtesy of AELTC


Artificial Intelligence Technology behind the art

The technology behind the Official Championships Poster is Watson Visual Recognition –

The API was used to analyse over 3 TBs of historic photography. The intuitive drag and drop training tool was used to teach Watson what to look for within the image archive. This takes only a matter of minutes. The poster was divided into specific sections: net, sky, clubhouse roof, ivy etc. Watson sourced the correct images from the entire historic archive and then a further piece of software was created to stitch the images and separate mosaics together.

The object matching and stitching together of the image we believe to be a unique approach to the creation of a mosaic image using AI and certainly a first for The All England Lawn Tennis Club.

The visual image recognition API is publically available and the same API has been used to help combat drought in California.

Learn more about the technology that powers Wimbledon