James Madison fighting with alien aboard spaceship

Playing with James Madison – The Making of a Character

President James Madison in science fiction

James Madison Fighting

As a hobby, I enjoy writing science fiction graphic novels. I create original plots and use many photographic images and paintings to produce illustrations. This love for science fiction, graphic novels, and history lead me to create a graphic novel in which the 4th president of the United States, James Madison and his wife Dolley Payne Madison travel to the distant future on another planet. The graphic novel itself is not published online; however, some of the images from that effort are posted here. The purpose of this post is to show what one can do with Adobe Photoshop and other imaging applications. They are transformative and for educational purposes only.

When watching historical period pieces and movies the one thing I never like is how the actors and actresses never really look like the real historical figures themselves. Sometimes Hollywood tries, and sometimes they don’t. Yes, I know it can be hard to find actors who look like actual historical figures. My solution is, at least for my graphic novels, to use actual historical paintings or photographs of my characters.

In my story, Madison is kidnapped from his Montpelier plantation in 1825. He is taken by aliens who are the descendants of earth and another race of alien humans. The aliens look like humans, not little green men. The aliens claim they need Madison’s DNA to save their people from a genetic weapon created by an enemy race. They do not disclose their true intentions of which they plan not only take Madison’s DNA but genetically modify Madison himself and make him into one of them. The story tells of how Madison maneuvers his way around in this future alien world with an entertaining view of how he reacts to future technological advancements. Madison also has to deal with more severe issues including the aliens’ tyrannical government, abusive behavior, and slavery.

In my graphic novel, I wanted my Madison character to look, well like the real James Madison. No photographs of Madison exist, so I had to analyze his life mask and find a painting that most closely resembles his likeness.

Creating the Character

Choosing the right Madison

I started by examining Madison’s life mask in the pursuit of finding a painting depicting his exact likeness. I chose Asher Durand’s 1833 portrait of Madison. Using Photoshop, I changed his eyes to blue. Madison had blue eyes, but the Durand painting makes them look brown.

Left: Life Mask of James Madison. Right: Asher Durand’s 1833 painting of Madison

I created two instances of Madison’s life mask placed on a body with overlays from the Durand painting. We are now able to see what Madison looked like.

James Madison
The life mask of James Madison, colorized with an overlay from Asher Durand’s 1833 painting.

Below is an image I created using Asher Durand’s James Madison whose face has been turned and is facing slightly downward. When compared with the life mask, the Asher Durand face of Madison looks closely like the life mask.

James Madison

Transforming Madison

The following set of images are a brief walkthrough of creating the character as well as some scene examples. The tools used were Adobe Photoshop, 3D Face Reconstruction from a Single Image via Direct Volumetric CNN Regression and FaceApp. All instances of Madison’s face are from the same Asher Durand painting.

I started by creating different facial views of Madison. To create the faces I used three different versions of the same Durand painting shown below: the original, one with the eyes looking to the left and one with the eyes looking straight ahead. They eyes were moved using Photoshop transparency layers.

James Madison

I plugged each of these into the 3D Face Reconstruction from a Single Image via Direct Volumetric CNN Regression website. (Links to this free tool are at the bottom of this post.)

Below is a small sample of the Madison faces generated. The tool pretty much shows only the face. The remainder of the head and hair must be created using Photoshop.

James Madison Faces

Scenes from the graphic novel

The following are “cropped” scenes from the novel.

Below, a cropped scene showing Madison crouched in the south hall of his Montpelier home in Virginia. This image was created using the face from Durand’s painting rendered from the 3D Direct Volumetric CNN Regression software. The facial expression has been changed using Adobe Photoshop’s Liquify filter. This face closely resembles Madison’s life mask.

James Madison
Period dress body from James Madison – Kyle Jenks by Kyle Jenks, Professional Interpreter of Pres. James Madison. Used by permission.

Using 3D Face Reconstruction from a Single Image via Direct Volumetric CNN Regression I was able to turn the face of Madison in Durand’s painting to a side profile. The head is placed on a period dress body. I manually added the hair in Photoshop and recreated his ear. Here Madison is in his upstairs library at his Montpelier home.  He no longer has his queue (ponytail).

James Madison Side Profile

Below, Madison is shown unconscious aboard the alien spaceship medical chamber. I closed his eyes with Photoshop using the clone and brush tools.

James Madison

Madison is being fitted for a new suit. Initially, Madison does not like these “modern” suits, but he is forced to wear them as he no longer has access to his 19th-century attire.

James Madison

Now we see the original image below (left) and how the body was reduced in size to create James Madison (right). Also, notice that the tailor’s arm has been moved down to match Madison’s height. This was done using the Lasso tool in Photoshop. We know from history that Madison was about 5’4″ and weighed a little over 100 lbs.  I tried to accurately portray the little president as he may have looked if he were really in this photo.

James Madison

At one point in the novel, alien technology was used to make Madison young. Using FaceApp, I was able to get a young version of him from the Durand painting and place the head on this body. Photoshop’s exposure, gamma correction, and color balance tools were used to blend his face with the original photo.

Young James Madison

Madison is now on the spaceship meeting with an alien. The face was added onto one layer and the remainder of the hair was placed on another. The body of the alien was added along with his belt, sleeve and collar. His suit was changed to red.

James Madison
Original background image by Parker_West from Pixabay

Below is a breakdown of the elements used in the above image. Notice the hands on the body of Madison are much lighter than his face. The hands had to be toned and color corrected to match the skin tone of Madison’s face as shown in the photo above.

Below, is another scene where an alien was killed during the first kidnapping attempt at Madison’s Montpelier home. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are both trying to defend themselves with guns taken from the aliens. Madison’s slave Paul Jennings killed the alien lying in the floor. Jefferson’s face is altered to a slight frown with Photoshop’s Liquify filter and Madison’s facial expression has also been changed.

Both Thomas Jefferson’s and Madison’s body are from photos of wax figures from a wax museum. The wax Jefferson was initially extending his hand for a handshake. This pose made it very easy to add a different hand with a gun via a transparency layer. On Madison’s body, I chopped off his arm and added a hand with a gun. The dead alien on the floor was added with a transparency layer and a drop shadow. The pool of blood was added with another transparency layer. Originally the scene had nothing in it, only the  room of Madison’s Montpelier home.

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson holding guns

Below is another scene showing injuries inflicted to Madison by the aliens standing behind him. This is the 2nd attempt at trying to kidnap Madison. This time Madison’s weapon was taken from him and he was unable to defend himself. The black eye was created with Adobe Photoshop, and the injuries are transparent overlays of wound and blood images.

James Madison
Period dress body from James Madison – Kyle Jenks by Kyle Jenks, Professional Interpreter of Pres. James Madison. Used by permission.

After having his face restored from his wounds inflicted by the aliens, Madison looks in the mirror. Madison and his reflection were both “turned” using Using 3D Face Reconstruction from a Single Image via Direct Volumetric CNN Regression and placed into the scene using Photoshop transparency layers.

James Madison
Background image by Ryan Doka from Pixabay

Here Madison attempts to defend himself against aliens aboard the ship. The facial expression here is changed slightly to reflect anger. I think Photoshop’s Liquify filter creates a better angry face than FaceApp.

James Madison fighting with alien aboard spaceship

Madison continues to have trouble with the aliens. Here one grabs him by the sleeve.

James Madison

The alien now has Madison by the sleeve. Madison’s face shows a facial expression change as he is irritated with the alien. The facial expression change was done with Photoshop’s Liquify filter.


James MadisonOn a lighter note, Madison enjoys a Martini for the first time in a nice restaurant while in the future alien world. Since the Martini was not  around before the 1860’s, Madison considers this a real treat.

James Madison

In the series of four images below, I give a quick breakdown of how the above scene was created. (1) A body holding a glass is placed into a picture of a restaurant. (2) Madison’s head is placed onto the body. Notice how his face covers the glass. For the scene to look real, we need to see the glass. (3) The opacity of Madison’s head layer has been changed revealing the glass. With Photoshop’s eraser tool and the head layer selected I erased part of Madison’s face that was blocking the glass. (4) Here is the final image. Notice that Madison’s face has been color corrected to match the hands of the body.

James Madison

Below is a scene with Madison in bed with his tablet. I’ve included the original image (left) and my transformed image (right). Since Madison was a small framed man as well as short, I had to reduce the width of the original man’s torso when preparing the body to become Madison. The was done with Photoshop’s Lasso and Transform tools. The background, tablet computer, and Madison’s head were all added with transparency layers. The right image shows Madison still aboard the spaceship. He has discovered a tablet and is very happily engaged with the new technology. Actually, in the novel, he is happy because he was finally able to receive  communication from Dolley since being kidnapped. Madison’s facial expression has been changed with FaceApp. FaceApp does a pretty good job creating a grin as compared to an angry face. I had to put my special touch on this scene by adding my favorite painting, Rembrandt’s 1662 Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild in the background.

James Madison

The same image as above, this time with a younger Madison and Dolley. Dolley was a little more challenging to work with as the original painting is not lifelike enough for use in a photograph. More to follow with Dolley in the next section but at least Apple survived way into the future and on another planet. Way to go Steve Jobs!

James & Dolley Madison

Below, Madison is conversing with an alien girl aboard the ship who has just delivered him dinner. Like the earlier scene with Thomas Jefferson, this is also one where everything was created from “scratch.” The background, girl, plate of food, table, and Madison were all added on separate transparency layers within the Photoshop image file.

James Madison

And another scene from “scratch” with Photoshop transparency layers. Here Madison has received his first holographic chess set as a gift from one of the aliens. In reality, Madison loved to play chess, and chess pieces were found during an excavation of his Montpelier plantation home in Virginia. With this holographic set, he won’t be losing any more chess pieces.

James Madison

Another fight scene with Madison losing as usual. His height and small frame render him unable to defend himself against the much larger alien men. He continues to try though wanting desperately to get back to his home on Earth. After suffering much violence from these aliens, he will have his day against them eventually. Madison becomes a little force to be reckoned with when he finally gets revenge on these aliens. Again, more transparency layers were used to create this scene. The alien gripping Madison’s hair was initially holding a weapon in his hand. Using Photoshop’s eraser tool, I removed his hand and weapon and added a fist. I cut some locks of Madison’s hair and placed them in the alien’s fist to give the appearance of gripping hair. Madison’s facial expression was changed with the Liquify filter in Photoshop to show pain and anger.

James Madison fighting

Madison is in the process of being converted by the aliens in a conversion chamber. Madison and the apparatus attached to his head were all placed into the scene using different transparency layers. Each wire node attached to his head is on a separate layer. Layers allow objects to be moved around within the picture. I could not decide where I wanted each node to go on his head. I finally settled on the placement below. The Luminosity filter was used to make Madison appear as if he is inside the chamber.

James Madison

Here, Madison has a grin and goatee, created with FaceApp and added to the scene with Photoshop. Here the aliens have converted Madison to their side. True to the trope, the goatee indicates he’s gone to the dark side.

James Madison

Madison with a knife in hand gets revenge on a few aliens who harmed him. This is another scene entirely created from “scratch.” The background scene, a bloody knife, body, and head are all on separate transparency layers.

James Madison
Background image by Parker_West from Pixabay

The front-facing Madison was the hardest to create, and no, I still don’t have it right. The 3D Face Reconstruction from a Single Image via Direct Volumetric CNN Regression software has a difficult time creating a frontal face image from a subject not facing the camera. In the original Durand painting Madison is looking slightly to the left. When turning the face some of the facial features get distorted. Below is a scene where Madison is facing the camera. I’m not happy with this one, but I’m still working on perfecting it.

James Madison
Background image by TheUjulala from Pixabay

A little bit of Dolley

We can’t have James Madison without his wife Dolley. I chose the Otis Bass painting of Dolley Madison because it appeared to fit the age range I needed her to be in the story.

Dolley Madison

James and his wife Dolley happily embrace. The aliens allow her to come to the future and be with James. Their happiness will be short-lived after the alien’s mind conversion and DNA modification of James. This image was a simple layer add of the bodies and heads with a color change to Dolley’s outfit. The Hue/Saturation tool was used to change the color of her outfit.

James and Dolley Madison
Background image by Ferenc Keresi from Pixabay

James and Dolley again. This time Dolley is turning from him as James has now turned into a man with thoughts and actions almost unrecognizable to her due to the alien’s altering James’ mind. In reality, James and Dolley had a happy picture-perfect marriage, but in the novel, the aliens ruin that. The scene below shows the face from the Bass painting added to the image. James’ head and a body with a suit are Photoshopped into the image.

James & Dolley Madison

Since the aliens warped Madison’s mind, he has written 200 plus pages explaining why the U.S. Constitution was a bad idea and an utter failure. He’s killed two alien men, banished an alien of African descent back in time to a slave plantation on Earth, kidnapped his son from Earth. (Yes, Madison has a son in this story.)  Now in this scene below he’s added adultery to his list of evils. This scene was probably one of the better Photoshop jobs as I was able to get his face to match the skin tones of the neck quite nicely.

James Madison

What ultimately happens to James, Dolley and their son in this future world?  The news flash below indicates something significant happens to him. You will have to read the story to find out….. that is if I decide to publish it.

James Madison LIve News

As you can see, a character can be created from one photo or painting and placed into many scenes. Photoshop is a very powerful imaging tool, one of which I’ve only begun to scratch the surface.  Below are some links to the tools used in the  above images as well as a few tutorials to help you get started.

One final thought…..In my novel, I tried to keep the characters of James and Dolley Madison true to the real historic James and Dolley Madison using quotes and documented references. Only after the aliens convert James do we see James deviate from his real historic character.

Special thanks to Kyle Jenks, Professional Interpreter of Pres. James Madison, https://greatlittlemadison.com, www.facebook.com/PresidentMadison for image usage.

Part II , Playing with Thomas Jefferson – The Battle between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

See Part III, James Madison – UFOs over Montpelier

Visit part I of my new  Historical Tours series – An Intimate Tour of Montpelier with James and Dolley Madison

Tool Links

3D Face Reconstruction from a Single Image – A free tool that transforms a single image into 3D

FaceApp – Using artificial intelligence, this app morphs faces by merging in facial features. The app uses neural networks for its transformations.

Adobe Photoshop – World-class tools that allow professional and amateur artists, designers, and photographers to create art, graphics, photos, and 3D designs.


Adobe Photoshop User Guide

PiXimperfect Photoshop Youtube Channel


Blue Lightning TV Photoshop

Lynda.com – You may be able to get acces to Lynda for free.  Check your local library. Some libraries have free access for their patrons.

Elements and Scene Image Sources:

While not exhaustive, below are a few  links to some element and image sources used in the creation of the above scenes.







Getty Images

Copyright & Disclaimer:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Images as a whole that I have created are free to anyone for NonCommercial use with attribution under the license above. Images on this site that are used by permission, logos and images of me do not fall under this license. While most of my image elements are public domain, my own, from free stock sites or from purchased stock sites , some elements are from copyrighted sources and are in my best judgment, “transformative fair use” for use on this site. If you use a transformed image I created here, keep in mind that I have purchased some elements from stock sites or used some copyrighted elements within the transformed images. These elements may or may not be transferable for your use. To understand transformative fair use, please see the Creative Law Center’s post about copyright and fair use: Is it Fair Use? Using the Creative Work of Others


2 thoughts on “Playing with James Madison – The Making of a Character”

    1. Yes. Looking at the popularity of the founding fathers, I sometimes think I should have used Thomas Jefferson instead of Madison. Yes, Jefferson and Dolley kidnapped by aliens. Now that’s the story!

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