Sunday, March 7, 2021

Bringing Old Photos to Life

Old photos provide a window to life in the past. A great deal of information is contained in those photos, but a lot of visual data has been lost, too—not just the color, but other features such as the subsurface scattering.

A couple of recent digital innovations have helped to bring old photos and paintings to life. There's a lot you can do with Photoshop, but there are limits to what you can accomplish with denoising, colorization, and superresolution. 

The result here has reduced some of the cragginess of the original Lincoln photo and made him look younger, but presumably that could be dialed differently. 

'Time Travel Rephotography' is a technique for recreating the natural, full-color appearance based on the the original photograph and an input photo of a contemporary person. The metrics of the modern person are shifted to match that of the historic person.

The way to test this method would be to take a photo of a contemporary person using an antique process and see if you could restore the missing information to match a high-res photo of that person.  

Another digital reconstruction tool is My Heritage, an app that takes a photographic input, or even old paintings or statues, and animates them with blinks and turns (Link to YouTube video). 

Because it draws power from large data sets, the results have some convincing nuances, such as the movement of bags under the eyes. I think it would actually be more effective if the movements were more limited and subtle.  

Combining these techniques and animating them with a motion-captured actor's performance would yield even better results.


More about Time Travel Rephotography on Two Minute Papers

Thanks, Mel and Roger


Robert Michael Walsh said...

Last week I applied the MyHeritage Deep Nostalgia app to a portrait I painted a few years back. The animation worked as well as with a photo.

arenhaus said...

I saw that "motion" thing before. It is producing unpleasant "sliding" errors all over the face which make me nauseous. -_-

This tech has a looooooong way to go. It may never achieve its goal, since the neural network is imitating the dataset without any glimmer of "understanding".

Don Ketchek said...

The first Lincoln example is interesting. Here we have a photo of Lincoln, looking exactly like Lincoln, turned into a colorized version that no longer looks exactly like Lincoln. Only in out technology obsessed world would anyone think that is an improvement or a good thing.

Marion Boddy-Evans said...

I find the current trend to colour B&W photos intriguing. Don't people's minds add the colour to B&W automatically as they look at it? Or is that something from having grown up with B&W -- photos, books, newspapers, etchings, etc - rather than everything being in full colour? The colour version is often far less interesting, I find.

JR said...

Don Ketchek: 'Here we have a photo of Lincoln, looking exactly like Lincoln, turned into a colorized version that no longer looks exactly like Lincoln.'

Lincoln is known to have had dark complexion. In fact, he had described himself with exactly the phrase I just used:

"According to Lincoln's law partner William H. Herndon, Lincoln had "very dark skin"[37] although "his cheeks were leathery and saffron-colored"[38] and "his face was ... sallow,"[38] and "his hair was dark, almost black".[39] Abraham Lincoln described himself c. 1838–39 as "black"[40] and his "complexion" in 1859 as "dark",[41] but whether he meant either in an ancestral sense is unknown. The Charleston Mercury described him as being "of ... the dirtiest complexion"."

Unknown said...

I agree with Marion Boddy-Evans. What's best about visual history is all of the scratchy imagery. Imagine all the Brady pictures of the civil war with perfect tones colors and no graininess. No fun there.