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Nightmare Fuel*

February 7, 2020  |    0 comments  |  Apps

*Or how a neural network changed everyday people into Eldritch Abominations.

I recently came across a story on The Verge about a guy who used software to upscale the Lumière Brothers’ 1896 short film L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second. This was accomplished using Topaz Labs’ Gigapixel-AI software, which purports to use advanced neural networks to enhance resolution of low-resolution photos (i.e. “make small photos big”). You can see this video here:

While it’s not perfect, it’s intriguing to see what the late 1800s might have looked like if we took modern video cameras back in time and did some shooting. For reference, here’s the original version of the film:

My interest piqued, I wanted to give this software a try on some of my old, low-res photos, so I downloaded a trial copy and started playing around with it. One of my first tests was to try it on an old scan of a photo my father took in 1980 when Ronald Reagan visited our town while campaigning for president:

As I’d scanned this roughly 13 years ago with my first negative scanner, the quality isn’t great and the resolution is a measly 2171×1443.

However, after putting it through Gigapixel-AI, I got this pretty-good-looking result:

Good-looking, that is, until I zoomed in on the people. It soon became obvious something terrible had happened:

What happened to their faces!?!?!?!?

The software’s neural network attempted to use information it already “knows” about faces to “fill in the gaps” in the low-resolution original, but it seems that it doesn’t always to a great job of this.

Luckily, Topaz Labs seems to have anticipated this and added an option to turn off or reduce face refinement. Once I turned this off, the results were much-better:

Still not perfect, but considering how little detail was in the original, pretty-impressive. For reference, here are the same areas in the original, unprocessed scan:

And, if you’re curious, the enhanced version of the photo without face refinement enabled:

All-in-all, Gigapixel-AI seems like a nice bit of software for “rescuing” old photos that need to be enlarged for print or web display, just don’t look too-closely.

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