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Summary: Digital Facial Engraving

Siggraph paper summary: Digital Facial Engraving by Victor Ostromoukhov 1999

Another interesting technique for the post-processing of photographs or other images, this paper proposes a system for creating the appearance of traditional engraving, like you see on money or in the Wall Street Journal.

User places a series of 2D bezier patches to guide the direction of the lines, and creates masks to separate features. A ‘universal copperplate’–essentially a greyscale heightmap of the furrow shape–is warped to follow the shape of each patch. A set of merging rules allow multiple line directions and features to overlap and interact. Finally, the image source brightness value is used to drive a threshold operation on the warped and merged plate. Somewhat more complex than a basic clamp, it takes into account characteristics of the output medium and human vision to improve the result and keep tones in balance.

One innovation this allows is color engraving: creating CMYK separations with engraved lines rather than halftones or stochastic stippling. Also, engravings need not be limited to the traditional lines and mezzotint; other shapes and patterns could easily be used.

As presented, this technique is limited to still images. What would it take to make this operate as a shader or post-process for animation? Could the UV information provided by the patches could be driven by surface UVs? Or some kind of surface normal information? Line size would need to be driven by output resolution, of course. I’ve seen CG art that (so far as I could tell) mapped an engraving pattern to the geometry and then clamped the result based on light direction/intensity. Used carefully, it can look good but the lines are locked to the geometry, like zebra stripes, while the lines in a true engraving seem to me to be somewhere between the object and the picture. Swimming through lines locked to the picture frame would not be acceptable, of course, but when the object recedes, the line size needs to stay consistent in screen space. Seems like a better solution would be to render surface direction and light intensity, and use those to draw and clamp the lines after the fact.

Complex, algorithmically generated spot and stripe patterns that conform and react to topology!

SIGGRAPH paper summary: Generating Textures on Arbitrary Surfaces Using Reaction-Diffusion by Greg Turk 1995

Oh man, this one is so cool! Has it ever been implemented in commercial software? Presents a technique for synthesizing animal spot and stripe patterns on polygon surfaces, plus a second technique for mapping these spots without a UV grid.

Reaction-diffusion is a phenomenon where multiple chemicals diffuse at different rates across a surface, eventually reaching a stable state. Alan Turing hypothesized that this mechanism might account for differentiation and organization of parts in embryonic development, and worked out equations that describe the process. Biologically accurate or not, it can be used to generate complex, distinctive, and convincingly organic spot patterns that conform to any kind of polygon topology. Given a set of rules for a style, tweaking initial seed values creates varied but consistent patterns, and it scales nicely. Input values could also be driven by painted textures, to specify desired results like the wider stripes on the zebra’s rump.

This technique could be used with traditional UV coordinates, but Turk describes a novel (to me, anyway) technique for creating a texture space of arbitrary topology that enables the R-D algorithm to better suit the geometry. In short it creates a reference mesh with regularly-sized triangles, places points randomly on that surface, then uses a relax method, based on repulsion, to evenly spread the points across the surface. It then calculates Voronoi regions for these points, and uses the length of those boundaries to control diffusion in the R-D calculation.

In film production, normally you’d paint these maps, but if you had to generate a large group of similar animals (or maybe just organic fill patterns), this technique would be the ticket. How hard would this be to implement? Is the texture coordinate method useful or has it been surpassed by superior techniques? How practical is it compared to a skilled (or unskilled) painter? The paper states that it takes “several hours” to generate the textures for a 64,000 point model on a DEC3100. Soooo… maybe this is something that can run on an iPad?

a painterly chameleon

One of the more interesting styles created in this paper

Painterly Rendering with Curved Brush Strokes of Multiple Sizes by Aaron Hertzmann 1998
A novel approach to algorithmically painting photographs, video, or other source images. Builds up the painted frame from large strokes to smaller ones, drawing strokes along the normals of image gradients where there is sufficient contrast, the idea being to place more small strokes in areas of high detail, and fewer larger strokes in low-detail areas. Some of the example images are pretty neat, but the algorithm does not address temporal coherence, so it’s not suitable for animation. Perhaps using oflow to move longer-lived brush strokes would take it further.

Summary: Art-Based Rendering Of Fur, Grass, Trees

SIGGRAPH paper summary: Art-Based Rendering Of Fur, Grass, Trees by Michael Kowalski, et al.

A (sort of) particle-based system for an illustrative style of rendering to balance screen-space density of strokes against world-spatial coherence to provide some interframe coherence. Starts with a conventionally-rendered image as reference and places graphtals* according to a “desire” map. As each stroke is placed, it subtracts a blurred version of itself from the desire map, and so on until the desire map is filled, thus preventing overly dense stroke placement. Provides techniques for scaling strokes in screen space as they scale in camera space (does that make any sense?), for deciding how much of the stroke to draw based on factors such as surface facing angle, and for reducing strokes as they are no longer needed to reduce popping. The individual stroke aligns itself to the camera based on user rules such as “always point down” for fur or “always orient clockwise” for truffula tufts. The technique does not fully solve problems of interframe coherence, but gives a starting point.

*Alvy Ray Smith’s concept of “graphtals” (a portmanteau of fractals and graphics): image information that is generated algorithmically/implicitly and only when requested.

Overall this is a idea with potential. The paper points to a lot of interesting prior work, too. Another Brown University project!

Summary: Computer-Generated Watercolor

Computer-Generated Watercolor by Cassidy J. Curtis, Sean E. Anderson, Joshua E. Seims, Kurt W. Fleischer, David H. Salesin

Presents a series of techniques for modeling the behavior of watercolor paint on paper in rather thorough detail. Simulates edge-darkening, backruns, glazing, dry-brush, and several other characteristics of watercolor. The technique can be used for painting ala Photoshop, although the paper notes that interactive painting is impossible with the current technology (133 MHz SGI R4600 chip!), creating watercolor from a photograph with manually specified mattes, or from a 3D render. Temporal coherence is not solved (the technique is prone to ’shower-door’ artifacts), but the single-frame results are quite nice. It’s a considerably more advanced model than the one used by Painter or Photoshop.


Siggraph Paper Summary: Rendering Parametric Surfaces in Pen and Ink by Georges Winkenbach & David H. Salesin, University of Washington

I can still remember the first SIGGRAPH I attended in 1996. By the generosity of MTV Networks, I had a full conference pass which meant conferences and papers (which I barely attended) and the full set of publications, which I devoured eagerly afterwards. This paper really blew my mind, and I still think it’s a technique with a lot of potential that hasn’t been well exploited. Way cooler than

Winkenbach’s paper presents what looks like a robust technique for inking parametric (i.e. NURBS) surfaces. Ink line direction is controlled by surface parameter, the tone by modulating stroke thickness. Strokes can be sharp or wiggly, short strokes become stippling. Tone can be controlled by lighting (they present a technique for shadows), by texture map, or something else (i.e. reflection mapping).

The technique could probably be adapted to utilize UV mapping coordinates. The authors tantalizingly suggest generating strokes “along directions that aremore intrinsic to the geometry of the surface—for example, along directions of principal curvature.” Not addressed as far as I can tell is temporal coherence. What does this technique look like over a series of frames, when the surface is translating and deforming?

This approach is not available in any commercial package that I am aware of, but I wish it were.

The Lamest Blog Post

is one where the author says, “Ooops, haven’t updated in a while!”

I haven’t figured out how to make the blog a regular habit yet, so it’s going to be spotty for a while yet. (That’s okay, since no one’s reading it yet.) I  need to build a habit of doing a little bit of work on the blog each day, but I haven’t got that figured out yet. I’ve been pretty good about making exercise a thrice-weekly habit, even going when I don’t particularly want to, and I feel great as a result. If you look carefully and take precise measurements, you might even notice the difference. Anyway, that’s one good habit I’ve built, time to move on to other ones.

The process of work itself is getting better; I am working more consciously and trying to choose the most efficient approach: brute force when it’s needed and cheats when they work. Previz is still a challenge for me b/c there are so many unanswered questions in each sequence and I have an instinctive fear of spending time on approaches that might not work. (I really like finishing projects, because the path forward is usually so clear.) I’m working on letting go of the fear of failure and the fear of wasted time. As long as I’m working on solving the problems of the sequence, it’s not wasted time.

Last item: I joined ACM/SIGGRAPH so I could have access to the phenomenal collection of research papers they publish. I intend to:

  • read all the papers about NPR and associated technologies so I have a broad understanding of the state of the art
  • write capsule summaries on the blog of relevant/useful papers for my own reference (and build Google hits)
  • in the future, build tools based on the best underutilized ideas

Look for SIGGY paper summaries, coming soon.

Tussilago by Jonas Odell

Swedish director Jonas Odell is making some really interesting short films that experiment with new ways of visual storytelling. Here is the trailer for Tussilago.

“In 1977 West German terrorist Norbert Kröcher was arrested for having planned to kidnap the Swedish politician Anna-Great Leijon. Among the people arrested during the following raids was Kröcher’s former girlfriend ‘A.’ This is her story.”

What a fantastic style! I’ll be excited to see how it plays over the length of a short film, and how it works with the storytelling. It could do a great deal to communicate the psychological state of the characters in novel and powerful ways. It’s like comic books or even posters and printmaking. Yes, it’s very much like printmaking. I could see a feature in such a style, although it would probably be visually exhausting for today’s audiences. Sustaining the visual inventiveness and quality of design over a long form would be a real challenge for the creator, too.  But I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this as a stylistic genre in the future.

via CartoonBrew

aQtree: What Is It?

via David’s Really Interesting Pages comes news of, well, I guess David’s big project: aQtree. This is some kind of non-photorealistic rendering tool or, as it is described on the site, “a dedicated non-photorealistic environment.” What is meant by “environment” I’m not sure, but I look forward to finding out. The sample movies on the site are lovely; go check ‘em out.

Crater Face

Crater Face from Skyler Page on Vimeo.

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