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Deep Dinosaur

So I didn’t expect such a crazy response to these floral-patterned dinosaurs I made.


I didn’t expect to be making a post about this either, because it wasn’t meant to be a standalone work. But here are some answers to questions people have asked.

How did you do this? 

The technique is called style transfer, otherwise known as deep style, which was created by three dudes at the University of Tübingen in Germany (details). It was widely reported, and mostly it was seen as a fun new photo filter for transforming your selfies and holiday snaps into ~art~.


via University of Tübingen

Not just any art. It works best with paintings of modernity, from the Impressionists to Pop Art. User-created style transfers like the ones here and here have quickly become part of the Internet’s ambient aesthetics. The open-source algorithm was soon implemented by the app Prisma, and quite a few others.

Google’s version [pdf] taks a big leap forward under the hood and also lets you mix and match styles, combining late Van Gogh with early George W. Bush, and maybe a dash of tasteful Cthulhu erotica. Which might be less striking than any one distinctive style on its own, but crucially would offer opportunities for stylistic innovation rather than stagnation. You also transfer art styles onto your Facebook Live videos, and a team from Cornell/Adobe developed a beautiful process which seamlessly transfers photos onto photos.

Looks a bit like those trippy melting chihuahuas. You know the ones.

If these seem vaguely similar to Google’s DeepDream images, that’s because it’s the same basic approach: deep learning using an artificial neural network to recognise characteristics of images, then reproduce them. But this method is endlessly customizable, whereas Google’s process makes everything look like a canine-flavoured hallucination.

Can I try it out?

Yep. I used this web app which is run by Leon, Alex and Matthias who invented style transfer. There’s other websites and apps, but you need one lets you upload your own style, rather than just Klimt and Mondrian. More here.

Any more pics?

Here’s a couple. I’ll be adding a few over coming weeks. Follow my Twitter if you like.


I want the hi-res file? Is it for sale?

Not at this stage, sorry.

What’s a deep learning? Is it the same as machine learning?

Picture a golden brown, steaming-hot pancake smothered in delicious maple syrup. That’s machine learning. Now think of a stack of those same pancakes. Way more delicious than the sum of the individual parts, right? That’s deep learning.

It’s a powerful type of AI that uses an artificial neural network — a structure inspired by the human brain, with thousands of interconnected nodes — to learn to recognize raw information by itself.

Nope. Still don’t get it.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 4.59.42 pm

Imagine you own a Roomba that keeps running over your pet chameleon, Algernon. How would you teach it not to?

You could try writing lots of specific instructions for it to follow. That’s what programmers would traditionally do. The instructions might say: look for a tapered cylindrical object, one-foot-long and two-inches wide, coloured either pastel green or pink. That would be tedious and time-consuming, though, and really difficult because you actually have no idea what the best way to recognise Algernon is. Especially because he often changes to the same colour as the carpet.

With deep learning, you can tell the AI to learn how to recognize Algernon by itself, looking for signature patterns of appearance or behaviour you hadn’t even noticed. Multiple layers of processing* allow for features to be recognised at varying scales, too. So the Roomba can check for fine-grained details like knobbly skin or a bulging eyeball, but it can also zoom out and look for irregularities in the pattern of the carpet. And listen for faintly audible sighs of existential frustration. The AI is able to look for a signature pattern or constellation of all these elements, and determine the probability that it’s Algy.

* “Deep” sounds mystical and new-agey, but it actually just means there is more than one layer of hidden processing going on.

Buddy, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I just want to buy a hi-res print of those majestic saurians in their jaunty floral attire.

Leave me an email and I’ll let you know about things like that.


For questions or comments, hit me up by my email: crodley at gmail dot com.


Post a comment
  1. June 20, 2017

    Reminds me of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s portraits from the 1500’s:

    • June 23, 2017

      Yes! I used to dislike those portraits because I thought they looked like advertisements for V8 vegetable juice. I didn’t realise he did quite a few other types of image that are darker and more surreal, like the heads made of small mammals.

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    July 6, 2018

    I am dying to see the floral book style you did of the dinos, applied to sea creatures. A true Octopus’s garden image is what I am hoping it will turn into!

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