122-year-old footage of China street scenes enhanced by AI

Originally published at: 122-year-old footage of China street scenes enhanced by AI | Boing Boing

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The colorization part is definitely off

That’s putting it mildly.


Uh, does color fade so markedly as it gets only a short distance away?


Getting colorization right is a lot of work and AI can only get you so far on its own. One of the things that impressed me the most about the Peter Jackson WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old was how much research they did before colorizing the old footage. They found old uniforms from the different army units to get all the insignia patches colored correctly and even went as far as traveling to the various locations and photographing them at the same time of year as the footage was taken to get the various plants and grasses right.


Color by Willy WonkAI


Interesting to see what appear to be Indian or Sikh troops, and what appear to be two German military officers.


Indeed; I’d like to know the story behind that.

There seems to be several different levels of effort required from the human engines on display. The Sedan Chair is 2 workers to one passenger. The Rickshaw, is one worker to one passenger. The handcart, or maybe a bicycle, is one worker to three or four passengers.


The Boxer Rebellion was ending in 1901, Germany was one of the allied powers involved. The Sikhs might be Indian army, but there were also Sikh policemen serving in China.

ETA US Marines also wore Pickelhaube type helmets in this period and the British had a similar helmet for cavalry.


I’m going to have to check that out!


Speaking as a video person: Egads that looks horrible. And not just the color, the motion artifacts and the unreal sharp weird bullshit on all the lines. Whenever I see one of these sorts of “Restorations” it always looked like they took the frames into Photoshop and kept hitting usharp mask.


They enhanced, but they forgot to zoom. I didn’t even know you could do one without the other.


Definitely do that. It brought WWI to life in a way I’d never seen before.

Here’s the trailer:


This is better, This also has in a lot of shots weird sharpening bullshit. Does seem more natural but heck I think it needs simulated film grain but given the stuff I’ve seen Jackson do these days I don’t think he cares about the look of older film. His Beatles film he payed more attention to the restoration than a lot of these online projects but in the end all the footage looked like weird over sharpened video.

In this case it’s a documentary where they wanted the footage to look as crisp and natural as possible so that modern audiences would see them as regular, relatable human beings, and I don’t think that adding artistic effects like artificial film grain would improve the impact.

One personal pet peeve of mine is when shows on the History channel or whatever show re-enactments of historic events that took place before the invention of film but still make the footage black-and-white or add other fake film effects to make it look “old-timey.” As this trailer notes, those people did not live in a black-and-white world. And when it comes to existing documentary footage from the early days of film the lack of color was a technical limitation, not an intentional artistic choice in the part of the filmmakers that needs to be respected.


This is true, and honestly when I say adding grain I don’t mean the bullshit filters you see people slap on to video with scratches and flicker but actual simulated natural grain for the stock in question. It would be more subtle than those weird filters. Much like how actual VHS does not look like the funhouse mirror filters people slap on to videos these days.

I’m reminded of the look of the awful Bluray releases of 101 Dalmatians, Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood. They sharpened the life out of those films. They payed no attention to the actual content or the animation techniques used. Those films were done with Xerography and all the lines were rough from the animators drawings and looked amazing. They sharpened all that out of the films and all the lines were vaguely blurry with that signature fake sharpened look.

How did I not hear of this sooner?

  1. Wow. Phenomenal coloring work. Some of the lower grade/grainier film doesn’t work as well, as the shapes aren’t defined as well for the color to overlay. But the quality stuff - wow - if you had shown it to me with no context, I’d assume it was filmed today.

  2. Some of the boys really perpetuating stereotypes of the British having bad teeth!

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If you watch the documentary you’ll learn that (per narration from an actual soldier who was interviewed much later) the toothbrushes were mostly used to shine the buttons on their uniforms.


You gotta have priorities!

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So over AI color “restoration”. Cleaning up and stabilizing the video is great, but leave off the color replacement. It’s AWFUL.


You wouldn’t get punished for bad teeth. Dull buttons on parade, on the other hand…