Sketch-simplifying neural network lets artists leap from pencil to ink

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So it’s for making anime girls? Maybe so that robot can lick them?


Oh, it’s software!

I imagined an implantable device of some sort.

It’s still cool, though.

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When it’s a JP program, they gotta anime.

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Now I want to take old Kirby pencils from Thor and run them through this to see if the results are better than Vince Coletta’s crimes against comics- er, inks.

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This looks useful, personally I use the artistic cutout filter a lot in photoshop (which does not convert to vectors of course, but does clean up the image).

I always liked Vector Magic, which never seems to get mentioned in lists of vector tracing tools. I’ve just used their online system, though the downloadable app has more detailed controls. It’s a lot better than Adobe Illustrator’s results. No idea how it compares to this new thing.

Pretty noble. I wonder how many thumbscrews we get? Wolverton in, Kurumada (Saint Seiya) out?

I feel as if every human effort that is stripped away from a traditional illustrative artform and replaced with automation will in the end reduce the richness of the final result. This is time the artist would have spent working on and thinking visually about the work in a manner consistent with the giants of the past.

Why even bother with art if you don’t want to make the effort? How is this evolution and not devolution? Should the giants of 18th, 19th, and early 20th-century orchestral composition have used algorithms and logic machines to handle the ‘minor details’ of their arrangements? Would their works have been better if they had? To me, the only answer to either question is a resounding “no!” but please don’t think I’m opposed to new artforms and media generally.

I don’t think photographs are inherently inferior to paintings-- they’re something new and different. But, when we go back and start talking about automating steps in traditional visual arts, I think we’re getting sidetracked from the human effort that makes great fine art what it is.

Even as we overpopulate our world, we seem to dehumanize ourselves and all that which makes us transcendent. Has humanity ever done less with more human capital than it manages to do today in its present sickened spiritual state? No disrespect to Simo-Serra, but this seems like another slash in the death of 1001 cuts, another step down the slippery slope of devaluing individual human expressive effort. But I’m sure the artists who use this will have more time to divide and dilute with trite Facebook posts and tweets on Twitter. The Zuckerbergs of our day are surely grateful.

Sorry if this seems too tangential or too philosophical, or that it’s unfair to single this out in a world of similar trends… But then, our human world desperately needs more tangential thinking and philosophical value judgements and aesthetics to beat back the blind pursuit of “efficiency” over form and spirit.

Time-saving techniques don’t always mean someone isn’t willing to put in the effort. Sometimes they are simply a way of allowing someone to accomplish more with the limited resources they have available.

One classic example: I contend that the animators behind The Lion King were as skilled at their craft as any group of animators in the history of Disney’s feature films. But the “wildebeest stampede” scene still required (then) state-of-the-art digital assistance to complete because it would have taken years for a team of animators to create a scene that complex by hand.

It used to require a pretty huge investment of resources just to make an animated short. Now we live in an age where artists like Nina Paley or Don Hertzfeldt or Bill Plympton can make entire feature-length films more or less singlehandedly. You might see this as a net loss for human artistic expression, but I see it as an exciting new frontier.


Good response-- all excellent points, well-made. I hope it’s something everyone thinks about. It’s kind of a philosophical thought exercise for me. The problem with my argument is that it can be readily misapplied to then argue art work should never change with time, and yet, clearly, visual art has always been a amalgam of technology (even if it’s low-tech like a piece of charcoal) and human expression.

Some wonderful things have also emerged from change, like digital darkroom or digital canvas, though I remain fearful that digital-only works will be lost to time quickly. I harbor great trepidation on turning away from millennia of physical media with little planning for its longevity over the course of these past two decades. And yet, digital tools and collaboration have opened new artistic worlds, enabled individuals and small groups to create works that would have been impractical three decades ago…

What happens when new generations of artists no longer learn by putting pencil, paint, or ink to paper and canvas? Was there value in that constraint, in the required time spent learning and building neural networks? Perhaps this is connected to the debate about whether children should be taught cursive writing in school… Or perhaps I’m going off on tangents. Either way, I hope it all works out for the best, for progress of art and civilization, and that it isn’t rapidly lost to time.

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The art scene sucks since perspective was discovered.

Also, this is what I’ve been working on in the past two weeks:

All a matter of perspective I suppose. Paint on canvas is pretty short-lived compared to the span of human history. If you want to see something from a French painter whose work has withstood the test of time don’t head to the Louvre. Head to Lascaux.


I agree with you philosophically, but if you need a vector of your hand-drawn art so that you can share it with people, get it physically reproduced at any size or any number of commercial reasons, tracing vectors by hand is not “artistic” in the slightest, it’s a huge PITA. You’ve already done the artistic part. translating it into dumb computer language is just data entry and it’s a lot less straightforward than typing. You dick around with anchor points and swing them around, it’s about as artistic as trigonometry.


Well, in fairness, this story’s new development wasn’t about the final steps of reproduction for mass media, it was a mid-process thing in a traditional illustrative art approach intended to help automate the inking of pencil-sketched lines.

Most of the art I’ve experienced and appreciated was a ‘copy’ (physical or digital) of some specific original work (often itself a sort of cultural copy of some prior idea given new form), but a specific experience of art needn’t be the original copy if it is a good reproduction… Is it still worth considering how some kinds of format-shifting do shift the experience, too?

Avoiding examples of performance art, I’ll still say that manga is a potentially different experience on paper vs screen, even though the content may be the same; The Medium is the Massage, etc. I suppose few of us experience singular original art pieces; we pull our experiences out of the so-called Global Village.

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There is compelling evidence that the old masters used devices like the Camera Obscura, lenses, mirrors and the Camera Lucida to make sketching… well… significantly easier. With the Camera Lucida and Camera Obscura, invented in the 18th century, you are literally tracing over the an image you see on your paper.

Then there is he Claude glass which gave a subjects a kind of picturesque abstract feeling used throughout the 18th and 19th century for painting landscapes.

Something that simply cleans up drawing lines of sketches you’ve done by hand already is hardly worse than previous technological tools.


I don’t see a way to run their thing, but I hadn’t actually known about the Illustrator Live Trace vectorizing. This is from a photo that was rendered into a sketch. While it could be tweaked, that’s not too bad.


Has humanity ever done less with more human capital than it manages to do today in its present sickened spiritual state?

I, too, pine for the good old days when public executions were delightful family fare, and nobody blinked twice if you raped and pillaged the towns you conquered. The “sickened spiritual state” you speak of surely started when we stopped sacrificing babies to Cronus.


Not even Hostess fruit pie ads can make Thor interesting

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Oh come now. I think having young rapscallions running around working in coal mines and the like is a fine way to keep them out of trouble. Plus they can get into oh so small spaces and save tons of money. Also they are lower to the ground, great for field work picking low lying fruit. I mean, think of all the back pain you’d be alleviating from tall adults having to do the same task!