'DeepFaceDrawing' AI can turn simple sketches into detailed photo portraits

The software produces photo-realistic images from even incomplete drawings.

Chinese Academy of Sciences

Researchers have found a way to turn simple line drawings into photo-realistic facial images. Developed by a team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, DeepFaceDrawing uses artificial intelligence to help “users with little training in drawing to produce high-quality images from rough or even incomplete freehand sketches.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen tech like this (remember the horrifying results of Pix2Pix’s autofill tool?), but it is certainly the most advanced to date, and it doesn’t require the same level of detail in source sketches as previous iterations have. It works largely through probability — instead of requiring detailed eyelid or lip shapes, for example, the software refers to a database of faces and facial components, and considers how each facial element works with each other. Eyes, nose, mouth, face shape and hair type are all considered separately, and then assembled into a single image.

As the paper explains, “Recent deep image-to-image translation techniques allow fast generation of face images from freehand sketches. However, existing solutions tend to overfit to sketches, thus requiring professional sketches or even edge maps as input. To address this issue, our key idea is to implicitly model the shape space of plausible face images and synthesize a face image in this space to approximate an input sketch. Our method essentially uses input sketches as soft constraints and is thus able to produce high-quality face images even from rough and/or incomplete sketches.”

It’s not clear how the software will handle race. Of the 17,000 sketches and their corresponding photos created so far, the majority have been white and South American faces. This could be a result of the source data (bias is an ongoing problem in the world of AI), or down to the complexity of face shapes — the researchers don’t provide any further details.

In any case, the technology is due to go on show at this year’s (virtual) SIGGRAPH conference in July. According to the project’s website, code for the software is “coming soon,” which suggests we could see its application in the wild in the coming months — not only as a fun app to play around with, but also potentially in law enforcement, helping to rapidly generate images of suspects.