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Somewhat More Realistic Cartoon Characters

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Trying to improve upon classic comic and cartoon characters is like messing with Mother Nature. Still, there's nothing wrong with re-imagining a character from a different point of view. Tools like Photoshop make it easier than ever to give texture and shadow to plain line drawings, so converting our favorite cartoon characters into a more realistic style is too tempting to pass up. This is sometimes called "un-tooning."

Artist Tim O'Brien drew his more worldly version of Charlie Brown and named it Chuck Brown. This was created for a show called "Monsters".

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Movie makeup effects artist Rick Baker designed Popeye as a real, as in really scary, person. Kinda makes you wonder what he'd do with Olive Oyl!

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Pixeloo has done a lot of untooning. Possibly his most popular image is of a real life Jessica Rabbit.

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His Mario is pretty well-known also. Pixeloo has also untooned Stewie, Homer Simpson, and a gallery of other animated icons.
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Polish surrealist Jaroslaw Kukowski created the painting The New Millenium in 2008. Another site called it "the Teletubbies on their home planet". The Teletubbies are costumed characters instead of cartoons, but a painting still makes them look more real!
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Tycho is a character in the webcomic Penny Arcade. This Worth1000 Photoshop entry by JinxRLM made him more realistic. See other untooned characters in the Reality Toons Photoshop contest.
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Toronto artist Adnan Saleem of Destination Creation pictured what The Simpsons would look like in a three-dimensional style. There's not a whole lot you can do to make Marge's blue hair look at all real! Saleem later redid Homer Simpson in a manner that was a little more faithful to the cartoon.
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Photoshop artist Mata Leone untooned Stan Smith of the show American Dad, among many other cartoons, comic book characters, and even paintings.

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In season nine of South Park, the main characters are wanted by the police. A witness made a sketch of them, and this is what it looked like. It is a bit jarring to see a drawing that looks more true-to-life than the actual characters, especially right there on the show!
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Other artists have taken the abstract South Park characters and redrawn them more realistically. The above set of family portraits is by Deviant Art member NorthernBanshee.
550_southparkKuroi_TsukiAnd another version of the same boys from Deviant Art member Kuroi-Tsuki.

This is just a small sampling of the many cartoon and comic characters getting the realism treatment. More are popping up every day!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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