Algorithm turns 8-bit pixel art into smooooth 'toons

— 10:19 AM on May 27, 2011

Classic video games have already gotten their fair share of attention over time in various forms, with successive revivals on PCs, web-based Flash sites, consoles, smartphones, tablets, and all the rest. The emulated and re-made versions sometimes even surpass the originals. Still, nothing I've seen yet has prepared me for the stunning results from a new algorithm developed by a pair of researchers, Johannes Kopf of Microsoft Research and Dani Lischinski of The Hebrew University. The routine upscales 8-bit pixel art originals into high-quality, cartoon-like images. Have a look at one example:


Whoa. It's like ATI Truform, but in 2D, and it looks good. So, you know, nothing like ATI Truform, really.

The algorithm reportedly uses quite a bit of computational analysis to generate spline curves based on the original bitmaps, and it's apparently quite effective in some cases. You can see more examples here. The technique works best on cartoony pixel art and has some obvious problems with pre-antialiased images, such as the example from Doom in the linked story. Still, one can imagine the possibilities with classics like Golden Axe or Track and Field.

The original research paper was once online at this location, but that server has been down consistently for hours, so good luck with that. Google's cache has a text copy of the abstract, at least.

Next stop: incorporation into MAME or other emulators? Perhaps. We don't yet know whether the algorithm could be optimized to run quickly enough for real-time gaming, and it might also cause some strange artifacts when being applied to full-screen animated scenes as the relationships between lines and shapes change. Doing the transforms offline and then using the modified artwork is another possibility, but that would obviously involve modifying the original game code.

Whatever happens next, we can't wait to see this nifty trick being put to use on some of our old favorites.

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