Rice University Electrical and Computer Engineering graduate students Daniel Volz and Yize Zhao added a fine art edge to traditional photo filters with the application they created, called Paintr.
"The impetus for this project was our ELEC 549 class," Volz explained. "It was a computational photography assignment. An example of another project was, someone developed an app where you could hold your phone over an empty plate with the camera on, and a slice of pizza would appear."
The assignment allowed the class some freedom in what they wanted to create, so Volz & Zhao settled on creating a filter. But not just any filter — a Van Gogh filter that incorporates the artist's signature technique of heavy brush strokes and thick paint application.
"Yize was the one who came up with the Van Gogh idea — he has a particular interest in art," Volz said. "He really helped to fine-tune the brush effect. The initial filter didn't look like Van Gogh at all — Yize provided the artistic eye to fine-tune the filter."
"Van Gogh's style is so iconic and people can just tell that certain paintings are his," Zhao said. "If you think about most impressionists — they look kind of alike to most people, but Van Gogh is the one that really stands out in people's minds."
The duo created a desk-top version of the filter (not currently available) by using edge detection and tone mapping.
"A picture is just a matrix and so we had to spend a lot of time together trying to get the lines to look correct - that was most of the project," Volz explained. "Yize is a signal guy, and there's a lot more signal and matrix stuff that you can do on a computer. Once we got it nailed down on the computer we could actually switch to the iPhone and play with matrices. The iPhone language that you program apps with isn't designed for matrices the way MATLAB or Mathematica are. So, the desktop version provided a more appropriate Van Gogh filter."
Though the desktop version of the filter is not available, a version is available for download through the Paintr app here.
"The Van Gogh filter wasn't enough to be an entire app, so Paintr was created to be a full-featured photo app," Volz explained. "While the filter was actually the project, Dr. Veeraraghavan encouraged us to publish it, which was a nice compliment, but users couldn't save or send a photo using just the filter. So, for practice, I developed the app around the filter during winter break."
The duo hope to add other artists and painting styles to the app in the future.
"We are thinking of Monet next," Zhao said.