Visual Attribute Transfer through Deep Image Analogy Supplemental material:; source code:

Visual Attribute Transfer through Deep Image Analogy thanks: Supplemental material:; source code:

Jing Liao, Yuan Yao , Lu Yuan, Gang Hua, and Sing Bing Kang
Microsoft Research, Shanghai Jiao Tong University
This work was done when Yuan Yao was an intern at MSR Asia.

We propose a new technique for visual attribute transfer across images that may have very different appearance but have perceptually similar semantic structure. By visual attribute transfer, we mean transfer of visual information (such as color, tone, texture, and style) from one image to another. For example, one image could be that of a painting or a sketch while the other is a photo of a real scene, and both depict the same type of scene.

Our technique finds semantically-meaningful dense correspondences between two input images. To accomplish this, it adapts the notion of “image analogy” [Hertzmann et al. 2001] with features extracted from a Deep Convolutional Neutral Network for matching; we call our technique deep image analogy. A coarse-to-fine strategy is used to compute the nearest-neighbor field for generating the results. We validate the effectiveness of our proposed method in a variety of cases, including style/texture transfer, color/style swap, sketch/painting to photo, and time lapse.


1 Introduction

Many types of compelling image stylization effects have been demonstrated over the years, including color transfer, texture transfer, and style transfer. Their appeal is especially strong in the context of social media, where photo sharing and entertainment are important elements. A number of popular apps such as Prisma and Facetune have successfully capitalized on this appeal.

The applications of color transfer, texture transfer, and style transfer share a common theme, which we characterize as visual attribute transfer. In other words, visual attribute transfer refers to copying visual attributes of one image such as color, texture, and style, to another image.

In this paper, we describe a new technique for visual attribute transfer for a pair of images that may be very different in appearance but semantically similar. In the context of images, by ”semantic”, we refer to high-level visual content involving identifiable objects. We deem two different images to be semantically similar if both are of the same type of scene containing objects with the same names or classes, e.g., nature scenes featuring pandas and foliage, headshots, or indoor scenes featuring dining rooms with tables, chairs, walls, and ceiling. Figure LABEL:fig:teaser shows two semantically similar pairs. The images in each pair of inputs ( and ) look dramatically different, but have objects with similar identities.

Our technique establishes semantically-meaningful dense correspondences between the input images, which allow effective visual attribute transfer. Low-level matching methods, such as optical flow [Brox et al. 2004] and PatchMatch [Barnes et al. 2009], are designed to match local intensities. Hence, they fail to match under large visual variations. While other methods such as SIFT flow [Liu et al. 2011] or deep match [Weinzaepfel et al. 2013] are more reliable in matching sparse features, they are also not able to handle extreme visual variations, such as matching across an artistic painting and a real photograph. This is because these methods are still fundamentally based on low-level features.

Methods have been proposed to match different particular domains, such as drawings/paintings to photographs [Russell et al. 2011], sketches to photos [Chen et al. 2009], and photos under different illuminants [Chong et al. 2008]. However, these methods typically are very domain-specific and do not easily generalize. Schechtman and Irani [Shechtman and Irani 2007] propose a more general solution using local self-similarity descriptors that are invariant across visual domains, and Shrivastava et. al. [Shrivastava et al. 2011] consider relative weighting between the descriptors for cross-domain image matching. Unfortunately, these methods do not produce dense correspondences between images of different domains.

We handle the dense correspondence problem using ideas related to image analogies [Hertzmann et al. 2001], which involve dense mappings between images from different domains. An image analogy is codified as , where relates to in the same way as relates to , and additionally, and (also and ) are in pixel-wise correspondences. In forming an image analogy, typically , , and either or are given, and the goal is to solve for the sole remaining image. In contrast, for our scenario only a source image and an example image are given, and both and represent latent images to be estimated, imposing a bidirectional constraint to better match to .

Solving the visual attribute transfer problem is equivalent to finding both unknown images and . Instead of applying image analogy to image pixels directly, we use a Deep Convolutional Neutral Network (CNN) [Krizhevsky et al. 2012] to construct a feature space in which to form image analogies. It has been shown that such deep features are better representations for semantic structures [Zeiler and Fergus 2014]. We call our new technique deep image analogy.

Our approach leverages pre-trained CNNs for object recognition (e.g., VGG-19 [Simonyan and Zisserman 2014]) to construct such a feature space. A nice property of CNN representations is that they gradually encode image information from low-level details to high-level semantic content. This provides a good decomposition of semantic structure and visual attributes for transfer. Besides, the spatial correspondence between intermediate feature layers in CNN architectures is approximately maintained. Both properties facilitate a coarse-to-fine strategy for computing the nearest-neighbor field (NNF), a core component used in reconstructing images. To speed up the required nearest-neighbor search, we adapt PatchMatch [Barnes et al. 2009] to the CNN feature domain. Our method uses the bidirectional constraint in the patch similarity metric, which have previously been shown to work well on re-targeting problems [Simakov et al. 2008]. In the present context, the use of the bidirectional constraint introduces a useful symmetry and helps to mitigate the risk of mismatches.

Our major technical contributions are:

  1. We present a new method “deep image analogy”, which we show to be effective for visual attribute transfer across images in very different domains.

  2. We extend PatchMatch and reconstruction from the image domain to the feature domain, which serves to guide semantically-meaningful visual attribute transfer.

We show how our deep image analogy technique can be effectively applied to a variety of visual attribute transfer cases, namely style/texture transfer, color/style swap, sketch/painting to photo, and time lapse. Our technique also has the effect of generating two results instead of the typical one generated from a one-way transfer. Such results can be seen in Figure LABEL:fig:teaser. Our deep image analogy is designed to work on images with similar content composition. It is not effective for images which are semantically unrelated (e.g., a headshot and a countryside photo), and is not designed to handle large geometric variations (including scales and rotations).

2 Related Work

In this section, we review techniques that are related to visual attribute transfer (color, texture, and style transfer, as well as image analogy). We also briefly discuss two other topics very relevant to our work: dense image correspondence and neural style transfer.

2.1 Visual Attribute Transfer

Much work has been done on the transfer of various visual attributes (e.g., color, tone, texture, style) from one image to another, and we discuss only representative papers for brevity. Most of these approaches are, however, not general, in that they are designed to transfer a specific type of visual attribute. As we show later, our technique is designed to handle more types of visual attributes.

Color Transfer. Early color transfer techniques tend to be global, i.e., a global transformation is applied to a source image to match the color statistics of a reference image [Reinhard et al. 2001, Pitie et al. 2005]. They work well when the source and reference images are of similar scenes, even though the spatial layouts can be dissimilar. Other methods incorporate user input [An and Pellacini 2010, Welsh et al. 2002] or a large database [Dale et al. 2009, Laffont et al. 2014] to guide the color transfer. Local color transfer methods infer local color statistics in different color regions by establishing region correspondences [Tai et al. 2005]. More recently, Claudio et al. [Claudio et al. 2012] transfer local color between regions with the same annotated class; in a similar vein, Wu et al. [Wu et al. 2013] transfer the color style across the same semantic regions.

Texture Transfer. Most early texture transfer algorithms rely on non-parametric sampling for texture synthesis while using different ways to preserve the structure of the target image. For instance, Efros and Freeman [Efros and Freeman 2001] introduce a correspondence map that includes features of the target image such as image intensity to constrain the texture synthesis procedure. Ashikhmin [Ashikhmin 2003] focuses on transferring high-frequency texture information while preserving the coarse scale of the target image. Lee et al. [Lee et al. 2010] improve this algorithm by additionally augmenting texture transfer with edge orientation information.

Style Transfer. Style transfer is used as a means to migrate an artistic style from an example image to a source image. The decomposition of content and style in artistic images is bound to the coupling between the source content and the example style. Zhang et. al. [Zhang et al. 2013] decompose the input images into three components: draft, paint, and edge; the style is transferred from the template image to the source image through the paint and edge components. Frigo et. al. [Frigo et al. 2016] view style transfer as the composition of local texture transfer and global color transfer, and suggest a simple yet efficient adaptive image partition for the decomposition of style and content. Shih et. al. [Shih et al. 2014] robustly transfer the local statistics of an example portrait onto a new one using a multi-scale technique that separates local detail from structure.

Image Analogy. Texture or style transfer can also be done in a more supervised manner, where a pair of images and are manually registered, and the analog of image (similar in style with ) is to be found (resulting in ). This approach, called image analogy, is first reported in [Hertzmann et al. 2001] and extended in various ways [Cheng et al. 2008, Bénard et al. 2013, Reed et al. 2015, Barnes et al. 2015]. In our work, we apply the concept of image analogy as a weak supervision, in a scenario where only an example image and an original image are given.

2.2 Dense Correspondence

Finding dense correspondences between two images is a fundamental problem in computer vision and graphics. Initial correspondence methods were designed for stereo matching, optical flow, and image alignment [Lucas and Kanade 1981]. These methods compute a dense correspondence field, but they assume brightness consistency and local motion, and may be hard to handle occlusion well.

The development of various local invariant features (e.g., SIFT [Lowe 2004]) has brought up significant progress. These features are robust to typical appearance variations (illumination, blur, compression), and a wide range of 2D transformations. Some methods combine sparse features with dense matching to cope with large-displacement optical flow [Brox et al. 2009], while others perform matching of visually different scenes (e.g., SIFT-flow [Liu et al. 2011], Deep flow [Weinzaepfel et al. 2013], Daisy flow [Yang et al. 2014], and Region foremost [Shen et al. 2016]). More recently, CNN-based features such as outputs of a certain convolution layer [Long et al. 2014]), object proposals [Ham et al. 2015]) or end-to-end trained network [Zhou et al. 2016] have been employed with flow algorithms, and shown potential to better align intra-class objects than handcrafted features (e.g., SIFT [Lowe 2004]). However, these methods assume locality and smoothness of the flow and thus may fail to align objects under large displacements or non-rigid deformations.

PatchMatch [Barnes et al. 2009] relaxes the rigidity assumption, and is a fast randomized algorithm for finding a dense NNF for patches. There are two extensions to handle patch variations in geometry and appearance. The Generalized PatchMatch [Barnes et al. 2010] algorithm allows these patches to undergo translations, rotations, and scale changes. NRDC [HaCohen et al. 2011] handles consistent tonal and color changes through iterative matching and refinement of appearance transformations. Recently, a multi-scale patch generazation called “Needle” [Lotan and Irani 2016] has been shown to facilitate reliable matching of degraded images. These approaches are still fundamentally based on low-level features, and as a result, fail to match images that are visually very different but semantically similar. Our proposed technique seeks to address this problem.

Figure 1: Our method separates the difficult mapping (red) into two tractable mappings: in-place mapping (yellow) and similar-appearance mapping (blue).

2.3 Neural Style Transfer

Our matching approach uses deep features generated by Deep Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN) [Krizhevsky et al. 2012]. It has been shown in high-level image recognition tasks that such deep features are better representations for images [Zeiler and Fergus 2014]. DeepDream [Alexander Mordvintsev 2015] is a recent attempt to generate artistic work using a CNN. This inspired work on neutral style transfer [Gatys et al. 2016b], which successfully applied CNN (pre-trained VGG-16 networks [Simonyan and Zisserman 2014]) to the problem of style transfer, or texture transfer [Gatys et al. 2015].

This method is able to produce more impressive stylization results than traditional texture transfer, since a CNN is effective in decomposing content and style from images. This idea is further extended to portrait painting style transfer [Selim et al. 2016] by adding face constraints. The most related work to ours is patch-based style transfer by combining a Markov Random Field (MRF) and a CNN [Li and Wand 2016a]. Yang et al. [Yang et al. 2016] futher extend this idea to image inpainting. These two works also use patch similarity metric based on CNN features, but it only serves as a data term to optimize pixel values of the output image. They do not explicitly establish the correspondence between two images as our method does.

Another approach of neural style transfer is to directly learn a feed-forward generator network for a specific style. For example, Johnson et al. [Johnson et al. 2016] define a perceptual loss function to help learn a transfer network designed to produce results that match those of Gatys et al. [Gatys et al. 2016b]. Ulyanov et al. [Ulyanov et al. 2016] propose a texture network for both texture synthesis and style transfer. Li and Wand [Li and Wand 2016b] introduce a Markovian Generative Adversarial Network to speed up their previous approach [Li and Wand 2016a]. Chen et al. [Chen et al. 2017] and Dumoulin et al. [Dumoulin et al. 2016a] further extend the style transfer network from a single style to multiple styles.

Despite major progress, these methods are unable to guarantee that the transferred results are structure-preserving. In addition, they often generate stylization results with texture that is randomly distributed. In contrast, our technique transfers style in a more structure-preserving manner, and this is due to semantic-based dense correspondences.

Figure 2: The input image (or ) is encoded by the CNN (e.g. VGG-19) as a set of filtered images at each layer. Here we visualize one representative filtered image for each layer.

3 Motivation

Given an image pair and , which may differ in appearance but have similar semantic structure, the goal is to find the mapping from to (or from to ) for visual attribute transfer. It is assumed that the image pair has different visual attributes.

Analogy with Bidirectional Constraint. It is non-trivial to directly match and due to their appearance differences. Our solution is to formulate the mapping as a problem of image analogies [Hertzmann et al. 2001]: , where and are unknown latent variables. This analogy implies two constraints: 1) and (also and ) correspond at the same spatial position; 2) and (also and ) are similar in appearance (color, lighting, texture and etc.). As illustrated in Figure 1, the difficult mapping problem from and (red arrow) can be separated into one in-place mapping from to (yellow arrow) and one similar-appearance mapping from to (blue arrow). The mapping from to is achieved in the same way with the help of .

These forward and reverse mapping functions between images and are denoted as and , respectively. More specifically, maps a pixel at location from to . Because of in-place mappings and , is also the mapping from to , to , and to . It is found by imposing the constraints


is the reverse mapping. To further achieve symmetric and consistent mappings, we consider the bidirectional constraint, namely and . The latent images , and mapping functions , are alternatively optimized in our objective function described in Section 4.

Reconstruction using CNN. The recovery of latent images and is crucial in our method. Here we discuss the reconstruction of ; is recovered in the same way. The ideal should comprise the content structure from and corresponding visual details from . We solve this problem using an image decomposition and reconstruction hierarchy. We adopt recent CNNs trained on an object recognition dataset, which compresses image information progressively from precise appearance (fine) to actual content (coarse) [Gatys et al. 2016b] (Figure 2). At the coarsest layer, and may have very similar content information for better matching as indicated by yellow rectangles. As a result, we can assume to be at this layer of the CNN. In contrast, this assumption fails in other image decompositions such as the Laplacian pyramid, where and may still differ remarkably in colors at the coarsest layer.

At other layers of the CNN, we selectively extract content structures from features of and detail information from features of by a weighted mask, which helps construct a linearly weighted combination to recover features of . We will describe the implementation details in Section 4.3. The updated latent images will carry the fusion information to the next layer for further mapping refinement.

Deep PatchMatch. Given latent images and , inferring and is equivalent to computing a forward NNF and a reverse NNF between and as well as between and . More specifically, the forward NNF maps to ; this NNF also maps to . The reverse NNF is similarly defined. PatchMatch [Barnes et al. 2009] is known as a randomized fast algorithm for computing approximate NNF between two images. Good patch matches can be found through random sampling, and spatial coherence in the imagery allows us to propagate such matches quickly to surrounding areas. Instead, we consider PatchMatch in a deep feature domain, which can provide better representations for semantic-level correspondences and be able to be incorporated into our CNN-based latent image reconstruction.

Figure 3: System pipeline.

4 Deep Image Analogy

We achieve visual attribute transfer through image analogy and deep CNN features; an overall process we refer to as deep image analogy. Figure 3 shows the system pipeline. We first compute deep features for the input image pair through pre-trained CNN, and initialize feature maps of two latent images at the coarsest CNN layer in the preprocessing step (in Section 4.1). Then, at each layer, we compute a forward NNF and a reverse NNF that establish correspondences between feature maps of and as well as between feature maps of and . (Section 4.2). The extracted NNFs together with feature maps are used to reconstruct features of latent images at the next CNN layer (in Section 4.3). The NNFs obtained at the current layer are further upsampled to the next layer as their initialization (in Section 4.4). These three steps (NNF search, latent image reconstruction and NNF upsampling) are repeated at each layer, updating correspondences from coarse to fine.

4.1 Preprocessing

Our algorithm starts with precomputing feature maps by a VGG-19 network [Simonyan and Zisserman 2014] that is trained on the ImageNet database [Russakovsky et al. 2015] for object recognition. We obtain the pyramid of feature maps and () for the input images and . The feature map of each layer is extracted from the reluL_1 layer. It is a 3D tensor with , and its spatial resolution increases from to , as shown on Figure 3(left).

The features of and are unknown. We estimate them in a coarse-to-fine manner, which needs a good initialization at the coarsest layer (). Here, we let and initially, that is, we view and (also and ) to be very similar at the top layer where the images have been transformed by the CNN into representations with the actual content, but being invariant to precise appearance (as shown in Figure 2).

4.2 Nearest-neighbor Field Search

At layer , we estimate a forward NNF and a reverse NNF; they are represented by mapping functions and , respectively. maps a point in feature map to another in feature map . Note that also maps to . is similarly defined in the reverse direction. is computed by minimizing the following energy function:


where is the patch around . We set the patch size to be when , and when . For each patch around pixel in the source (or ), we find its nearest neighbor position in the target (or ). The mapping function is similarly computed.

in Equation (2) is a vector that represents all channels of the -th feature layer at position . We use normalized features in our patch similarity metric, because relative values are more meaningful than absolute values in networks.

(a) (b) (c) (d)
Figure 4: Benefits of bidirectional constraint and deconvolution. (a)input images (b) bidirectional + deconvolution (c) single-direction + deconvolution (d) bidirectional + resampling.

Equation (2) does not require a regularization term because local smoothness is implicitly achieved through aggregation of overlapping patches. Such a unary-only energy formulation can be efficiently optimized with the PatchMatch method [Barnes et al. 2009]. We adapt this approach of random search and propagation to support two pairs of multi-channel feature maps.

Our NNF search considers the constraints imposed by forward and reverse NNFs in the following manner. As indicated in Equation (2), the estimation of relies on four feature maps. Among them, the reconstruction of depends on the reverse mapping at previous layer which will be described in Section 4.3. In other words, is constrained by through ; symmetrically is constrained by through . With these constraints, and usually will agree, and thus discourages ambiguous 1-to-n mapping. In contrast, if we consider only single-direction mapping, Equation (2) becomes:


for optimizing the mapping . Unfortunately, it is prone to misalignment. We show a comparison in Figure 4(b)(c).

At every layer, we have to recover features of and before NNF search. In this section, we will mainly discuss the reconstruction of ; can be estimated likewise. As mentioned in Section 3, the reconstruction of at layer is the fusion of content from and details from . Let us define the feature map to be the modified version of to fit the structure of . is computed using a weighted sum:


where is element-wise multiplication on each channel of feature map, and is a 2D weight map (with the elements ranging from to ) used to separate content structures from details. As mentioned in Section 4.1, is pre-computed. Next, we will introduce how to compute and respectively.

Ideally, the should be equal to the warped with : . However, is initially unknown at layer . A naïve method is to directly upscale to the dimension at layer , and then warp with it. Unfortunately, this method cannot preserve mapped structures from previous layers (in Figure 4(d)). This is because spatial correspondence between two adjacent layers cannot be exactly maintained due to non-linear modules in CNNs (i.e., ReLU, Max-Pooling).

To address this problem, we present a new approach, which first warps the feature maps at the previous layer before deconvolving the warped features for the current layer. Specifically, we warp by using , getting . Let the sub-net of CNN including all computing units between layer and be denoted as . Our objective is to make the output of be as close as possible to the target features . Hence, , which is randomized initially, can be solved by minimizing the following loss function:


The gradient with respect to the feature values can be used as input for some numerical optimization strategy. Here we use gradient descent (L-BFGS) [Zhu et al. 1994]. The optimization for feature deconvolution is similar to update the stylization result by pre-trained CNN, described in [Gatys et al. 2016b].

4.3 Latent Image Reconstruction

Figure 5: Recovering features of latent image by weighted combination of the structures from and the visual details sampled from .
Figure 6: Effect of different global offsets for weights .

The role of the 2D weight map is to separate content structures from details. Multiplying (or ) with (or ) helps extract content information from (or details from ). All feature channels share the same 2D weight map, which can be further be represented by


where is a function that specifies the magnitudes of neuron responses at layer L-1, in order to preserve content structures from when they are present. We apply a sigmoid function to get , with , and being normalized to . In the reverse direction, is computed using instead of .

The scalar (in Equation (6)) controls the trade-off between content and attribute such as style, which is similar to [Gatys et al. 2016b]. When , it means that should be exactly consistent with in structure. Reducing would lead to structure variations in compared to . The coarse layer represents more structure information than the fine layer due to higher-level abstraction, so we gradually decrease from coarse to fine layer. For all of our visual attribute transfer results, the default setting is . We only vary the default settings using two global offsets, namely . Figure 6 shows the effect of changing the global offset. Larger weights tend to produce results with more similar structure to inputs ( or ).

In summary, latent image reconstruction involves feature map warp at the current layer, deconvolution for the next layer, and fusion, as illustrated in Fig 5.

(layer independent)
(layer independent)
Figure 7: Visualization of NNFs (top row), reconstructed results with NNFs (middle row) and reconstructed results based on layer-independent NNFs (bottom row) of each layer.

4.4 Nearest-neighbor Field Upsampling

Our NNFs are computed in a coarse-to-fine manner. At the coarsest layer, the mappings and are randomly initialized (). For other layers, as an initial guess, we upsample , , to layer . Since the NNF obtained by PatchMatch is only piece-wise smooth, we use nearest-neighbor interpolation instead of linear interpolation.

The upscaled NNFs only serve as initial guesses, and they are further refined by NNF search (described in Section 4.2). Additionally, the initial guess serves as guidance to limit the random search space at every layer. A similar scheme is adopted in the extension of PatchMatch algorithm [Hu et al. 2016]. In our work, the search space is limited to be the receptive field of the network at each layer. For VGG-19, the random search radii of layers are , respectively. Figure 7(top rows) shows how our mappings are gradually optimized from coarse to fine. Compared with the layer-independent matching results (bottom rows of Figure 7), our hierarchical matching scheme successfully propagates the correspondences from coarse levels to fine levels where matches are ambiguous, as shown in Figure 7(middle rows).

4.5 Output

After we obtain the final NNFs (also ) at the lowest feature layer, we let the pixel-location mapping functions and equal to and respectively, since the features at the lowest layer have the same spatial dimension as the input images. We then reconstruct by patch aggregation in the pixel layer of image: , where is the size of patch . is reconstructed in a similar way.

Input : Two RGB images and .
Output : Two pixel-location mapping functions: , ; and two RGB images , .
Preprocessing (Section 4.1):
feed to VGG-19 and get features.
, , and randomize mapping function , .
for  to 1 do
       NNF search (Section 4.2):
         map to , to .
         map to , to .
       if  then
             Reconstruction (Section 4.3):
              Warp with to .
              Deconvolve with and .
               weighted blend and .
              Warp with to
              Deconvolve with and .
               weighted blend and .
             NNF upsampling (Section 4.4):
              Upsample to
              Upsample to
       end if
end for
= , =
ALGORITHM 1 Deep Analogy algorithm

4.6 Algorithm and Performance

The pseudo code of our implementation is listed in Algorithm 1. Our core algorithm is developed in CUDA. All our experiments are conducted on a PC with an Intel E5 2.6GHz CPU and an NVIDIA Tesla K40m GPU. The runtime of each module is based on the input image with resolution . There are two bottlenecks. One is deep PatchMatch ( seconds), which needs to compute patch similarities on hundreds of feature channels. Another is feature deconvolution ( seconds), which may require hundreds of iterations to converge for Equation (5).

(a) Input (src) (b) Input (ref) (c) SIFT flow (d) DeepFlow2 (e) PatchMatch (f) Ours
Figure 8: Comparison of different dense correspondences methods on input pairs with the same scene but slightly different views or motions. Some reconstruction errors are indicated by the red arrows.
(a) Input (src) (b) Input (ref) (c) SIFT flow (d) DeepFlow2 (e) PatchMatch (f) NRDC (g) RFM (h) Ours
Figure 9: Comparison of different dense correspondence methods on input pairs with the same scene but large variations in view, color, and tone. (For the first example, both public result and implementation of RFM are unavailable, so we have to make the result empty here.)
(a) Input (src) (b) Input (ref) (c) SIFT flow (d) DeepFlow2 (e) PatchMatch (f) Daisy flow (g) Halfway (h) Ours
Figure 10: Comparison of different dense correspondence methods on input pairs semantically-related but with vastly different styles.

5 Evaluations on Matching

We evaluate the matching quality of our approach and state-of-the-art methods on three different categories of data: (I) the same scene, with very similar appearance and slight camera/object motions (e.g., neighboring frames in video); (II) the same scene, with variations in view, color, and tone (e.g., two photos from different cameras or illumination); (III) semantically-related scene with vastly different styles (e.g., photograph and painting) or appearances. Our default parameter ranges are designed for images with very different appearance like those in category (II) and (III). So for the special case (I) which always requires two views to be perfectly aligned in structures, we specially set to achieve comparable quality to other methods. For category (II) we use default weights plus offset , and for category (III) we use the default weights. We keep automatic weights selection based on inputs in future work. All other approaches are based on author-provided implementations with the default settings.

SIFT Flow DeepFlow2 PatchMatch ours
PSNR 27.97 30.04 35.18 34.16
Endpoint err. 0.91 0.34 22.40 3.21
Table 1: Reconstruction accuracy and flow endpoint error of different dense correspondence estimation methods.
aero bike boat bottle bus car chair table mbike sofa train tv mean
PatchMatch [Barnes et al. 2009] 6.5 6.3 2.6 2.9 2.3 4.7 3.3 12.5 2.0 0.0 4.2 2.6 4.2
SIFT Flow  [Liu et al. 2011] 8.1 14.3 5.1 26.1 25 20.9 13.3 6.3 14.3 15.4 4.2 44.7 16.5
Cycle consistency [Zhou et al. 2016] 12.9 6.3 10.3 39.1 27.3 23.3 13.3 12.5 6.1 19.2 12.5 36.8 18.3
Ours 19.4 7.9 15.4 27.5 47.7 11.6 20.0 6.3 18.4 15.4 12.5 50.0 21.0
Table 2: Correspondence accuracy measured in PCK. The test is conducted on randomly selected 20 pairs of each category of the PASCAL 3D+ dataset. Overall, our method outperforms the three baselines.
Cycle   consistency
Figure 11: Visual comparison of keypoint transfer performance for different methods on representative examples of the PASCAL 3D+ dataset.

Category (I) is tested on the Middlebury optical flow benchmark dataset, total color image pairs. We compared with PatchMatch [Barnes et al. 2009], SIFT Flow [Liu et al. 2011] and DeepFlow2 [Weinzaepfel et al. 2013]. We evaluate the matching accuracy by both flow endpoint error and reconstruction errors (i.e., PSNR metric). Similar to Patchmatch, our method does not assume any flow continuity, so it performs better than the flow methods (i.e., Sift Flow and DeepFlow2) in reconstruction error but worse in flow endpoint error, as shown on Table 1. Since the task of this paper is image reconstruction rather than pure motion estimation, the reconstruction error makes more sense in our applications. Note that our reconstructed results look slightly worse than PatchMatch. This is because our approach does not consider color similarity as well as Patchmatch, which causes inconsistent color matches in our results. Figure 8 shows a visual comparison of the three methods and ours.

For category (II), we collect public data from [Yang et al. 2007, HaCohen et al. 2011, Shen et al. 2016]; we show some examples in Figure 9. The input pair of images differ significantly in object pose, illumination, and season. Since PatchMatch [Barnes et al. 2009] is based on color similarity, it may fail to match similar structures with different colors, leading to a result with appearance that is close to the source image (see Figure 9(e)). In contrast, SIFT flow [Liu et al. 2011] and Deepflow [Weinzaepfel et al. 2013] are better in matching structures (see Figure 9(c)(d)) because sparse features are matched instead of color. However, there are noticeable mismatches in areas without feature points. Regional foremost matching (RFM) [Shen et al. 2016] and NRDC [HaCohen et al. 2011] work well on these regions where matches are found. However, RFM fails for large non-rigid motion (Figure 9(g))) and NRDC can reliably match only a small fraction of the image in some cases (Figure 9(f)). Our results (Figure 9(h)) look visually comparable with either NRDC or RFM at regions with high confidence, and provide a better guess elsewhere.

Figure 12: Our photo-to-style transfer results. For each group, two images in the upper row are reference styles. The leftmost one in the lower row is the input photo, other two images are our results.

For category (III), we collect pairs of photo and painting online by searching generic words such as “bird”, “girl”, and “portrait”. Two examples are shown in Figure 10. The task would be intractable for existing matching work [Liu et al. 2011, Weinzaepfel et al. 2013, Barnes et al. 2009, Yang et al. 2014], and we can see noticeable artifacts in their results (Figure 10(c)(d)(e)(f)). The Halfway morphing [Liao et al. 2014] addresses this kind of problem. However, their method relies on a modified SSIM term to find low-level feature correspondences, and needs user interaction to provide high-level matching. Without user input, they may fail as well on these cases (Figure 10(g)). By contrast, our approach is automatic and can produce visually acceptable results (Figure 10(h)).

We further evaluate on the Pascal 3D+ dataset [Xiang et al. 2014], which provides annotated sparse correspondences for semantically-related objects with remarkably different appearances. For each category in the Pascal 3D+ dataset, we randomly sample 20 image pairs from the training and validation datasets. Cycle consistency [Zhou et al. 2016] is a representative work considering high-level semantic information for dense matching. We conduct the same evaluation as that of Zhou et al. [Zhou et al. 2016] for all competing methods. The quality of correspondences is measured by the percentage of correct keypoint transfer (PCK) over all pairs suggested by Zhou et al. [Zhou et al. 2016]. The quantitative comparisons between different methods are shown in Table 2 and the visual comparisons on representative pairs are shown in Figure 11. Both our method and cycle consistency obtain better performance than methods based on low-level feature, e.g. SIFT Flow and PatchMatch. Overall, our method performs better than cycle consistency, even though the features we used are not trained on the Pascal 3D+ dataset.

6 Applications

In this section, we show how our approach can be effectively used for four different tasks of visual attribute transfer: photo to style, style to style, style to photo, and photo to photo. For comparison with other methods, we again ran author-released implementations with default settings, or submit our images to their services or apps. More comparisons and results can be found in our supplemental material. All results are better viewed in electronic form.

Input (src) Input (ref) Neural style Deep style Ostagram Prisma Ours
Input (src) Input (ref) Neural style Perceptual loss CNNMRF Deep style Ours
Input (src) Input (ref) Neural style Perceptual loss CNNMRF Portrait style Ours
Figure 13: Comparison with other style-transfer methods and apps based on neural network.
Inputs Neural style Ours
Input () CNNMRF () Ours ()
Input () CNNMRF () Ours ()
Figure 14: Comparison with Neural style and CNNMRF on their examples.
(input) (output) (output) (input)
Figure 15: Style-swap results.

6.1 Photo to Style

One key application of our approach is to transfer a photo to a reference artistic style. Users can easily borrow specific artwork stylization (possibly by famous or professional artists) to render their own photos for sharing and entertainment. A few examples are shown in Figure 12. The recent technique of neural style transfer [Alexander Mordvintsev 2015, Gatys et al. 2016b, Johnson et al. 2016, Li and Wand 2016a, Selim et al. 2016] generated very impressive stylization results, and some apps or services (e.g., Prisma111, Google Deep Style222, Ostagram333 based on CNN are also very popular.

In comparison to these approaches, ours is capable of higher quality content-specific stylization that better preserves structures. Neural style [Gatys et al. 2016b] and perceptual loss methods [Johnson et al. 2016] rely on global statistics matching, and as a result, do not guarantee local structure-to-structure transfer. For example, the face in their results (top row of Figure 13) contains flower textures. If two inputs are totally unrelated as shown on top row of Figure 14, both ours and theirs are visually different but acceptable. Google Deep Style and Ostagram are two online consumer services. They also do not appear to transfer structures effectively in Figure 13. The portrait style approach [Selim et al. 2016] enforces constraints of face alignment to maintain the face structure. Ghosting artifacts on non-face regions are evident, as shown in bottom row of Figure 13. CNNMRF [Li and Wand 2016a] uses a non-parametric model, but different from ours, it is independent at each layer. In both methods, artifacts occur at misaligned regions. This can be seen at the boundary between neck and shirt on ours and the left eye on theirs (Figure 14(bottom row)).

The other methods optimize for the pixel color using a loss function that combines content and style information, while ours directly samples reference patches using our estimated NNF. This is the primary difference between ours and other methods. Although our results less faithfully capture the content at times, they are able to better reproduce the style. As an example, while the Neural Style method has captured the appearance of the woman’s face more faithfully than ours in Figure 13(bottom row), our version is a better reproduction of the style.

Input (src) Input (ref) Output    Input(src) Input (ref) Output
Figure 16: Results of converting a sketch or a painting to a photo.

6.2 Style to Style

When input pairs of images are two content-related artworks but with vastly different styles, our method is able to swap the styles. To our knowledge, this is a new and fun effect, which has not been demonstrated before. For example, we are able to re-factor the “Pharaoh status” to the style of “Peking Opera facial makeup”, as shown in Figure 15(second row). Our approach surprisingly works well for this application. Some results are shown in Figure 15.

6.3 Style to Photo

Input (src) Input (ref) Ours CG2Real
Figure 17: Comparisons of our CG-to-photo results with CG2Real method on their examples. For the inputs in each group, the source CG is used by both ours and theirs, but the reference photo is only for ours. Their multiple reference photos are not given in their paper.
Inputs (with) (without)
Figure 18: Comparisons of transfer color with (middle column) and without (right column) WLS refinement.

This can be seen as the inverse problem of photo to style. Unfortunately, this task is much more difficult than style transfer. One reason is that artworks tend to lack detail in favor of creativity. Another reason is that humans are very sensitive to slight structure misalignments; the quality bar for photorealism is known to be very high. Generally, our approach is less successful on this task compared with the photo-to-style application. However, our approach is still able to transfer sketches or paintings to real photographs, with more plausible results when both images are very related. Figure 16 show some example results.

We further compare our methods with the CG2Real [Johnson et al. 2011] on their provided examples, shown in Figure 17. They retrieve a small number of photos with similar global structure of the input CG, identify the corresponding regions by co-segmentation and transfer the regions to CG. In contrast to their region-to-region transfer, our approach builds a pixel-to-pixel mapping, which can better maintain the structures of the input CG image, shown in Figure 17(first row). Moreover, our results are visually comparable to theirs, even though we use only one reference photo while CG2Real uses multiple photos.

6.4 Photo to Photo

Photo to photo mapping can be in the form of color or tone transfer. Our approach enables local transfer in corresponding regions. Generally, only color or tone are borrowed from the reference, not allowing details. For this goal, we slightly modify our algorithm by applying a refinement on the reconstructed result. Specifically, we use weighted least squares filter (WLS) [Farbman et al. 2008] to smooth both input image and reconstructed result with the guidance . The final result is obtained by:


which implies that we only need to maintain colors of while discarding details of , and filling in with details of . It is similar for . Without the refinement, the details from the reference will introduce distortion to the fine-grained structures of objects in the source image, for example, the eyes and nose in the comparison with and without the refinement (Figure 18).

We further show two examples compared with NRDC [HaCohen et al. 2011] in Figure 20(a). NRDC uses a global color mapping curve based on a small potion of matches. By contrast, our transfer is local, which may produce better region-to-region transfer than NRDC, as shown in the grass region of Figure 20(a) (second row). Such local transfer is sometimes sensitive to the quality of matching. For instance, we observe some inaccurate color mappings, like saturated sky region in Figure 20(a) (first row), caused by mismatched regions. Beyond the capability of NRDC, our approach can also transfer color across images with different scenes, such as the time-lapse example shown in Figure 19, due to the identified semantic correspondences, e.g., tree to tree, mountain to mountain.

Compared with other local color transfer methods, e.g. shih et al.[Shih et al. 2013] and Luan et al.[Luan et al. 2017] in Figure 20(c), our method can produce visually comparable results to theirs. However, our algorithm takes a single image as reference, while their methods require either a full time-lapse video [Shih et al. 2013] or optional precomputed segmentation masks [Luan et al. 2017]. When compared with Luan et al.[Luan et al. 2017] carefully, we can find some undesired posterization effects (e.g., forehead in Figure 20(b) and buildings in Figure 20(c)), which do not occur in ours. Compared with Shih et al. [Shih et al. 2014], both ours and Luan et al. [Luan et al. 2017] fail to transfer some details (e.g., eye highlights) as shown in Figure 20(b).

Input (ref 1) Input (ref 2) Input (ref 3) Input (ref 4)
Input (src) Output 1 Output 2 Output 3 Output 4
Figure 19: Results of generating time-lapse sequences with references of another semantic-related scene.
Figure 20: Comparison of our photo-to-photo results with other state-of-art methods on their examples. For the inputs in each group, the upper one is the source photo and the lower one is the reference photo.
Figure 21: Some examples of failure cases.

7 Discussion

Semantic-level matching is not fool-proof, since our deep match approach relies on a pre-trained VGG network that has limited capability in representing all objects or fine-grained structures. A possible improvement would be to train our network on a domain-specific dataset for better image representation. If an object is found in one image but not the other, it is not clear how semantic matching can be done. We show a failure case in Figure 21(top-left), which shows the mismatched hat region.

For the scenes which are semantically related but vary a lot in scales and view points, our method still fails to build correct correspondences as shown in Figure 21(top-right). Addressing these cases would require either pre-scaling images or allowing patches to be rotated and scaled in our NNF search like Generalized PatchMatch. However adding rotation or scale is nontrivial since geometric transformations in the image domain are not well preserved with those in feature domain because of non-linear modules (e.g., ReLU).

Moreover, our method may fail to find correspondences in textureless regions that have very low neural activation, like the background in Figure 21(bottom-right). This problem may be addressed by either analyzing pixel intensity or by explicitly enforcing smoothness in our energy function.

Our photo-to-style transfer application is unable to produce geometry style transfer, like the case shown in Figure 21(bottom-left). The assumption in our work is to maximally preserve content structure. We may relax the assumption in future work.

8 Concluding Remarks

We have demonstrated a new technique for transferring visual attributes across semantically-related images. We adapted the notion of image analogy to a deep feature space for finding semantically-meaningful dense correspondences. We show that our method outperforms previous methods where image pairs exhibit significant variance in their appearance including lighting, color, texture, and style. We have shown that our approach is widely applicable for visual attribute transfer in real-world images, as well as additional transfer challenges such as content-specific stylization, style to photo, and style to style. We believe this method may also be proven useful for a variety of computer graphics and vision applications that rely on semantic-level correspondences.


We thank the anonymous reviewers for helping us to improve this paper, David Wipf for his help in proofreading. We also acknowledge to the authors of our image and style examples but we do not own the copyrights of them.


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