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Transferring van Gogh’s Unique Style to Photos with Magenta’s Arbitrary Image Stylization Network and Deep Learning

Before we start the tutorial: If you are reading this article, we probably share similar interests and are/will be in similar industries. So let’s connect via Linkedin! Please do not hesitate to send a contact request! Orhan G. Yalçın — Linkedin

 Figure 1. A Neural Style Transfer Example made with Arbitrary Image Stylization Network

I am sure you have come across to deep learning projects on transferring styles of famous painters to new photos. Well, I have been thinking about working on a similar project, but I realized that you can make neural style transfer within minutes, like the one in Figure 1. I will show you how in a second. But, let’s cover some basics first:

Neural Style Transfer (NST)

Neural style transfer is a method to blend two images and create a new image from a content image by copying the style of another image, called style image. This newly created image is often referred to as the stylized image.

History of NST

Image stylization is a two-decade-old problem in the field of non-photorealistic rendering. Non-photorealistic rendering is the opposite of photorealism, which is the study of reproducing an image as realistically as possible. The output of a neural style transfer model is an image that looks similar to the content image but in painting form in the style of the style image.

 Figure 2. Original Work of Leon Gatys on CV-Foundation

Neural style transfer (NST) was first published in the paper “A Neural Algorithm of Artistic Style” by Gatys et al., originally released in 2015. The novelty of the NST method was the use of deep learning to separate the representation of the content of an image from its style of depiction. To achieve this, Gatys et al. used VGG-19 architecture, which was pre-trained on the ImageNet dataset. Even though we can build a custom model following the same methodology, for this tutorial, we will benefit from the models provided in TensorFlow Hub.

Image Analogy

Before the introduction of NST, the most prominent solution to image stylization was the image analogy method. Image Analogy is a method of creating a non-photorealistic rendering filter automatically from training data. In this process, the transformation between photos (A) and non-photorealistic copies (A’) are learned. After this learning process, the model can produce a non-photorealistic copy (B’) from another photo (B). However, NST methods usually outperform image analogy due to the difficulty of finding training data for the image analogy models. Therefore, we can talk about the superiority of NST over image analogy in real-world applications, and that’s why we will focus on the application of an NST model.

 Figure 3. Photo by Jonathan Cosens on Unsplash

Is it Art?

Well, once we build the model, you will see that creating non-photorealistic images with Neural Style Transfer is a very easy task. You can create a lot of samples by blending beautiful photos with the paintings of talented artists. There has been a discussion about whether these outputs are regarded as art because of the little work the creator needs to add to the end product. Feel free to build the model, generate your samples, and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Now that you know the basics of Neural Style Transfer, we can move on to TensorFlow Hub, the repository that we use for our NST work.

TensorFlow Hub

TensorFlow Hub is a collection of trained machine learning models that you can use with ease. TensorFlow’s official description for the Hub is as follows:

TensorFlow Hub is a repository of trained machine learning models ready for fine-tuning and deployable anywhere. Reuse trained models like BERT and Faster R-CNN with just a few lines of code.

Apart from pre-trained models such as BERT or Faster R-CNN, there are a good amount of pre-trained models. The one we will use is Magenta’s Arbitrary Image Stylization network. Let’s take a look at what Magenta is.

Magenta and Arbitrary Image Stylization

What is Magenta?

 Figure 4. Magenta Logo on Magenta

Magenta is an open-source research project, backed by Google, which aims to provide machine learning solutions to musicians and artists. Magenta has support in both Python and Javascript. Using Magenta, you can create songs, paintings, sounds, and more. For this tutorial, we will use a network trained and maintained by the Magenta team for Arbitrary Image Stylization.

Arbitrary Image Stylization

After observing that the original work for NST proposes a slow optimization for style transfer, the Magenta team developed a fast artistic style transfer method, which can work in real-time. Even though the customizability of the model is limited, it is satisfactory enough to perform a non-photorealistic rendering work with NST. Arbitrary Image Stylization under TensorFlow Hub is a module that can perform fast artistic style transfer that may work on arbitrary painting styles.

By now, you already know what Neural Style Transfer is. You also know that we will benefit from the Arbitrary Image Stylization module developed by the Magenta team, which is maintained in TensorFlow Hub.

Now it is time to code!

Get the Image Paths

 Figure 5. Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

We will start by selecting two image files. I will directly load these image files from URLs. You are free to choose any photo you want. Just change the filename and URL in the code below. The content image I selected for this tutorial is the photo of a cat staring at the camera, as you can see in Figure 5.

 Figure 6. Bedroom in Arles by Vincent van Gogh

I would like to transfer the style of van Gogh. So, I chose one of his famous paintings: Bedroom in Arles, which he painted in 1889 while staying in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, France. Again, you are free to choose any painting of any artist you want. You can even use your own drawings.

The below code sets the path to get the image files shown in Figure 5 and Figure 6.


Custom Function for Image Scaling

  One thing I noticed that, even though we are very limited with model customization, by rescaling the images, we can change the style transferred to the photo. In fact, I found out that the smaller the images, the better the model transfers the style. Just play with the max_dim parameter if you would like to experiment. Just note that a larger max_dim means, it will take slightly longer to generate the stylized image.  


We will call the img_scaler function below, inside the load_img function.

Custom Function for Preprocessing the Image

Now that we set our image paths to load and img_scaler function to scale the loaded image, we can actually load our image files with the custom function below.

Every line in the Gist below is explained with comments. Please read carefully.


    Now our custom image loading function, load_img, is also created. All we have to do is to call it.  

Load the Content and Style Images

  For content image and style image, we need to call the load_img function once and the result will be a 4-dimensional Tensor, which is what will be required by our model below. The below lines is for this operation.  


Now that we successfully loaded our images, we can plot them with matplotlib, as shown below:


and here is the output:


Figure 7. Content Image on the Left (Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash) | Style Image on the Right (Bedroom in Arles by Vincent van Gogh)

You are not gonna believe this, but the difficult part is over. Now we can create our network and pass these image Tensors as arguments for NST operation.

Load the Arbitrary Image Stylization Network

We need to import the tensorflow_hub library so that we can use the modules containing the pre-trained models. After importing tensorflow_hub, we can use the load function to load the Arbitrary Image Stylization module as shown below. Finally, as shown in the documentation, we can pass the content and style images as arguments in tf.constant object format. The module returns our stylized image in an array format.

All we have to do is to use this array and plot it with matplotlib. The below lines create a plot free from all the axis and large enough for you to review the image.

… And here is our stylized image:


Figure 8. Paul Hanaoka’s Photo after Neural Style Transfer

Figure 9 summarizes what we have done in this tutorial:

  Figure 9. A Neural Style Transfer Example made with Arbitrary Image Stylization Network


As you can see, with a minimal amount of code (we did not even train a model), we did a pretty good Neural Style Transfer on a random image we took from Unsplash using a painting from Vincent van Gogh. Try different photos and paintings to discover the capabilities of the Arbitrary Image Stylization network. Also, play around with max_dim size, you will see that the style transfer changes to a great extent.

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