10 Years of Open Source Image Processing!
David Tschumperlé — August 29th, 2018
10 Years of Open Source Image Processing!
David Tschumperlé — August 29th, 2018
The IMAGE team of the GREYC laboratory is happy to celebrate the 10th anniversary of G’MIC with you, an open-source (CeCILL), generic and extensible framework for image processing. GREYC is a public research laboratory on digital technology located in Caen, Normandy/France, under the supervision of 3 research institutions: the CNRS (UMR 6072), the University of Caen Normandy and the ENSICAEN engineering school.
This celebration gives us the perfect opportunity to announce the release of a new version (2.3.6) of this free software and to share with you a summary of the latest notable changes since our last G’MIC report, published on PIXLS.US in February 2018.
(Click on the images of the report to display them in full resolution)
G’MIC is a multiplatform framework (GNU/Linux, macOS, Windows…) providing various user interfaces for manipulating generic image data, such as 2D or 3D hyperspectral images or image sequences with float values (thus including “normal” color images). More than 1000 different operators for image processing are included, a number that is extensible at will since users can add their own functions by using the embedded script language.
It was at the end of July 2008 that the first lines of G’MIC code were created (in C++). At that time, I was the main developer involved in CImg, a lightweight open source C++ library for image processing, when I made the following observation:
My ideas were starting to take shape: I needed to find a way to provide CImg processing features for non-programmers. Why not attempt to build a tool that could be used on the command line (like the famous convert command from Imagemagick)? A first attempt in June 2008 (inrcast, presented on the French news site LinuxFR), while unsuccessful, allowed me to better understand what would be required for this type of tool to easily process images from the command line.
In particular, it occurred to me that conciseness and coherence of the command syntax were the two most important things to build upon. These were the aspects that required the most effort in research and development (the actual image processing features were already implemented in CImg). In the end, the focus on conciseness and coherence took me much further than originally planned as G’MIC got an interpreter) of its own scripting language, and then a JIT compiler for the evaluation of mathematical expressions and image processing algorithms working at the pixel level.
With these ideas, by the end of July 2008, I was happy to announce the first draft of G’MIC. The project was officially up and running!
A few months later, in January 2009, enriched by my previous development experience on GREYCstoration (a free tool for nonlinear image denoising and interpolation, from which a plug-in was made for GIMP), and in the hopes of reaching an even larger public, I published a G’MIC GTK plug-in for GIMP. This step proved to be a defining moment for the G’MIC project, giving it a significant boost in popularity as seen below (the project was hosted on Sourceforge at the time).
The sudden interest in the plugin from different users of GIMP (photographers, illustrators and other types of artists) was indeed a real launchpad for the project, with the rapid appearance of various contributions and external suggestions (for the code, management of the forums, web pages, writing of tutorials and realization of videos, etc.). The often idealized community effect of free software finally began to take off! Users and developers began to take a closer look at the operation of the original command-line interface and its associated scripting language (which admittedly did not interest many people until that moment!). From there, many of them took the plunge and began to implement new image processing filters in the G’MIC language, continuously integrated them into the GIMP plugin. Today, these contributions represent almost half of the filters available in the plugin.
Meanwhile, the important and repeated contributions of Sébastien Fourey, colleague of the GREYC IMAGE team (and experienced C++ developer) significantly improved the user experience of G’MIC. Sébastien is indeed at the heart of the main graphical interface development of the project, namely:
The purpose of this article is not to go into too much detail about the history of the project. Suffice it to say that we have not really had time to become bored in the last ten years!
Today, Sébastien and I are the two primary maintainers of the G’MIC project (Sébastien mainly for the interface aspects, myself for the development and improvement of filters and the core development), in addition to our main professional activity (research and teaching/supervision).
Let’s face it, managing a free project like G’MIC takes a considerable amount of time, despite its modest size (~120k lines of code). But the original goal has been achieved: thousands of non-programming users have the opportunity to freely and easily use our image processing algorithms in many different areas: image editing, photo manipulation, illustration and digital painting, video processing, scientific illustration, procedural generation, glitch art…
The milestone of 3.5 million total downloads was exceeded last year, with a current average of about 400 daily downloads from the official website (figures have been steadily declining in recent years as G’MIC is becoming more commonly downloaded and installed via alternative external sources).
It is sometimes difficult to keep a steady pace of development and the motivation that has to go with it, but we persisted, thinking back to the happy users who from time to time share their enthusiasm for the project!
Obviously we can’t name all the individual contributors to G’MIC whom we would like to thank, and with whom we’ve enjoyed exchanging during these ten years, but our heart is with them! Let’s also thank the GREYC laboratory and INS2I institute of CNRS for their strong support for this free project. A big thank you also to all the community of PIXLS.US who did a great job supporting the project (hosting the forum and publishing our articles on G’MIC).
But let’s stop reminiscing and get down to business: new features since our last article about the release of version 2.2!
G’MIC recently gained a quite impressive new filter named « Illuminate 2D shape », the objective of which is to automatically add lit zones and clean shadows to flat-colored 2D drawings, in order to give a 3D appearance.
First, the user provides an object to illuminate, in the form of an image on a transparent background (typically a drawing of a character or animal). By analyzing the shape and content of the image, G’MIC then tries to deduce a concordant 3D elevation map (“ bumpmap “). The map of elevations obtained is obviously not exact, since a 2D drawing colored in solid areas does not contain explicit information about an associated 3D structure! From the estimated 3D elevations it is easy to deduce a map of normals (“ normalmap “) which is used in turn to generate an illumination layer associated with the drawing (following a Phong Shading model).
This new filter is very flexible and allows the user to have a fairly fine control over the lighting parameters (position and light source rendering type) and estimation of the 3D elevation. In addition the filter gives the artist the opportunity to rework the generated illumination layer, or even directly modify the elevation maps and estimated 3D normals. The figure below illustrates the process as a whole; using the solid colored beetle image (top left), the filter fully automatically estimates an associated 3D normal map (top right). This allows it to generate renditions based on the drawing (bottom row) with two different rendering styles: smooth and quantized.
Despite the difficulty inherent in the problem of converting a 2D image into 3D elevation information, the algorithm used is surprisingly effective in a good many cases. The estimation of the 3D elevation map obtained is sufficiently consistent to automatically generate plausible 2D drawing illuminations, as illustrated by the two examples below - obtained in just a few clicks!
It occurs, of course, that the estimated 3D elevation map does not always match what one might want. Fear not, the filter allows the user to provide “guides” in the form of an additional layer composed of colored lines, giving more precise information to the algorithm about the structure of the drawing to be analyzed. The figure below illustrates the usefulness of these guides for illuminating a drawing of a hand (top left); the automatic illumination (top right) does not account for information in the lines of the hand. Including these few lines in an additional layer of “guides” (in red, bottom left) helps the algorithm to illuminate the drawing more satisfactorily.
If we analyze more precisely the differences obtained between estimated 3D elevation maps with and without guides (illustrated below as symmetrical 3D objects), there is no comparison: we go from a very round boxing glove to a much more detailed 3D hand estimation!
Finally, note that this filter also has an interactive preview mode, allowing the user to move the light source (with the mouse) and have a preview of the drawing illuminated in real time. By modifying the position parameters of the light source, it is thus possible to obtain the type of animations below in a very short time, which gives a fairly accurate idea of the 3D structure estimated by the algorithm from the original drawing.
A video showing the various possible ways to edit the illumination allowed by this filter is visible here. The hope is this new feature of G’MIC allows artists to accelerate the illumation and shading stage of their future drawings!
In a completely different genre, we have also added a filter implementing stereographic projection, suitably named “Stereographic projection“. This type of cartographic projection makes it possible to project planar defined image data onto a sphere. It should be noted that this is the usual projection used to generate images of “mini-planets” from equirectangular panoramas, like the one illustrated in the figure below.
If we launch the G’MIC plugin with this panorama and select the filter “Stereographic projection“, we get:
The filter allows precise adjustments of the projection center, the rotation angle, and the radius of the sphere, all interactively displayed directly on the preview window (we will come back to this later). In a few clicks, and after applying the filter, we get the desired “mini-planet”:
It is also intruiging to note that simply by reversing the vertical axis of the images, we transform a “mini-planet” into a “max-tunnel”!
Again, we made this short video which shows this filter used in practice. Note that G’MIC already had a similar filter (called “Sphere“), which could be used for the creation of “mini-planets”, but with a type of projection less suitable than the stereographic projection now available.
Manipulating the colors of images is a recurring occupation among photographers and illustrators, and G’MIC already had several dozen filters for this particular activity - grouped in a dedicated category (the originally named “Colors“ category!). This category is still growing, with two new filters having recently appeared:
Problem: we do not remember at all how we went from the the original image to the modified image, but we would like to apply the same process to another image. Well, no more worries, call G’MIC to the rescue! The filter in question will seek to better model the modification of the colors in the form of a HaldCLUT, which happens to be a classic way to represent any colorimetric transformation.
The HaldCLUT generated by the filter can be saved and re-applied on other images, with the desired property that the application of the HaldCLUT on the original image produces the target model image originally used to learn the transformation. From there, we are able to apply an equivalent color change to any other image:
This filter makes it possible in the end to create HaldCLUT “by example”, and could therefore interest many photographers (in particular those who distribute compilations of HaldCLUT files, freely or otherwise!).
The secondary axis of variation (green arrow) goes from blue to orange, and the tertiary axis (blue arrow) from green to pink. It is these axes of variation (rather than the RGB axes) that will define the color basis used in this channel mix filter.
It would be wrong to suggest that it is always better to consider the color basis obtained by PCA for the mixing of channels, and this new filter is obviously not intended to be the “ultimate” mixer that would replace all others. It simply exists as an alternative to the usual tools for mixing color channels, an alternative whose results proved to be quite interesting in tests of several images used during the development of this filter. It does no harm to try in any case…
This section is about a few other filters improved or included lately in G’MIC which deserve to be talked about, without dwelling too much on them.
Filter “Local processing” applies a color normalization or equalization process on the local image neighborhoods (with possible overlapping). This is an additional filter to make details pop up from under or over-exposed photographs, but it may create strong and unpleasant halo artefacts with non-optimal parameters.
If you think that the number of layer blending modes available in GIMP or Krita is not enough, and dream about defining your own blending mode formula, then the recent improvement of the G’MIC filter « Blend [standard] » will please you! This filter now gets a new option « Custom formula » allowing the user to specify their own mathematical formula when blending two layers together. All of your blending wishes become possible!
Also note the complete re-implementation of the nice “Sketch“ filter, which had existed for several years but could be a little slow on large images. The new implementation is much faster, taking advantage of multi-core processing when possible.
A large amount of work has also gone into the re-implementation of the “Mandelbrot - Julia sets“ filter, since the navigation interface has been entirely redesigned, making exploration of the Mandelbrot set much more comfortable (as illustrated by this video). New options for choosing colors have also appeared.
In addition, the “Polygonize [Delaunay]“ filter that generates polygonized renderings of color images has a new rendering mode, using linearly interpolated colors in the Delaunay triangles produced.
Of course, the new features in G’MIC are not limited to just image processing filters! For instance, a lot of work has been done on the graphical interface of the plug-in G’MIC-Qt for GIMP and Krita:
point(), which displays as a small colored circle over the preview window. The user can drag this circle and move it with the mouse. As a result this can give the preview widget a completely new type of user interaction, which is no small thing! A lot of filters now use this feature, making them more pleasant to use and intuitive (look at this video for some examples). The animation below shows for instance how these new interactive points has been used in the filter « Stereographic projection » described in previous sections.
A lot of other improvements have been made to the plug-in: the support of the most recent version of GIMP (2.10), of Qt 5.11, improved handling of the error messages displayed over the preview widget, a cleaner designed interface, and other small changes have been made under the hood, which are not necessarily visible but slightly improve the user experience (e.g. an image cache mechanism for the preview widget). In short, that’s pretty good!
Some new refinements of the G’MIC computational core have been done recently:
The “standard library” of the G’MIC script language was given new commands for computing the inverse hyperbolic functions (
atanh), as well as a command
tsp (travelling salesman problem) which estimates an acceptable solution to the well-known Travelling salesman problem, and this, for a point cloud of any size and dimension.
The demonstration window, which appears when
gmic is run without any arguments from the command line, has been also redesigned from scratch.
polygon()) and ellipses (function
ellipse()) in images. These mathematical expressions can in fact define small programs (with local variables, user-defined functions and control flow). One can for instance easily generate synthetic images from the command line, as shown by the two examples below.
$ gmic 400,400,1,3 eval "for (k = 0, k<300, ++k, polygon(3,u([vector10(0),[w,h,w,h,w,h,0.5,255,255,255])))"
$ gmic 400,400,1,3 eval "for (k=0, k<20, ++k, ellipse(w/2,h/2,w/2,w/8,k*360/20,0.1,255))"
NaN valuesare now better managed when doing calculus in the core, meaning G’MIC maintains coherent behavior even when it has been compiled with the optimisation
-ffast-math. Thus, G’MIC can be flawlessly compiled now the maximum optimization level
-Ofastsupported by the compiler
g++, whereas we were restricted to the use of
-O3before. The improvement in computation speed is clearly visible for some of the offered filters !
A lot of changes have also been made to the distribution channels used by the project:
First of all, the project web pages (which are now using secured
https connections by default) have a new image gallery. This gallery shows both filtered image results from G’MIC and the way to reproduce them (from the command line). Note that these gallery pages are automatically generated by a dedicated G’MIC script, which ensures the displayed command syntax is correct.
This gallery is split into several sections, depending on the type of processing done (Artistic, Black & White, Deformations, Filtering, etc.). The last section « Code sample » is my personal favorite, as it exhibits small animations (shown as looping animated GIFs) which have been completely generated from scratch by short scripts, written in the G’MIC language. Quite a surprising use of G’MIC that shows its potential for generative art.
Voilà! Our tour of news (and the last six months of work) on the G’MIC project comes to an end.
We are happy to be celebrating 10 years with the creation and evolution of this Free Software project, and to be able to share with everyone all of these advanced image processing techniques. We hope to continue doing so for many years to come!
Note that next year, we will also be celebrating the 20th anniversary of CImg, the C++ image processing library (started in November 1999) on which the G’MIC project is based, proof that interest in free software is enduring.
As we wait for the next release of G’MIC, don’t hesitate to test the current version. Freely and creatively play with and manipulate your images to your heart’s content!
Thank you, Translators: (ChameleonScales, Pat David)