People sure love their eye-popping CGI movie magic these days. Even all-time cinematic greats like Martin Scorsese are embracing the impressive innovations within modern movie tech (albeit to somewhat uncanny results). But what about those occasional pushes towards retroactively “improving” classic cultural film artifacts? Sure, it’s one thing to help restore some lost footage or clean up a grainy celluloid reel, but at what point should we ask, “Alright, are we starting to overstep into the realms of pride and vanity from which we may not be able to return?”
Actually, we think we’ve found the exact point at which we should ask it: using neural network dark arts to upscale the classic Lumière brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat from 1896 into 4K 60FPS.
Okay, yes, Denis Shiryaev’s work is extremely beautiful. Yes, it’s an unexpected gift of a window into our cultural past, allowing us to glimpse a bygone era in the kind of detail we previously never thought possible. But also, like, why do we get the feeling we’re seeing things no modern human is meant to see? Per this Ars Technica write-up:
He says he used commercial image-editing software called Gigapixel AI. Created by Topaz Labs, the package allows customers to upscale images by up to 600 percent. Using sophisticated neural networks, Gigapixel AI adds realistic details into an image to avoid making it look blurry as it’s scaled up.
Just go with us here for a moment. You know the old trope about certain tribal cultures believing that having your photo or video taken steals one’s soul? Well, what if restoring said photos and videos revives and/or releases those souls? Suddenly, we’ve got a bunch of 19th century fancypants French train riders haunting our computers, scoffing at our sartorial choices from behind the laptop screen’s glow while they sip from copper-tainted ghost absinthe or whatever. And now you want to connect them to advanced computer neural networking? Why do we feel like this is a recipe for disaster? Or, at least, a recipe for a really bad movie employing horrendous CGI while exploring half-baked sci-fi ideas?
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