How Pikazo Turns Your Photos Into Magic

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How Pikazo Turns Your Photos Into Magic

The latest photo app to grab the world by the eyeballs is called Pikazo. Created by a programmer and an artist, the app “simulates a visual cortex” and takes 10 minutes to change a normal picture into something out of the Tate Modern. Here is how it works.


What Dreams May Come

The creators Karl Stiefvater and Noah Rosenberg have worked together for years. They came up with Pikazo over beers when Karl talked about Google’s Deep Dream Generator and said they could use it to make amazing images. Rosenberg, a designer, was hooked.



Steifvater worked on the Myst games, followed by the Matrix movies, 300, and Second Life. Rosenberg was an ad agency creative director. The invented this app while drinking beer in St. Louis and posted it a few days later. Their very basic MVP took off with the Pinterest set.


What Is All This?

“Our key differentiation from photo filters is that we’re not just adjusting the source image, we’re literally using a simulation of the human visual cortex to reimagine the image in the target style,” said Rosenberg. “Nothing from the original image remains–it’s a wholly new creation that for some reason creates the feeling of being visually connected to the original. But that connection happens just in our minds, and happens only because the system is mirroring the way our minds process images.”


Ten Minutes To Heaven

It takes the app 10 minutes to create one image on a very powerful machine in Pikazo’s server farm. This is no filer – it literally creates a new image every time and each image is unique. The images are sent to the server, processed, and then sent back.


Exaflops, Jerry! Exaflopps!

“In two weeks we’ve got 13.5k active devices, 170k sessions, just about to break 100k images processed,” said Rosenberg. “We’re using something like 30 exaflops of computation (that’s 3×10’19th) in about 16,660 computing hours on the fastest available GPU cluster.”


Artists Love It

Rosenberg showed the app to some of his artist friends and they were amazed. To do what the app does required years of skill and training, which suggests that artists will soon be extinct (not really).


AI Inside

Karl started exploring the idea of using AI to generate graphics back in 2000, but the available computers were only able to generate 16×16 pixel images. He sat on the idea until Google released Deep Dream in July, 2015 and lit a fire under the AI graphics community, inspiring a variety of projects. On September 14 the Washington Post published a series of Karl’s images repainting the American presidents using Picasso’s styles. The response to that article inspired him to build the app and cloud backend that would become Pikazo.

Everything The Light Touches

The app can incorporate different artistic styles and even use your own images to change original images. This is a picture of me melded with clockwork. It is, as you can see, pretty freaky. You can grab the app here.