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"2D Faces, 3D Heads & Deep Learning : A look into the near future"

Mar 4, 2021

One news article that caught our attention this week was a video featuring Mr Tom Cruise.

Now, as a fan of Mr Cruise (particularly the Kubrick film 'Eyes Wide Shut' from 1999), Creative Designer Anthony Price always jumps at the chance to see what Mr Cruise is up to, as we know 'Mission: Impossible 7' is on its way ! ... However, this wasn't really Mr Cruise in this video. Although through its incredible accuracy of the visual/physical portrayal of Mr Cruise, convincing millions of viewers that it was him, the video was in fact a very competent example of a 'deepfake', a synthetic video created by the manipulating powers of the latest 'deep learning' AI technology.

So... What's this got to do with 3D Chocolate Printing ? ... Keep reading.

Although most of our users are focused on creating their own 2D and 3D designs using our gallery examples as inspiration, we receive regular questions from them about the rendering of 2D human faces and full 3D human heads. When it comes to 3D Chocolate Printing newcomers and CAD novices, producing a 2D face or a 3D head is still the hardest task of all, for 3 main reasons.

[1] To produce a 2D face, either a photograph has to be used as a structural foundation and carefully converted into linework by hand, or an ambitious user can attempt to draw a portrait from scratch that will easily convert into an STL --- Neither method can be considered quickfire, and both require an understanding of what the image will look like when printed in lines of liquid chocolate.

[2] For a full 3D head, it requires time, scanning equipment, and knowledge of 3D CAD and digital sculpting (as edits often need to be made to achieve an acceptable result) --- This is not something a chocolatier would offer as a standard in-store service due to the amount of work involved.

[3] It is important to understand that results will only be in 0.8mm resolution, so only 40~50 lines of horizontal resolution at the very most, which will not show any of the tiny details that people may expect to see - The best results are going to be a simple structural outline at appoximately 40mm in height. (This is, however, not a flaw in our technology - We designed the Choc Creator to produce miniature edible prints which it does amazingly well, and it was never designed to replace moulding, which is the best, tried-and-tested method of producing everything from chocolate santas to pralines, including both hollow and solid spherical objects [which is the shape of a human head broken down into its simplest form]. The idea of producing 2D faces and 3D heads in chocolate was a concept developed by our team members Mark and Anthony together, and it was successful and even made headline news, but due to practicality it is not something we endlessly promote, as our users are mostly chocolatiers without the need for such a repertoire and/or desire to dedicate a great deal of time to a single print - Designing an abstracture 3D sculpture is not the same as scanning and scultping a 3D human head, with most chocolatiers learning how to do the former within a few weeks.)

So... again... What's this got to do with Tom Cruise and 3D Chocolate Printing ? ... I promise you we're getting there !

Although, we have enjoyed our success with 2D faces and 3D heads, we do not tend to overly promote this concept, as the amount of effort required to create a single print is often deemed too much for busy chocolatiers or those without CAD skill or ALM understanding, and we never give our users or followers the illusion that any form of 3D design can be done with their eyes closed and hands tied behind their back. Many users have, however, moved onto 3D heads once they have mastered the art of creating their own 2D and 3D designs, often purchasing a hand-held scanner which itself can be costly for the better models.

Successfully scanning a head and then creating an STL for low resolution chocolate printing will all depend on one's level of skill with both CAD design and face scanning equipment/software. As we simply cannot gauge every user's level of skill, we cannot say how easy or difficult an individual will find the process. Similarly, every head that is scanned will be the head of a different person, all with completely different facial features, with certain features printing better than others, with some becoming largely indiscernible at 0.8mm (or even 0.4mm) resolution.

One thing we do see a lot of is people marketing moulded chocolate as "3D" chocolate, which creates confusion - After all isn't all chocolate a 3-dimensional object ? ... There are companies we have encountered that scan heads and then print the results in a non-foodsafe plastic, and then create moulds from non-foodsafe silicon. The resulting chocolate produced from these moulds is marketed as "3D chocolate", and is in our opinion not suitable for consumption due to the lack of care to source suitable foodgrade printing and moulding materials. This process is not how the Choc Creator V2.0 Plus works, as the 3D Chocolate Printing process is an ALM (Additive Layer Manufacturing) process, aka printing layer-by-layer. The confusion caused by people trying to make money using the buzz word "3D" is something our team has to deal with daily, and every link we receive to a 3D chocolate head takes us to an image of something produced using a non-foodsafe moulding method.

For those users still wanting to produce 3D heads with their Choc Creator V2.0 Plus, it's worth noting that scanners have dropped in price considerably over last few years, with many models appearing in Black Friday sales for up to half the price. Likewise, there are i5 laptops available now at affordable prices that can smoothly run 3D sculpting software, making the editing and final tweaking of scans much easier.

Perhaps most importantly, the last few years have seen an exciting development in software for use in the rendering of 2D human faces / 3D human heads.... and here's where Mr Tom Cruise comes into it.

The advent of 'deep learning' has led to some amazing advancements, which most people will now be familiar with thanks to videos such as the one of Mr Cruise who we all know now is NOT Mr Cruise. Footage seen on the internet, such as these 'deepfakes', show the power of AI in 2021, with human faces replacing other human faces without the need to digitally paint or sculpt them, which until recently only a Hollywood special-effects artist could do, and then not always convincingly despite their best efforts. 'Deep learning' enables 'thinking computers' to render faces from as little as two or three flat/2D images, and the Choc Edge team have seen some results that lead us to believe there will soon be affordable 'Neural Network Software' available that will enable the auto-rendering of 2D faces as contour drawings (as if hand-drawn by an illustrator and therefore perfect for chocolate printing), and full 3D heads that are auto-sculpted from a set of flat/2D images with no requirement for anything more than the simplest of instructions (guidance maps) for the manipulation, which will make the process of creating an exportable 3D head model for chocolate printing so much quicker and easier.

It is, however, important to keep in mind that much of the beta software we are currently seeing is only image-based, meaning its output is pixel-based/raster = photo/video media (again, the Mr Cruise video is a perfect example of this), so software houses need to keep developing in order to enable the 'deep learning' programs to generate suitably 3D modelled results to export as an STL to slice into a G-code for 3D Chocolate Printing.

As Choc Edge is not a team of 'Neural Network Engineers', we ourselves have to wait a little longer to see what software options become available to make the creation of 2D faces and 3D heads a little easier for novices and our chocolatier user-base. There are some amazing beta apps appearing, and we've tried most of them, but they aren't quite ready yet and need another year of two of development to meet the needs of unskilled/novice users - Remember; It's a case of all or nothing for those chocolatiers without the necessary computer skills --- Even if an app does half the work automatically, it still leaves the user with the need to finish the job, and that will likely involve the use of a CAD program, which is what we want to overcome.

In summary, there's a very exciting time ahead of us ! 

For chocolatiers who want to print 2D faces but are not confident using basic CAD programs, our CHOCDRAW doodle app might be the answer - The results will naturally be hand-drawn caricatures that are looser and less accurate than a photo conversion, but the process is quick and simple enough for young children.

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