The tool collects all of one's images of a person and creates a short "film," which shows the person aging and making different facial expressions

Photo collections can become excessive, whether you have boxes of 4x6 prints or a cluttered mess of digital photos eating up space on your hard drive or digital camera's memory card. It can even be difficult to find the photo you're looking for if they're not organized, but now, University of Washington researchers have found a way to make life easier for photo hoarders.

Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, study leader and a UW postdoctoral researcher in computer science and engineering, along with co-authors Steve Seitz, UW professor of computer science and engineering, and Rahul Garg, UW postodoctoral student in computer science and engineering, have created a tool that collects all of one's images of a person and creates a short "film," which shows the person aging and making different facial expressions.

This new development builds on previous UW research that automatically organized tourist photos of buildings, and created a whole scene in 3D. This led to Microsoft's Photosynth, and now, the UW team is focusing on faces instead of buildings. However, faces are more difficult to work with because they age and change expression more rapidly. What has helped in this particular area is the progress made in facial recognition technology, which is being used in programs like Picasa and iPhoto as well as networks like Facebook.

The new tool works by scanning through a person's photo collection (if you fall into the "boxes of 4x6 prints" category, you'll have to scan them all onto the computer first). Facial recognition technology allows the owner to tag the photos and manually enter dates if possible, and then the software aligns a certain person's faces from youngest to oldest. It also notes major facial features, aligning different expressions with smooth transitions. The transitions are usually a standard cross-dissolve or fade between images, which gives the photos the illusion of motion.

One Google employee has already used the software to create a short film using several photos of the his or her daughter. The result was a montage that appeared as a film, chronicling the girls life from birth to age 20 in less than a minute.

"I have 10,000 photos of my 5-year-old son, taken over every possible expression," said Seitz. "I would like to visualize how he changes over time, be able to see all the expressions he makes, be able to see him in 3D or animate him from the photos."

A version of this software is already for sale to the public, called Face Movie. It's part of Google's Picasa, and plays a "movie" of a person's face, but not necessarily in chronological order.

"There's been a lot of interest in the computer vision community in modeling faces, but almost all of the projects focus on specially acquired photos, taken under carefully controlled conditions," said Seitz. "This is one of the first papers to focus on unstructured photo collections, taken under different conditions, of the type that you would find in iPhoto or Facebook."

Kemelmacher-Shlizerman will present the research next week at the Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) in Vancouver, B.C.

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