AI brings century-old footage back to life

Developers use AI tools to bring life to century-old footage of New York, Beijing and Moscow.

YouTuber Denis Shiryaev has given vintage footage of New York, Moscow, Paris and Victorian England a 4K upgrade using artificial intelligence (AI).

Filmed in 1911, A Trip Through New York City is one of the many treasures at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York.

Shot by a Swedish film production company, the black and white footage has been restored using neural networks to create a colourised, sharper version of the black and white movie.

The film transports viewers back in time to the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, the New York Harbor and the famous Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue. 

The technological feat was performed using tools such as Gigapixel AI from Topaz Labs, and DAIN – Depth-Aware Video Frame Interpolation. They are algorithms powered by neural networks – or computers designed like primitive brains. 

According to Topaz’s website, Gigapixel AI “uses the power of Topaz’s proprietary Artistic Intelligence engine to make sharper and clearer upscaled images more than traditional upscaling tools”. It reportedly makes more than a million calculations when working on each individual pixel.

The DAIN algorithm, created by researchers from the United States and China, adds artificial frames to the video to bring it up to 60 frames per second. 

ESGRAN, another AI system, adds realistic texture to boost its resolution.

Shiryaev also added ambient sound to the footage using freely available software tools. The original films are all silent, as synchronised recorded sound was not available at the time. 

His work also inspired other developers.

About 100 years ago, a Canadian photographer wandered around Beijing to record life in China’s capital city. The rare black and white footage captured a time when people still travelled on camels and rickshaws, and men wore their hair in long braids in the back. 

Now a Chinese game developer has given this old, grainy video a facelift using AI technology.

DGSpitzer said he combined several AI tools to bring history back to life, having based his project on tutorials provided by Shiryaev.

This report was produced and edited by Al Jazeera NewsFeed’s Katya Bohdan.