Category: Synthetic Data Applications

Facial Landmark Detection with Synthetic Data: Case Study

Today we have something very special for you: fresh results of our very own machine learning researchers! We discuss a case study that would be impossible without synthetic data: learning to recognize facial landmarks (keypoints on a human face) in unprecedented numbers and with unprecedented accuracy. We will begin by discussing why facial landmarks are important, show why synthetic data is inevitable here, and then proceed to our recent results.

Why Facial Landmarks?

Facial landmarks are certain key points on a human face that define the main facial features: nose, eyes, lips, jawline, and so on. Detecting such key points on in-the-wild photographs is a basic computer vision problem that could help considerably for a number of face-related applications. For example:

head pose estimation, that is, finding out where a person is looking and where the head is turned right now;

gaze estimation, a problem important for mobile and wearable devices that we discussed recently;

recognizing emotions (that are reflected in moving landmarks) and other conditions; in particular, systems recognizing driver fatigue often rely on facial landmarks in preprocessing.

There are several different approaches to how to define facial landmarks; here is an illustration of no less than eight approaches from Sagonas et al. (2016) who introduced yet another standard:

Their standard became one of the most widely used in industry. Named iBug68, it consists of 68 facial landmarks defined as follows (the left part shows the definitions, and the right part shows the variance of landmark points as captured by human annotators):

The iBug68 standard was introduced together with the “300 Faces in the Wild” dataset; true to its name, it contains 300 faces with landmarks labeled by agreement of several human annotators. The authors also released a semi-automated annotation tool that was supposed to help researchers label other datasets—and it does quite a good job.

All this happened back in 2013-2014, and numerous deep learning models have been developed for facial landmarks detection since then. So what’s the problem? Can we assume that facial landmarks are either solved or, at least, are not suffering from the problems that synthetic data would alleviate?

Synthetic Landmarks: Number does Matter

Not quite. As it often happens in machine learning, the problem is more quantitative than qualitative: existing datasets of landmarks can be insufficient for certain tasks. 68 landmarks are enough to get good head pose estimation, but definitely not enough to, say, obtain a full 3D reconstruction of a human head and face, a problem that we discussed very recently and deemed very important for 3D avatars, the Metaverse, and other related problems. 

For such problems, it would be very helpful to move from datasets of several dozen landmarks to datasets of at least several hundred landmarks that would outline the entire face oval and densely cover the most important lines on a human face. Here is a sample face with 68 iBug landmarks on the left and 243 landmarks on the right:

And we don’t have to stop there, we can move on to 460 points (left) or even 1001 points (right):

The more the merrier! If we are able to detect hundreds of keypoints on a face it would significantly improve the accuracy of 3D face reconstruction and many other computer vision problems.

However, by now you probably already realize the main problem of these extended landmark standards: there are no datasets, and there is little hope of ever getting them. It was hard enough to label 68 points by hand, the original dataset had only 300 photos; labeling several hundred points on a scale sufficient to train models to recognize them would be certainly prohibitive.

This sounds like a case for synthetic data, right? Indeed, the face shown above is not real, it is a synthetic data point produced by our very own Human API. When you have a synthetic 3D face in a 3D scene that you control, it is absolutely no problem to have as many landmarks as you wish. What’s even more important, you can easily play with the positions of these landmarks and choose which set of points gives you better results in downstream tasks—imagine how hard it would be if you had to get updated human annotations every time you changed landmark locations!

So at this point, we have a source of unlimited synthetic facial landmark datasets. It only remains to find out whether they can indeed help train better models.

Training on Synthetic Landmarks

We have several sets of synthetic landmarks, and we want to see how well we are able to predict them. As the backbone for our deep learning model we used HourglassNet, a venerable convolutional architecture that has been used for pose estimation and similar problems since it was introduced by Newell et al. (2016):

The input here is an image, and the output is a tensor that specifies all landmarks.

To train on synthetic data, we couple this backbone with the discriminator-free adversarial learning (DALN) approach introduced very recently by Chen et al. (2022); this is actually another paper from CVPR 2022 so you can consider this part a continuation of our CVPR ‘22 series.

Usually, unsupervised domain adaptation (UDA) works in an adversarial way by

either training a discriminator to distinguish between features extracted from source domain inputs (synthetic data) and target domain inputs (real data), training the model to make this discriminator fail,

or learning a source domain classifier and a target domain classifier at the same time, training them to perform the same on the source domain and as different as possible on the target domain while training the model to keep the classification results similar on the target domain.

DALN suggested a third option for adversarial UDA: it trains only one classifier, with no additional discriminators, and reuse the classifier as a discriminator. The resulting loss function is a combination of a regular classification loss on the source domain and a special adversarial loss on the target domain that is minimized by the model and maximized by the classifier’s weights:

We have found that this approach works very well, but we had an additional complication. Our synthetic datasets have more landmarks than iBug68. This means that we cannot use real data to help train the models in a regular “mix-and-match” fashion, simply adding it in some proportion together with the synthetic data. We could pose our problem as pure unsupervised domain adaptation, but that would mean we were throwing away perfectly good real labelings, which also does not sound like a good idea.  

To use the available real data, we introduced the idea of label transfer on top of DALN: our model outputs a tensor of landmarks as they appear in synthetic data, and then an additional small network is trained to convert this tensor into iBug68 landmarks. As a result, we get the best of both worlds: most of our training comes from synthetic data, but we can also fine-tune the model with real iBug68 datasets through this additional label transfer network.

Finally, another question arises: okay, we know how to train on real data via an auxiliary network, but how do we test the model? We don’t have any labeled real data with our newly designed extra dense landmarks, and labeling even a test set by hand is very problematic. There is no perfect answer here but we found two good ones: we test either only on the points that should exactly coincide with iBug landmarks (if they exist) or train a small auxiliary network to predict iBug landmarks, fix it, and test the rest. Both approaches show that the resulting model is able to predict dense landmarks, and both synthetic and real data are useful for the model even though the real part only has iBug landmarks.

Quantitative results

At this point, we understand the basic qualitative ideas that are behind our case study. It’s time to show the money, that is, the numbers!

First of all, we need to set the metric for evaluation. We are comparing sets of points that have a known 1-to-1 correspondence so the most straightforward way would be to calculate the average distance between corresponding points. Since we want to be able to measure quality on real datasets, we need to use iBug landmarks in the metric, not extended synthetic sets of landmarks. And, finally, different images will have faces shown at different scales, so it would be a bad idea to measure the distances directly in pixels or fractions of image size. This brings us to the evaluation metric computed as

where n is the number of landmarks, yi are the ground truth landmark positions, f(xi) are the landmark positions predicted by the model, and pupil are the positions of the left and right pupil of the face in question (this is the normalization coefficient). The coefficient 100 is introduced simply to make the numbers easier to read.

With this, we can finally show the evaluation tables! The full results will have to wait for an official research paper, but here are some of the best results we have now.

Both tables below show evaluations on the iBug dataset. It is split into four parts: the common training set (you only pay attention to this metric to ensure that you avoid overfitting), the common test set (main test benchmark), a specially crafted subset of challenging examples, and a private test set from the associated competition. We will show the synthetic test set, common test set from iBug, and their challenging test set as a proxy for generalizing to a different use case.

In the table below, we show all four iBug subsets; to get the predictions, in this table we predict all synthetic landmarks (490 keypoints in this case!) and then choose a subset of them that most closely corresponds to iBug landmarks and evaluate on it.

Synthetic test set
Common test set
Challenging test set

Trained on synthetic data only

Trained on syn+real data with label adaptation

Unsupervised model with a discriminator

Supervised model trained on real data only


The table above shows only a select sample of our results, but it already compares quite a few variations of our basic model described above:

the model trained on purely synthetic data; as you can see, this variation loses significantly to all other ways to train, so using real data definitely helps;

the model trained on a mix of labeled real and synthetic data with the help of label adaptation as we have described above; we have investigated several different variations of label adaptation networks and finally settled on a small U-Net-like architecture;

the model trained adversarially in an unsupervised way; “unsupervised” here means that the model never sees any labels on real data, it uses labeled synthetic data and unlabeled real data with an extra discriminator that ensures that the same features are extracted on both domains; again, we have considered several different ways to organize unsupervised domain adaptation and show only the best one here.

But wait, what’s that bottom line in the table and how come it shows by far the best results? This is the most straightforward approach: train the model on real data from the iBug dataset (common train) and don’t use synthetic data at all. While the model shows some signs of overfitting, it still outperforms every other model very significantly.

One possible way to sweep this model under the rug would be to say that this model doesn’t count because it is not able to show us any landmarks other than iBug’s, so it can’t provide the 490 or 1001 landmarks that other models do. But still — why does it win so convincingly? How can it be that adding extra (synthetic) data hurts performance in all scenarios and variations?

The main reason here is that iBug landmarks are not quite the same as the landmarks that we predict, so even the nearest corresponding points introduce some bias that shows in all rows of the table. Therefore, we have also introduced another evaluation setting: let’s predict synthetic landmarks and then use a separate small model (a multilayer perceptron) to convert the predicted landmarks into iBug landmarks, in a procedure very similar to label adaptation that we have used to train the models. We have trained this MLP on the same common train set.

The table below shows the new results.

Synthetic test set
Common test set
Challenging test set

Trained on synthetic data only

Trained on syn+real data with label adaptation

Unsupervised model with a discriminator

As you can see, this test-time label adaptation has improved the results across the board, and very significantly! However, they still don’t quite match the supervised model, so some further research into better label adaptation is still in order. The relative order of the model has remained more or less the same, and the mixed syn+real model with label adaptation done with a small U-Net-like architecture wins again, quite convincingly although with a smaller margin than before.


We have obtained significant improvements in facial landmark detection, but most importantly, we have been able to train models to detect dense collections of hundreds of landmarks that have never been labeled before. And all this has been made possible with synthetic data: manual labeling would never allow us to have a large dataset with so many landmarks. This short post is just a summary: we hope to prepare a full-scale paper about this research soon.

Kudos to our ML team, especially Alex Davydow and Daniil Gulevskiy, for making this possible! And see you next time!

Sergey NikolenkoHead of AI, Synthesis AI

P.S. Have you noticed the cover images today? They were produced by the recently released Stable Diffusion model, with prompts related to facial landmarks. Consider it a teaser for a new series of posts to come…

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Inside AI Ask Me Anything (AMA) with CEO and Founder, Yashar Behzadi

Synthesis AI CEO and Founder Yashar Behzadi recently sat down for an Ask Me Anything with our friends at Inside AI. The discussion was wide-ranging, touching on what’s next for generative AI, how synthetic data is generated and used, overcoming model bias, and the ethics of AI systems. If you’re tinkering with generative AI and need representative synthetic human data for developing ML models ethically, we’d love to talk — contact us any time.

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Easier, Faster, More Powerful: Fall, ‘22 Release

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Introducing Synthesis Humans & Synthesis Scenarios

Our mission here at Synthesis AI has been the same since our initial launch: To enable more capable and ethical AI. Our unique platform couples generative AI with cinematic CGI pipelines to enable the on-demand generation of photorealistic, diverse and perfectly labeled images and videos. Synthesis AI gives ML practitioners more tools, greater accuracy, and finer control over their data for developing, training and tuning computer vision models.

The Fall ‘22 Release stays true to our mission by introducing two new products, Synthesis Humans and Synthesis Scenarios, both built on top of our core data generation platform. The two new products introduce features to help ML practitioners build and implement more sophisticated models and ship CV products faster and more cost-effectively.

Synthesis Humans

Synthesis Humans enables ML practitioners to create sophisticated production-scale models, providing over 100,000 unique identities and the ability to modify dozens of attributes, including emotion, body type, clothing and movement. An intuitive user interface (UI) allows developers to create labeled training data quickly, and a comprehensive API – formerly HumanAPI – supports teams that prefer programmatic access and control.Synthesis Humans is ideal for generating detailed facial and body images and videos with never-before-available rich annotations, offering 100 times greater depth and breadth of diversity than any other provider. There is a broad range of computer vision use cases that currently benefit from the use of synthetic and synthetic-hybrid approaches to model training and deployment, including:

ID verification. Biometric facial identification is used widely to ensure consumer privacy and protection. Applications include smartphones, online banking, contactless ticketing, home and enterprise access,  and other instances of user authentication. Robust, unbiased model performance requires large amounts of diverse facial data. This data is difficult to obtain given privacy and regulatory constraints, and publicly available datasets are insufficient for production systems. Synthesis Humans provides the most diverse data in a fully privacy-compliant manner to enable the development of more robust and less biased ID verification models, complete with confounds such as facial hair, glasses, hats, and masks.

Driver and passenger monitoring. Car manufacturers, suppliers and AI companies are looking to build computer vision systems to monitor driver state and help improve safety. Recent EU regulations have catalyzed the development of more advanced solutions, but the diverse, high-quality in-car data needed to train AI models is labor-intensive and expensive to obtain. Synthesis Humans can accurately model diverse drivers, key behaviors, and the in-cabin environment (including passengers) to enable the cost-effective and efficient development of more capable models. A driver or machine operator’s gaze, emotional state, and use of a smartphone or similar device are key variables for training ML models.

Avatars. Avatar development relies on photorealistic capture and recreation of humans in the digital realm. Developing avatars and creating these core ML models requires vast amounts of diverse, labeled data. Synthesis Humans provides richly labeled 3D data across the broadest set of demographics available. We continue to lead the industry by providing 5,000 dense landmarks, which allows for a highly nuanced and realistic understanding of the human face.

Virtual Try-on. New virtual try-on technologies are emerging to provide immersive digital consumer experiences. Synthesis Humans offers 100K unique identities, dozens of body types, and millions of clothing combinations to enable ML engineers to develop robust models for human body form and pose. Synthesis Humans provides fine-grained subsegmentation controls over face, body, clothing and accessories.

VFX. Creating realistic character motion and facial movements requires complex motion capture systems and facial rigs. New AI models are in development to capture body pose, motion, and detailed facial features without the use of expensive and proprietary lighting, rigging and camera systems. AI is also automating much of the labor-intensive process of hand animation, background removal, and effects animation. Synthesis Humans is able to provide the needed diverse video data with detailed 3D labels to enable the development of core AI models.

AI fitness. The ability of computer vision systems to assess pose and form will usher in a new era in fitness, where virtual coaches are able to provide real-time feedback. For these models to work accurately and robustly, detailed 3D labeled human data is required across body types, camera positions, environments, and exercise variations. Synthesis Humans deliver vast amounts of detailed human body motion data to catalyze the development of new AI fitness applications for both individual and group training activities.

Synthesis Scenarios

Synthesis Scenarios is the first synthetic data technology that enables complex multi-human simulations across a varied set of environments. With fine-grained controls, computer vision teams can craft data scenarios to support sophisticated multi-human model development. Synthesis Scenarios enables new ML applications in areas with multi-person applications, where more than one person needs to be accounted for, analyzed, and modeled. Emerging applications for computer vision use cases incorporating more than a single person for model training and deployment include:

Autonomy & pedestrian detection. Safety is key to the deployment and widespread use of autonomous vehicles. The ability to detect, understand intent, and react appropriately to pedestrians is essential for safe and robust performance. Synthesis Scenarios provides detailed multi-human simulation to enable the development of more precise and sophisticated pedestrian detection and behavioral understanding across ages, body shapes, clothing and poses.

AR/VR/Metaverse: AR/VR and metaverse applications require vast amounts of diverse, labeled data, particularly when multiple people and their avatars are interacting virtually. Synthesis Scenarios supports the development of multi-person tracking and interaction models for metaverse applications.

Security. Synthesis Scenarios enables the simulation of complex multi-human scenarios across environments, including home, office and outdoor spaces,  enabling for the cost-effective and privacy-compliant development of access control and security systems. Camera settings are fully configurable and customizable.

Teleconferencing. With the surge in remote work, we are dependent on high-quality video conferencing solutions. However, low-bandwidth connections, poor image quality and lighting, and lack of engagement analysis tools significantly degrade the experience. Synthesis Scenarios can train new machine learning models to improve video quality and the teleconferencing experience, with advanced capabilities for hairstyles, clothing, full body pose landmarks, attention monitoring, and multiple camera angles.

Synthesis AI was built by ML practitioners for ML practitioners. If you’ve got a human-centric computer vision project that might benefit from synthetic data, and you’ve exhausted all of the publicly available datasets to train your ML models, we can help. Reach out to set up a quick demo and learn how to incorporate synthetic data into your ML pipeline.

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Synthetic Data, Technical Standards & the Metaverse

What role should standards play in the development of the Metaverse? That’s the question we’ll be tackling at our upcoming panel discussion, “Technical Standards for the MetaVerse” as part of the MetaBeat event taking place online and in San Francisco on October 4, 2022. Synthesis AI CEO and founder Yashar Behadi will be joined onstage by Rev Labaredian, NVIDIA; Neil Trevitt, Khronos Group; and Javier Bello Ruiz, IMVERSE. Dean Takahashi, lead writer for GamesBeat, moderates.

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How Synthetic data is used to build the Metaverse

As we discussed in part 1, the Metaverse has the potential to fundamentally alter just about every aspect of human existence. The way we work, play, interact with others, and more is going to move into a virtual reality sooner than many people imagine. With pixel-perfect labeling, synthetic data could be the key to unlocking the metaverse.

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Synthetic data can unlock the Metaverse

The Metaverse has been firmly established in the world of science fiction for decades now. With blockbuster titles like Neuromancer, The Matrix, Ready Player One, and other works of popular media, it is a concept that has long captured the public imagination. With the rapid advances of artificial intelligence and computer imaging technology, we appear to be on the cusp of making it a reality.

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Synthetic Data and the Metaverse

Today, we are talking about the Metaverse, a bold vision for the next iteration of the Internet consisting of interconnected virtual spaces. The Metaverse is a buzzword that had sounded entirely fantastical for a very long time. But lately, it looks like technology is catching up, and we may live to see the Metaverse in the near future. In this post, we discuss how modern artificial intelligence, especially computer vision, is enabling the Metaverse, and how synthetic data is enabling the relevant parts of computer vision.

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Synthetic Data for Safe Driving

The role of synthetic data in developing solutions for autonomous driving is hard to understate. In a recent post, I already touched upon virtual outdoor environments for training autonomous driving agents, and this is a huge topic that we will no doubt return to later. But today, I want to talk about a much more specialized topic in the same field: driver safety monitoring. It turns out that synthetic data can help here as well—and today we will understand how. This is a companion post for our recent press release.

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Synthetic Data Case Studies: It Just Works

In this (very) long post, we present an entire whitepaper on synthetic data, proving that synthetic data works even without complicated domain adaptation techniques in a wide variety of practical applications. We consider three specific problems, all related to human faces, show that synthetic data works for all three, and draw some other interesting and important conclusions.

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Top 5 Applications of Synthetic Data

It’s been a while since we last met on this blog. Today, we are having a brief interlude in the long series of posts on how to make machine learning models better with synthetic data (that’s a long and still unfinished series: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI). I will give a brief overview of five primary fields where synthetic data can shine. You will see that most of them are related to computer vision, which is natural for synthetic data based on 3D models. Still, it makes sense to clarify where exactly synthetic data is already working well and where we expect synthetic data to shine in the nearest future.

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