You look funny … and familiar

By | July 24th, 2011 | No Comments
Miami Vice caricature by Dino DiArtist.

Caricature by South Florida mainstay Dino DiArtist (

“To better identify and remember people, we turn them into caricatures,” Wired reporter Ben Austen writes in “What Caricatures Can Teach Us About Facial Recognition”.

The story explores our incredible aptitude for distinguishing one visage from another by focusing on each punim’s peculiarities and how the mercilessly honest art of caricature — and its quirky practitioners — may hold the key to a post 9-11 Holy Grail: endowing computers with the ability to spot a terrorist. An excerpt:

Given current technology, the prospects for picking out future Mohamed Attas in a crowd are hardly brighter than they were on 9/11. In 2007, recognition programs tested by the German federal police couldn’t identify eight of 10 suspects. Just this February, a couple that accidentally swapped passports at the airport in Manchester, England, sailed through electronic gates that were supposed to match their faces to file photos.

All this leads science to a funny question. What if, to secure our airports and national landmarks, we need to learn more about caricature? After all, it’s the skill of the caricaturist—the uncanny ability to quickly distill faces down to their most salient features—that our computers most desperately need to acquire. Better cameras and faster computers won’t be enough. To pick terrorists out of a crowd, our bots might need to go to art school—or at least spend some time at the local amusement park.

Slated for the magazine’s August issue, Austen’s feature makes for good reading, particularly the sections set in Las Vegas, at the International Society of Caricature Artists annual gathering. Drawing 188 artists from 13 countries, the ISCA summit features a likeness competition (an ostensibly paradoxical pursuit for caricaturists), a speed-drawing competition, and a cast of characters with fittingly exaggerated self-regard. Quoth Jason Seiler, winner of the 2008 Golden Nosey award, describing the feeling of finally mastering his art: “You know at the end of The Matrix when Keanu Reeves sees the code falling everywhere, and all of a sudden he knows he’s the One? It’s a lot like that.”

A bit out of proportion, yes, but what do you expect from a caricaturist? And if it turns out that caricature is the key to preventing another 9/11, as the article suggests, Seiler’s self-aggrandizement might just be an understatement.


You can read “What Caricatures Can Teach Us About Facial Recognition” at The story has no direct Miami connection but will hopefully inspire a few caricaturists to cast their exaggerated eyes on the Sketchy Miami photo gallery. Calling all Beastheads!

Follow Beached Miami on Twitter (@beachedmiami) and Facebook and email and RSS.