Create your own 1980s police sketch, online via virtual Mac
May 5, 2020 9:42 PM   Subscribe

MeFite odinsdream recently came across some old abandoned police sketch software for Macintosh systems from the 1980s, then wrapped it up in a web-based emulator, and now you can play with it in your browser! Make your own face sketches. [via mefi projects]
posted by filthy light thief (40 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Poking around the internet, I found what may be the software in question, via Macintosh Repository. I don't have a way of testing the software for viruses and/or functionality, so user beware.

I also found this very informative scholarly article Constructing facial composites with the mac-a-mug pro system, from 1997. The take-away: "The resulting composites were of low quality (not at all similar to a photograph of the target) and were of no value in selecting the target from a group of similar-looking people. It was suggested that the Mac-A-Mug Pro system is not useful for realistic witness settings, in which witnesses must construct the composites from memory."

Also relevant: with this site, I made a mug, or digital police sketch, and then I made a mug with that mug (virtually).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:46 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]

There's a pretty fascinating article (warning: PDF) from 1987, examining the use of Mac-A-Mug and a couple of other programs for generating data for facial perception studies.
posted by hanov3r at 11:18 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]

Hello. This is part of a series of projects I'm doing in restoring "vintage" macintosh hardware. I've got a Color Classic II fully running now and hope to start doing Ethernet experiments with that. I'll keep posting them to Projects if there's interest.
posted by odinsdream at 11:27 PM on May 5 [45 favorites]

Presumably uses the mighty PCE.js. Now you can relive those heady days playing MacPlaymate as a teen!
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:56 AM on May 6

SO many mullets!
posted by pipeski at 2:10 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

Finally found a source for a new profile picture. Awesome thanks 👍
posted by captain afab at 4:03 AM on May 6 [11 favorites]

I grew up with a Macintosh SE. I used to make black-and-white "art" in MacPaint and print it out on the dot matrix printer. I would've spent hours on this every week.
posted by sugar and confetti at 4:40 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]

Are there no women? Or did I miss how to do that?

Also, what is the cap at the far right end of the spectrum (under Misc) -- looks like a surgical crub cap?
posted by Mchelly at 6:17 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]

One million types of aviator glasses and no classic frames! :P
posted by mazola at 6:40 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

I spent waaay too long last night getting this running under System 6.0.8 on Mini vMac just so I could do PDF export via LaserWriter and ExportPS. The conclusion is in line with Dr. Ian Malcolm's famous statement. I used the copy found at Macintosh Garden. The semi-neat thing about Mac-a-Mug Pro is that it's written in MS BASIC for Macintosh.

PCE seems to use a weird image format. hfsutils can read it, but Mini vMac won't. Everyhting about using a forked filesystem seems so quaint and tiresome these days
posted by scruss at 7:12 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]

Peak Mac OS right there. Triggered.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:18 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

scruss: Ya, getting the disk images correct on my end to run in PCE required me making a zero-filled file, dd'ing a known-good PCE partition table on top, re-initializing the disk in PCE and then copying the system stuff onto it. Kind of a mess. I think PCE just doesn't like partition images, preferring a full hard disk image.
posted by odinsdream at 7:45 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

This is incredibly fun, and makes me feel like I'm working up my suite of disguises for my appearance on a fresh season of The Americans.
posted by COBRA! at 8:22 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

That's pretty awesome! As someone who spends a not insignificant amount of time in the character creation step of video games, this appealed to me. One suggestion, add a share button that maybe uses URL query params to populate the app? Also, much thanks and respect for all the work that went into this.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 8:50 AM on May 6

Oh, and I bet that anyone interested in such things would be fascinated with all the various hairstyles, as those are probably a fairly accurate, non-biased representation of the common styles at the time. As compared to say, just looking at TV, movies, and magazines from that time period.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 9:00 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

It's really interesting to compare this to the Wii, or the Switch, or MeMoji to see how the UI has changed.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:14 AM on May 6

I was particularly interested in the choice to not make gender a selection at all, much less a binary one, rather relying on building up a face from individual components.
posted by odinsdream at 9:15 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]

That's pretty awesome! As someone who spends a not insignificant amount of time in the character creation step of video games, this appealed to me. One suggestion, add a share button that maybe uses URL query params to populate the app? Also, much thanks and respect for all the work that went into this.

Getting stuff into a mac image is non-trivial. I wouldn't even know where to begin with an automated set of scripts to do this from a modern OS to these ancient disk images. Most of the tools I've been using are very small open source projects and some are just abandoned entirely. All of them require hands-on efforts to use.

Which is super unfortunate, cause the Save and Load mechanism within Mac-a-Mug Pro is actually super easy, it's just a text file and it could totally be parsed and saved and re-loaded.
posted by odinsdream at 9:20 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

By the way I'd love to see y'alls creations especially if you're trying to make real people. If you want to share imgur links or something.
posted by odinsdream at 9:22 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

Well, even holding up a pic of me on my phone I didn't even get close to it in about 10 minutes of kicking around. LIke a lot of these things, knowledge of the types of features and being able to jump to them (ie listening to someone describing lips and the going to, say, lip option 18) would make this better. I found that going through it incrementally just meant I ended up with a bland, non offensive face that just looked 'right' or balanced rather than what I was going for. So I'd find a pair of ears that looked right, then change the mouth and have to start again with the ears because now they didn't 'work' and looked unreal.

Fascinating, but I suck at it. All criminals would be safe, if it were up to me to ID them and Generic Joe would be spending a LOT of time telling people 15 alibis for the last 2 weeks.
posted by Brockles at 9:33 AM on May 6

odinsdream, That makes total sense, no worries. As an aside, given my age and having grown up in the 80s and 90s, the results I come up with are pretty heavily freighted with a certain bias. A bias built on countless, if casual, observations of news stories, America's Most Wanted, and similar programming.

I guess what I'm try to say is that this app could be subtitled "Sex Pervert Simulator '85".
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 9:34 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

Wow, that interface. As the abstract confirms, it's hard to imagine actually using this software to reconstruct a face accurately. Does the user just click through 100+ hairstyles until they find one that seems right? Do they then continue through all the remaining ones to see if they find something better? Maybe there was a manual that lists all the composite pieces.

It is pretty great for generating a semi-random face though. They really missed the opportunity to include a "random" button and market it as a fun face-making toy rather than a serious piece of law enforcement software (This Person Doesn't Exist '86) . I would have loved this as a kid too.
posted by subocoyne at 9:39 AM on May 6

By the way I'd love to see y'alls creations especially if you're trying to make real people. If you want to share imgur links or something.
posted by odinsdream

Here I am!
posted by COBRA! at 9:43 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]

In other news: software UX sucked in the 1980s, at least for GUIs. These days this wouldn't cut it as an open-source Linux app.
posted by acb at 9:44 AM on May 6

A few noble creations, set up as a "Name Their Crime" game.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 9:50 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

Well that first one is clearly Rep. Dan Crenshaw.
posted by odinsdream at 10:03 AM on May 6

This is me! Original source (wow, I need to trim my mustache)

In terms of, like, actual mug shots? That's a fair enough likeness to warrant investigating me, if an eyewitness / mug shot artist team came up with that picture.
posted by hanov3r at 10:57 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]

set up as a "Name Their Crime" game

That last one is charged with "excessive pull requests against the Linux kernel".
posted by hanov3r at 10:59 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]

Are there no women? Or did I miss how to do that?

Like odinsdream notes, it just plain doesn't subscribe to an explicit top-down genderedness, which is...startlingly revolutionary feeling taken in the context of the ensuing 30+ years of character creation engines in video games. It feels like only recently, and then still only sparingly, are we seeing high-polish non-indie games starting to come around to the idea of building a character rather than building A Man or A Woman.

Going through the options on stuff, there's what feels like a minority of the individual feature choices that feel coded explicitly femme, and a lot that feel coded pretty masc, and a mix that could read pretty androgynous. I like the subtlety of shading that can allow in thinking about the gender presentation of any given constructed face. It's also interesting to think about what some of the very-80s hairstyles read as in an 80s context vs. through a contemporary retro and/or queer view of that aesthetic.

I made an unflattering self-portrait that feels like a compelling alternate reality me who got arrested for trying to buy weed in a Circle K parking lot in 1983. I also made a portrait of the shag-cut tomboy woman who was dealing, but I accidentally closed the browser tab before I screenshotted it. I like to think she got away from the cops.
posted by cortex at 11:17 AM on May 6 [9 favorites]

This is the first avatar creation platorm I've ever used that has my hairstyle.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:13 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]

This is like, so close and yet so far from me but in a super satisfying way? Help, I'm having gender feelings.
posted by brook horse at 1:31 PM on May 6 [8 favorites]

Eeee yayy!
posted by odinsdream at 1:46 PM on May 6

Some of those noses were not from humans.

My mugshot of me ended up looking just like my father.
posted by acrasis at 4:35 PM on May 6

"Yes, officer! You've captured her likeness exactly! That's her, or my name isn't Pablo Picasso!" (Really enjoying the feature placement tools.)
posted by Syllepsis at 11:33 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]

It doesn't seem like there are any hairstyles specifically coded not-male, but I was able to make myself a pretty close likeness with maybe an hour of fiddling (I'm on my phone and the interface was tricky with a touchscreen, but I'm patient).

Didn't realize you can move the elements up and down at first. That helped a lot. The app was redrawing over certain areas as I fussed with things out of order, so for example if I chose a type of eyes and THEN a style of glasses, the eyes would kind of fade. Easily fixed by finalizing my choices and going back and clicking forward+back on each parameter in order.

Loved this. Sent to many friends. Thanks!!
posted by captain afab at 1:44 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]

Brook Horse, I felt that on a spiritual level. Lol
posted by captain afab at 1:45 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]

captain afab: the "refresh" button kind of redraws all the components in the right stacking order.
posted by odinsdream at 1:59 PM on May 7

"Erase" seems to do it a bit more consistently, in my experience? Hard to say.
posted by sagc at 2:01 PM on May 7

Pretty great! The lack of a size option is a big weakness, though. Some of the hairstyles straight-up don't match the chin shapes.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:03 PM on May 12

[one day in 1985, during Latin class]
me: [PSST]i'll trade you shufflepuck and flying toasters for this. and monopoly.
posted by not_on_display at 7:48 PM on June 2

« Older Hell, the only time you need them is if you get...   |   Aren't You a Little Short For a Stormtrooper? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments