Playmate meets the nerds.
February 13, 2005 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Perhaps one of the most viewed images ever, the “lena” image is used as a standard test of image processing algorithms. Bored engineers scanned Lena Sjööblom’s playmate centerfold into the USC image lab computer system to spice up a presentation on image processing. The lena image has been used countless times to evaluate image compression algorithms, not without some controversy. Enamoured with the image, the Society for Imaging Science and Technology invited Lena to attend their 50th annual meeting. (note, all links safe for work, though a few sites link to the full playboy image).
posted by phatboy (37 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, you really do learn something new -- and sexy -- everyday.
posted by chunking express at 5:09 PM on February 13, 2005

I was following this post in the lab here, where I work. The print techie walked in and saw the photo and the first word I hear is, "Lena!" He immediately recognized the photo. At the time, I didn't realize I was examining the full-body shot, so when I scrolled down I heard him whistle. "Whoa...Lena..." He just spent the last half-hour cueing her shot to the 11x17 tray.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:14 PM on February 13, 2005

Does this mean she's getting rich?
posted by glider at 5:16 PM on February 13, 2005

In this case, the image is owned by Playboy, not her. From the Wikipedia article:

The use of this image has produced some controversy, with some people concerned about its prurient content, and Playboy at one time threatening to prosecute over the unauthorized use of the image. The magazine has since abandoned the threats and has embraced the use of "Lenna" for publicity reasons. Wired says [1] "Although Playboy is notorious for cracking down on illegal uses of its images, it has decided to overlook the widespread distribution of this particular centerfold".

posted by vacapinta at 5:20 PM on February 13, 2005

I love stuff like this (it reminds me of Lorem Ipsum). Great post.
posted by rafter at 5:23 PM on February 13, 2005

This is great. I know I've seen the cropped pic before.
posted by riffola at 5:38 PM on February 13, 2005

Isn't there also some image of a Scandinavian leader from many years ago that is used as a standard in a way similar to the lena image? Anyone know the name of that guy?
posted by republican at 5:40 PM on February 13, 2005

The main thing that strikes me about this image is how much sexier it is compared to current playboy stuff. The playboy photographers in 1972 must have had a wider leeway on artistic presentation. The current centerfolds look boring in comparison.

Of course it could just be that I have stared at lena for 1000 cumulative hours looking for compression artifacts.
posted by phatboy at 5:48 PM on February 13, 2005

Took a C programming class last year in college, and this was the image used in our lesson on arrays. Whaddaya know!

She's aged well, btw.
posted by mowglisambo at 5:49 PM on February 13, 2005

Related computer imaging test models:

The Utah Teapot
The Stanford Bunny
posted by mr_roboto at 5:59 PM on February 13, 2005

Nice post, phatboy. Thanks. This got me googling for an archive or review of popular sample images used in image processing (e.g. the Mandrill) but my weak google-fu has failed to come up with anything consummate. Anybody got it?

[on preview, mr_roboto seems to be a mind reader. Anybody have anything comprehensive?]
posted by fatllama at 6:06 PM on February 13, 2005

As I was practicing in a professor's basement for my law school talent show, I noticed he had a box full of Playboys from the 1970's. I glanced through a bunch of them and goddamn were the women so much hotter back then or what? So normal and natural and round and with the tan lines and hot!
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:08 PM on February 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of the women that appeared in the countdown reels of films shown in schools in the sixties and seventies. They were always headshots of Scandinavian looking models that I recall were spliced in in place of six or seven of the countdown. They always got whistles from the boys in gradeschool. Some people I talk to remember them vividly while others have no clue what I'm talking about.

I recall years ago stumbling across a website collecting these images, but I can't figure out the keywords to find it again with Google.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:18 PM on February 13, 2005

wider leeway on artistic presentation

...that, and natural girls without any fake parts. The reason Playboy models these days look so pedestrian is because, for the most part, they are.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:44 PM on February 13, 2005

There's a small list of standard images used in testing compression algorithms and other graphics techniques: Lena, Mandrill, Barbara, Goldhill, Tiffany, Boat, France, etc.

Here's a demo using some of these samples. Here are some b&w thumbnails. Download some (in gzip).
posted by dhartung at 7:13 PM on February 13, 2005

There is a certain sameness. Breasts P/N 115, Hair P/N 337 in shade Blonde-42, makeup done according to Playboy Spec 12, Rev.2, 1998, using approved colors and appropriate templates for application.

Back in the day, the girls looked real. These look like they were mass-produced through injection molding. (Come to think of it...) And there was something more... natural... about their posing. As if they were actually having fun doing it, instead of looking bored.

You gotta get Playboy for the articles, because it sure doesn't make it on the variety of the models any more...

posted by JB71 at 7:17 PM on February 13, 2005

Correction - make that "Nowdays, these look like they were mass-produced..." Even with preview twice, I didn't catch that. Sorry...

posted by JB71 at 7:19 PM on February 13, 2005

For motion video compression, we also have some standard video sequences that stress the compression algorithms. The "cheerleaders" one comes to mind. Some of the others are "mobile/calendar", "susie", "flower garden", and typically are no more than a few seconds long and intended to be looped (played over and over). Watching THAT will drive you insane in no time so it's best to avert your eyes ...

Here is a research paper that rapidly gets extremely technical, but way down it does mention these test sequences.
posted by intermod at 7:51 PM on February 13, 2005
posted by RavinDave at 8:15 PM on February 13, 2005

I can't find it anywhere now, but I recall a similar thing used in film editing. It was a woman in some awful sixties clothes that became the unofficial standard for color correction for years. Something to do with skin tones. But since I can't find anything about it, I'm starting to think I'm lying.
posted by BigFatWhale at 8:27 PM on February 13, 2005

Gee, I wonder why so few women go into computing. Must be their inferior genetics.
posted by carmen at 8:39 PM on February 13, 2005

intermod: One of these days, I'm going to make a Brunching Shuttlecocks-esque rating sheet for those stupid sequences.

I think these are all MPEG2, so mplayer will handle them. Quicktime probably won't.


the dreaded flower sequence. Most computer vision papers don't include the part with the windmill, since they can't handle it.



and, last and most thoroughly dorky,
tennis. The spectators. How they got seven people with massive frontal cortex lesions to be filmed watching a table tennis match is beyond me.
posted by tss at 8:47 PM on February 13, 2005

Gee, I wonder why so few women go into computing.

Yeah, not to go all "porn is evil," but inviting her to the conference sends a definite if unintentional message about the place of women in the field.
posted by transona5 at 8:51 PM on February 13, 2005

That mobile/calendar is the most offensive thing I have ever witnessed. It's burned in my retinas.
posted by rafter at 8:53 PM on February 13, 2005

massive frontal cortex lesions
Uh, pretty tasteless. Sorry, folks. *guilt*

posted by tss at 9:13 PM on February 13, 2005

Ah, thanks dhartung. And tss for the movie set.
posted by fatllama at 9:28 PM on February 13, 2005

BigFatWhale: For decades, Kodak provided standard test negatives (and matching prints) of attractive, bored-looking young women who were universally referred to as "Shirleys".

When I followed the link to the Wiki article on "Lena", I was surprised that there wasn't a cross-referenced Wikipedia article about "Shirley". Somebody needs to write one.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:11 PM on February 13, 2005

See also the "Frauenbilderbuch" (women-pictures-book) by Martin Liebscher.

Liebscher worked as a projectionist for years and made a book out of the images that were used to focus and test color. I'm curious if there are other "dialect" test-images; I'm pretty sure these were of and for West Germany, but I could be way wrong.
posted by cloudscratcher at 10:12 PM on February 13, 2005

Thanks as AsYouKnow Bob. That's exactly what I was thinking of. I'm pretty sure I read about it online, but can't seem to find a trace of the article anywhere.
posted by BigFatWhale at 10:29 PM on February 13, 2005

BigFW: "Shirley" was from the pre-digital-imaging age, so it's not entirely a surprise that she's not in Wiki yet; what was more surprising to me is that I couldn't find much on-line, either.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:34 PM on February 13, 2005

I'd scan it.
posted by drezdn at 10:47 PM on February 13, 2005

They had tired of their stock of usual test images, dull stuff dating back to television standards work in the early 1960s. They wanted something glossy to ensure good output dynamic range, and they wanted a human face. Just then, somebody happened to walk in with a recent issue of Playboy.

I want to work with these people. I'm sorry, but that's my kind of office, place of women in the field be damned.
posted by saysthis at 11:28 PM on February 13, 2005

Tom's Diner (the original vocal-only version) was used in early MP3 work:
posted by krisjohn at 12:14 AM on February 14, 2005

As a woman in the field, I have to say I am much more unnerved by arriving to present a paper at a conference and finding myself the only woman in the room than I am by playboy images.

That said, there might well be a connection.
posted by handee at 1:47 AM on February 14, 2005

Lenna= only 4 women in Sweden spell their "Lena" name with two N's. Only 7 people spell the surname "Sjöblom" Sjööblom. She's a rare breed indeed, or someone has likely misspelled her name.
posted by dabitch at 2:25 AM on February 14, 2005

darn, I missed the wikipedias explanation to the strange spelling. It's much funnier had it been spelled right, Lena means smooth. ;)
posted by dabitch at 2:45 AM on February 14, 2005

Praise Lena!

posted by Talez at 3:15 PM on February 14, 2005

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