The Digital Restoration of Mona Lisa

A time lapse about half way through and 100+ Hours in. 
I've been working on restoring the Mona Lisa for the last few months, well over 100+ hours just on the cracks alone. I would estimate that i'm about half way through. The file i'm working with is 7,800 x 11,000 pixels and over 700mb. That's about 200 MP3 songs and 10 ipad screens worth of information. What's interesting about that is even at that resolution it's still not as detailed as Leonardo painted in or as high as I would like.

Which means that the Mona Lisa, if she were a digital screen, would be a higher resolution than most of the cutting edge technology of 2014. Many aren't aware that this paintings popularity isn't just for her appearance and mysterious aspects but because of the actual painting technique and skill involved.

I actually realllly enjoy doing this! It's very cathartic and I imagine that every crack and imperfection are like bad memories and things that are wrong with me that I'm fixing and especially other people that I am erasing from my memory. Like some: Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind ish!- I literally pretend that i'm restoring my mind as it do it...

 It's painstaking work but seeing the before and after pictures so far keep me excited and most of all I want to see what the final image will look like. The ultimate goal is to get it as close as possible to how it originally looked 500 years ago. I try to work on it a couple to a few hours a day but my wrist can only take so much. I have a little carpel tunnels syndrome so I can't push it too far or I won't be able to move my hand at all so I have to be careful. Of course when I really want to work on something I have a legitimate excuse haha.

This shows the level of detail I am working at. If it were with the real painting it would have to be with a magnifying glass. Her thumb, the section popping out, takes up my entire computer monitor!

  • Click here to read more about the Mona Lisa on my Site. 
  • Click here to download the Super HD Mona Lisa image - but be careful it is so large that it can freeze you browser. 
  • Click here for an interactive image that lets you zoom in. 

This shows the removal of the crack in the upper left hand corner caused by the poplar wood spitting. 

Detail of some of the progress of the background. 

Digital Restorations
General information

      This is some of the information on the digital restoration projects i'm working on.  I take older paintings and other works of art and repair and enhance them with modern technology and software. With these I am able to render aged and damaged images and restore them to what they would have looked like - or even beyond that into what they could look like.

Notice how only the scratches are affected by this stage. 
The advantage of digital restorations is that they do not cause any damage to the original images and they are not limited to physical properties. For instance if there is a scratch in the paint the traditional restoration process would take parts away and replace them with new paint. Obviously the paint would be different than it was 500 years ago and discolored. They would have to match the color as closely as possible and account for it drying and fading in the future at a different rate than the older surrounding paint. With digital restoration I can "clone" the paint closest to the crack so that it is essentially exactly the same.

The disadvantage is that depending on the scanning/photography technology the varnish cannot be removed to reveal what is underneath. Some scans are able to reveal what is under the top layers and they act as a reference for what is at the surface and how it should appear. The issue with removing the top most layers to 'restore' a painting is that while it will help to see what was underneath - that is not what was suppose to be seen. So it is more like you are going back in time and restoring the painting to a pre-finished phase and not the "finished" image. With digital restoration I can work with the surface damage and get it as close to how it would have originally meant to be seen. Then that can be saved and further reconstruction and enhancements can be made.

Leonardo in particular worked in such detail that digitally restoring his paintings requires a very very high resolution image of the painting. I use the highest possible quality images and work with those but they are still just barely HD enough to see the finest details. The size of the screen, print, and how far away you are from the surface makes this negligible as those details are not even perceptible at most distances.

Working digitally is exponentially faster than with physical paint for a number of reasons.

  • There is no mixing or matching paint or paint colors - it's done with a click of a button.
  • Each hue is instantly changeable to match whatever colors you are working with. 
  • Any mistakes are easily revert-able so you don't have to be as hesitant and can work more quickly.

Even so it is very time consuming and requires patience and critical thinking since there are some instances that take some interpretation. In the first couple phases I try as much as possible to keep them true to their original form. So it consists of scratch and imperfections without altering the color or brightness or any properties of the image itself. "Digital paint" is not added or smoothed it's just taking the area next to the imperfection copy and pasting it over the crack. It's not until the later steps that the other problems like fading and color and brightness and smoothness will be addressed.

I'll keep this post updated with my latest progress and you can see more on my site:

This show the base to the latest update on 5/28/2014
I'll update this as I get further along. Stay tuned! 


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