Applications of Singularity Theory and 3D Modelling in Arts and Retail
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Liverpool
Unit of AssessmentMathematical Sciences
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Mathematical Sciences: Pure Mathematics
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing
Summary of the impact
Professor Peter Giblin (Department of Mathematical Sciences at the
University of Liverpool), together with collaborators, used methods from
singularity theory to develop an approach for recovering 3-d information
from 2-d images, such as photos. In the past decade, these have been
implemented and built upon by software engineers, leading to significant
cultural, economic and societal impacts. These include the creation of an
innovative 25m high sculpture of the human body in the Netherlands by the
sculptor Antony Gormley and the virtual modelling of clothing on online
clothing websites such as Tesco's (Virtual Changing Room by
Tesco/F&F). These have reached thousands of consumers worldwide and
represent a significant commercial success for the company which developed
The research underpinning this impact was undertaken by Professor Peter
Giblin, working in the Singularity Theory Group at the Department of Pure
Mathematics, now part of the Department of Mathematical Sciences.
Professor Giblin worked on the mathematical foundations of Computer
Vision, that is, the recovery of 3-dimensional information about the
world from 2-dimensional images, perhaps from several viewpoints or from a
moving (calibrated) camera whose positions in space may not be known.
Specifically, the impact is underpinned by research undertaken from
1995-2000, mainly in collaboration with Cipolla (Cambridge) and Åström
(Lund, Sweden), on using 2-d images to recover an arbitrary camera motion
and the geometry of a surface.
One of the key ingredients of recovery, or reconstruction, is the use of
`apparent contours', also called `profiles', which are similar to
silhouettes of surfaces. There is a corresponding idea for the apparent
contour from a point of 3-space, which more precisely models views of an
object from a stationary, or moving camera. Prior to the research
described here, contours were discussed by Giblin and Weiss, and by A.
Blake and R. Cipolla, in the context of reconstructing a surface given the
An important development came through adding the ingredient of `frontier
points', first investigated theoretically in the PhD thesis of Giblin's
student Jeanette Rycroft (Liverpool 1992). A special case of circular
motion was worked out in detail [3.1] by Giblin, Rycroft and F.Pollick
(the latter working on the psychology of vision). An even more remarkable
idea was that by using suitable optimizing techniques an arbitrary camera
motion and the geometry of the surface, could be recovered from
measurements of apparent contours and frontier points. This was
investigated in research (1995- 1999) between Giblin, R.Cipolla (by then
in the Cambridge Engineering Department) and K. Åström (Lund, Sweden), the
main article being published in 1999 [3.2]. Much of the theory was also
described, with extensive background material, in the book by Cipolla and
Giblin [3.3], which has 204 citations according to Google Scholar.
As is often the case in mathematics, the impact of this research was not
direct, but rather filtered through further work in software engineering.
The ideas introduced were extended and made highly practical by several of
Cipolla's PhD students and postdoctoral workers. (Giblin continued to act
as external examiner on these topics in Cambridge and in Lund, but his
work has now turned elsewhere.) Publications from Cipolla's group continue
to refer to the fundamental mathematical work (especially Ref.[3.3]).
References to the research
[3.1] P.J.Giblin, F.E.Pollick and J.E.Rycroft, `Recovery of an unknown
axis of rotation from the profiles of a rotating surface', J.Optical Soc.
America 11A (1994), 1976--1984, DOI: 10.1364/JOSAA.11.001976.
[3.2] K. Åström, R.Cipolla and P.J.Giblin, `Generalised epipolar
constraints', International J. Computer Vision 33 (1999) 51—72, DOI: 10.1023/A:1008113231241.
This is an expanded version, with more detail of the methods and results,
of the article with the same name in Proc. European Conference on Computer
Vision (ECCV) 1996, Lecture Notes in Computer Science 1065,
[3.3] R.Cipolla and P.J.Giblin, Visual Motion of curves and surfaces,
viii + 184pp. Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Early results were published in [3.4] R.Cipolla, K. Åström and
P.J.Giblin, `Motion from the frontier of curved surfaces', Proc. Int.
Conf. on Computer Vision (ICCV) June 1995 (IEEE Computer Society Press),
The research is published in leading international journals devoted to
(often theoretical) computer vision. It has been well-cited, with [3.1]
accruing 19 citations and [3.2] 14 citations as at September 2013.
According to the Web of Science, the Journal of the Optical Society of
America A has an Impact Factor of 1.67 and an Article Influence Index of
0.62 and is ranked 30th out of 80 journals on Optics; the
International Journal of Computer Vision has an Impact Factor of 3.62 and
an Article Influence Index of 3.01 and is ranked 9th out of 115
journals on Computer Science: Artificial Intelligence.
Details of the impact
The impacts described here were developed by Professor Roberto Cipolla,
based on the fundamental research with Professor Giblin described earlier.
As Prof. Cipolla states in a letter [5.1], "this work with Giblin and
Astrom laid the essential groundwork for later developments by myself
and my students and other collaborators, leading to important practical
applications with significant external impact, such as those to
scultpure (Anthony Gormley) and online retailing (Metail)".
Applications in Sculpture.
Renowned sculptor Antony Gormley (creator of the "Angel of the North" in
Gateshead and "Another Place" in Crosby) designed and built a
25-metre-high statue of a crouching human body, entitled "Exposure", which
was unveiled in 2010 [5.3] in Lelystad in the Netherlands. The statue is
built from interlocking pylon-like structures. This was achieved using
software developed by Professor Cipolla at Cambridge, based on the
fundamental research on singularity theory described above, carried out
with Peter Giblin and published in joint work. This allowed 3-dimensional
models to be reconstructed from a small number of ordinary camera images,
in this case from 2-dimensional photographs of a cast of the artist's
body. According to Gormley [5.4], this software is "unique in the world:
it's extraordinary to get a fully rotational model from a standard
single-lens digital camera".
The sculpture "Exposure" has been the subject of international news
coverage [5.3], and is now an important landmark on the coast of the
Netherlands. The impact here is cultural, since this work of art would not
exist without the software developed from research completed in our UoA,
and the public, especially in the Netherlands, have benefitted from this
thought-provoking and impressive work.
Applications in Retail.
Metail is a company, founded in 2008 [5.5] and based in London and
Cambridge, that offers "virtual fitting rooms". It now has 40 employees.
The website allows users to easily generate a 3- dimensional personal body
model to see how clothes would fit them online, prior to purchase.
Shoppers are able to visualize themselves wearing complete outfits. The
company's founder and CEO, Tom Adeyoola, first explored the possibilities
of computer vision in the context of card recognition for on-line gaming.
An internet search led to Roberto Cipolla and a personal contact with him.
Tom was particularly impressed by the current preparations for Gormley's
"Exposure" sculpture. Subsequently an ex-PhD student of Cipolla's was
commissioned for the project of developing software for the virtual
fitting room, based on the underpinning joint research with Peter Giblin
on singularity theory described above.
Metail has raised over £4m in investment, filed patents and won a £100k
grant from the Government's Technology Strategy Board in 2012 and a
further £250k grant in August 2013. Metail launched to the public with its
first trial commercial partner, Tesco, in February 2012 [5.6]. The trial
was a success and went on to win an internal Tesco award for "Best on-line
innovation" (voted for by the CEO Phil Clarke and the executive team). At
the end of September 2012 Metail launched commercially on Tesco's main
website, opening the "F&F Virtual Fitting Room". This website enable
Tesco customers to try clothing online before they buy. The website is run
in association with Facebook and the Home Page says "The F&F Virtual
Fitting Room has been so successful on Facebook that we have made it part
of our main website!". Subsequently Metail has launched with the clothing
retailer Warehouse, and also with Zalando Germany (Germany's fastest
growing clothing retailer), and the UK's largest on-line retailer, Shop
Direct. Metail went on to launch their first live show TV experience 'Take
over the Makeover' with ITV's programme "This Morning" in December 2012;
this feature has been running monthly since March 2013. They launched
their second international client of Dafiti in Brazil in February. Metail
is currently generating around £70k per month in revenue and in March 2013
registered 80,000 users on their website. Over 300,000 people have created
"MeModels" using their websites since February 2012. The impact here has
therefore been economic, since Metail owes its existence and current
success to the software developed from our research; and societal, since a
large number of consumers in several countries have been enabled to
"virtually" try on clothing before purchasing online. The CEO of Metail
can confirm these details of company performance [5.7].
Sources to corroborate the impact
[5.1] Collaborating Professor from University of Cambridge, has provided
a statement of support to corroborate the connection between the
theoretical work with Peter Giblin and the impacts described above.
from Cipolla's group directly related to the impact, such as continue to
refer to the fundamental mathematical work, establishing its foundational
nature for the impact.
report on Antony Gormley's sculpture, including a description of
Prof. Cipolla's involvement, Archived at: http://www.webcitation.org/69XxyH01M
Other coverage: http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/antony-gormley-exposure
[5.4] Gormley quote, emphasising the critical role of the software based
on our singularity research; in an article at: http://www.eng.cam.ac.uk/news/stories/2011/Antony_Gormley/
[5.5] A description of Metail,
including their connection to Professor Cipolla. Archived at http://www.webcitation.org/69Xy7Vz2H
[5.6] The announcement of the opening of the F&F online fitting room
based on Metail software can be found at http://internetretailing.net/2012/03/tesco-launches-virtual-ff-fitting-room
and a "You-Tube" video showing the operation of the online fitting room
can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhYlvCROhck
[5.7] The CEO of Metail can be contacted to corroborate company
performance and impact of the software on the formation and development of