Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – XI – image creation by a VAE trained on CelebA

I continue with my series on Variational Autoencoders [VAEs] and related methods to control the KL-loss.

Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – I – some basics
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – II – an Autoencoder with binary-crossentropy loss
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – III – problems with the KL loss and eager execution
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – IV – simple rules to avoid problems with eager execution
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – V – a customized Encoder layer for the KL loss
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – VI – KL loss via tensor transfer and multiple output
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – VII – KL loss via model.add_loss()
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – VIII – TF 2 GradientTape(), KL loss and metrics
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – IX – taming Celeb A by resizing the images and using a generator
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – X – VAE application to CelebA images

VAEs fall into a section of ML which is called “Generative Deep Learning“. The reason is that we can VAEs to create images with contain objects with features of objects learned from training images. One interesting category of such objects are human faces – of different color, with individual expressions and features and hairstyles, seen from different perspectives. One dataset which contains such images is the CelebA dataset.

During the last posts we came so far that we could train a CNN-based Variational Autoencoder [VAE] with images of the CelebA dataset. Even on graphics cards with low VRAM. Our VAE was equipped with a GradientTape()-based method for KL-loss control. We still have to prove that this method works in the expected way:

The distribution of data points (z-points) created by the VAE’s Encoder for training input should be confined to a region around the origin in the latent space (z-space). And neighboring z-points up to a limited distance should result in similar output of the Decoder.

Therefore, we have to look a bit deeper into the results of some VAE-experiments with the CelebA dataset. I have already pointed out why creating rather complex images from arbitrarily chosen points in the latent space is a suitable and good test for a VAE. Please remember that our efforts regarding the KL-loss have to do with the following fact:

not create reasonable images/objects from arbitrarily chosen z-points in the latent space.

This eliminates the use of an AE for creative purposes. A VAE, however, should be able to solve this type of task – at least for z-points in a limited surroundings of the latent space’s origin. Thus, by creating images from randomly selected z-points with the Decoder of a VAE, which has been trained on the CelebA data set, we cover two points:

  • Test 1: We test the functionality of the VAE-class, which we have developed and which includes the code for KL-loss handling via TF2’s GradientTape() and Keras’ train_step().
  • Test 2: We test the ability of the VAE’s Decoder to create images with convincing human-like face and hairstyle features from random z-points within an area close to the origin of the latent space.

Most of the experiments discussed below follow the same prescription: We take our trained VAE, select some random points in the latent space, feed the z-point-data into the VAE’s Decoder for a prediction and plot the images created on the Decoder’s output side. The Encoder only plays a role when we want to test reconstruction abilities.

For a low dimension z_dim=256 of the latent space we will find that the generated images display human faces reasonably well. But the images appear a bit blurry or unsharp – as if not fully focused. So, we need to discuss what we can do about this point. I will also name some plausible causes for the loss of accuracy in the representation of details.

Afterwards I want to show you that a VAE Decoder reconstructs original images relatively badly from the z-points calculated by the Encoder. At least when one looks at details. A simple AE with a sufficiently high dimension of the latent space performs much better. One may feel disappointed about the reconstruction ability of a VAE. But actually it is the ability of a VAE to forget about details and instead to focus on general features which enables it (the VAE) to create something meaningful from randomly chosen z-points in the latent space.

In a last step in this post we are going to look at images created from z-points with a growing distance from the origin of the multidimensional latent space [z-space]. (Distance can be defined by a L2-Euclidean norm). We will see that most z-points which have some z-coordinates above a value of 3 produce fancy images where the face structures get dominated or distorted by background structures learned from CelebA images. This effect was to be expected as the KL-loss enforced a distribution of the z-points which is confined to a region relatively close to the origin. Ideally, this distribution would be characterized by a normal distribution in all coordinates with a sigma of only 1. So, the fact that z-points in the vicinity of the origin of the latent space lead to a construction of images which show recognizable human faces is an indirect proof of the confining impact of the KL-loss on the z-point distribution. In another post I shall deliver data which prove this more directly.

Below I will call the latent space of a (V)AE also z-space.

Characteristics of the VAE tested

Our trained VAE with four Conv2D-layers in the Encoder and 4 corresponding Conv2DTranspose-Layers in the Decoder has the following basic characteristics:

(Encoder-CNN-) filters=(32,64,128,256), kernels=(3,3), stride=2,
reconstruction loss = BCE (binary crossentropy), fact=5.0, z_dim=256

The order of the filter- (= map-) numbers is, of course reversed for the Decoder. The factor fact to scale the KL-loss in comparison to the reconstruction loss was chosen to be fact=5, which led to a 3% contribution of the KL-loss to the total loss during training. The VAE was trained on 170,000 CelebA images with 24 epochs and a small epsilon=0.0005 plus Adam optimizer.

When you perform similar experiments on your own you may notice that the total loss values after around 24 epochs ( > 5015) are significantly higher than those of comparable experiments with a standard AE (4850). This already is an indication that our VAE will not reproduce a similar good match between an image reconstructed by the Decoder in comparison to the original input image fed into the Encoder.

Results for z-points with coordinates taken from a normal distribution around the origin of the latent space

The picture below shows some examples of generated face-images coming from randomly chosen z-points in the vicinity of the z-space’s origin. To calculate the coordinates of such z-points I applied a normal distribution:

z_points = np.random.normal(size = (n_to_show, z_dim)) # n_to_show = 28

So, what do the results for z_dim=256 look like?

Ok, we get reasonable images of human-like faces. The variations in perspective, face forms and hairstyles are also clearly visible and reflect part of the related variety in the training set. You will find more variations in more images below. So, we take this result as a success! In contrast to a pure AE we DO get something from random z-points which we clearly can interpret as human faces. The whole effort of confining z-points around the origin and at the same time of smearing out z-points with similar content over a region instead of a fixed point-mapping (as in an AE) has paid off. See for comparison:
Autoencoders, latent space and the curse of high dimensionality – I

Unfortunately, the images and their details details appear a bit blurry and not very sharp. Personally, this reminded me of the times when the first CCD-chips with relative low resolution were introduced in cameras and the raw image data looked disappointing as long as we did not apply some sharpening filters. The basic information to enhance details were there, but they had to be used explicitly to improve the plain raw data of the CCD.

The quality in details is about the same as what we see in example images in the book of D.Foster on “Generative Deep Learning”, 2019, O’Reilly. Despite the fact that Foster used a slightly higher resolution of the input images (128x128x3 pixels). The higher input resolution there also led to a higher resolution of the maps of the innermost convolutional layer. Regarding quality see also the images presented in:

Enhancement processing of the images ?

Just for fun, I took a screenshot of my result, saved it and applied two different sharpening filters from the ShowFoto program:

Much better! And we do not have the impression that we added some fake information to the images by our post-processing ….

Now I hear already argument saying that such an enhancement should not be done. Frankly, I do not see any reason against post-processing of images created by a VAE-algorithm.

Remember: This is NOT about reproduction quality with respect to originals or a close-to-reality show. This is about generating new mages of human-like faces based on basic features which a VAE-algorithm hopefully has learned from training images. All of what we do with a VAE is creative. And it also comes close to a proof that ML-algorithms based on convolutional layers really can “learn” something about the basic features of objects presented to them. (The learned features are e.g. in the Encoder’s case saved in the sensitivity of the convolutional maps to typical patterns in the input images.)

And as in the case of raw-images of CCD or CMOS camera chips: Sometimes some post-processing is required to utilize the information optimally for sharpness.

Sharpening by PIL’s enhancement functionality

Of course we do not want to produce images in a ML run, take screenshots and sharpen each image individually. We need some tool that fits into the ML process pipeline. The good old PIL library for Python offers sharpening as one of multiple enhancement options for images. The next examples are results from the application of a PIL enhancement procedure:

These images look quite OK, too. The basic code fragment I used for each individual image in the above grid:

    # reconst_new is the output from my VAE's Decoder 
    ay_img      = reconst_new[i, :,:,:] * 255
    ay_img      = np.asarray(ay_img, dtype="uint8" )
    img_orig    = Image.fromarray(ay_img)
    img_shr_obj = ImageEnhance.Sharpness(img)
    sh_factor   = 7   # Specified Factor for Enhancing Sharpness
    img_sh      = img_shr_obj.enhance(sh_factor)

The sharpening factor I chose was quite high, namely sh_factor = 7.

The effect of PIL’s sharpening factor

Just to further demonstrate the effect of different factors for sharpening by PIL you find some examples below for sh_factor = 0, 3, 6.

sh_factor = 0

sh_factor = 3

sh_factor = 6

Obviously, the enhancement is important to get clearer and sharper images.
However, when you enlarge the images sufficiently enough you see some artifacts in the form of crossing lines. These artifacts are partially already existing in the Decoder’s output, but they are enhanced by the Sharpening mechanism used by PIL (unsharp masking). The artifacts become more pronounced with a growing sh_factor.
Hint: According to ML-literature the use of Upsampling layers instead of Conv2DTranspose layers in the Decoder may reduce such artefacts a bit. I have not yet tried it myself.


How do we assess the point of relatively unclear, unsharp images produced by our VAE? What are plausible reasons for the loss of details?

  1. Firstly, already AEs with a latent space dimension z_dim=256 in general do not reconstruct brilliant images from z-points in the latent space. To get a good reconstruction quality even from an AE which does nothing else than to compress and reconstruct images of a size (96x96x3) z_dim-values > 1000 are required in my experience. More about this in another post in the future.
  2. A second important aspect is the following: Enforcing a compact distribution of similar images in the latent space via the KL-loss automatically introduces a loss of detail information. The KL-loss is designed to lead to a smear-out effect in z-space. Only basic concepts and features will be kept by the VAE to ensure a similarity of neighboring images. Details will be omitted and “smoothed” out. This has consequences also with respect to sharpness of detail structures. A detail as an eyebrow in a face is to be considered as an average of similar details found for images in the same region of the z-space. This alone brings some loss of clarity with it.
  3. Thirdly, a simple (V)AE based on some directly connected Conv2D-layers has limited capabilities in general. The reason is that we systematically reduce resolution whilst information is propagated from one Conv2D layer to the next neighboring one. Remember that we use a stride > 2 or pooling layers to cover filters on larger image scales. Due to this information processing a convolutional network automatically suppresses details in its inner layers – their resolution shrinks with growing distance from the input layer. In later posts of this blog we shall see that using ResNets instead of CNNs in the Encoder and Decoder already helps a bit regarding the reconstruction of clearer images. The correlation between details and large scale information is better kept up there than in CNNs.

Regarding the first point one may think of increasing z_dim. This may not be the best idea. It contradicts the whole idea of a VAE which at its core is a reduction of the degrees of freedom for z-points. For a higher dimensional space we may have to raise the ratio of KL-loss to reconstruction loss even further.

Regarding the third point: Of course it would also help to increase kernel sizes for the first two Conv2D layers and the number of maps there. A higher resolution of the input images would also be of advantage. Both methods may, however, conflict with your VRAM or GPU time limits.

If the second point were true then reduction of fact in our models, which controls the ration of KL-loss to reconstruction loss, would lead to a better image quality. In this case we are doomed to find an optimal value for fact – satisfying both the need for generalization and clarity of details in our images. You cannot have both … here we see a basic problem related to VAEs and the creation of realistic images. Actually, I tried this out – the effect is there, but the gain actually is not worth the effort. And for too small values of fact we eventually loose the ability to create reasonable images from arbitrary z-points at all.

All in all post-processing appears to be a simple and effective method to get images with somewhat sharper details.
Hint: If you want to create images of artificially generated faces with a really high quality, you have to turn to GANs.

Further examples – with PIL sharpening

In this example you see that not all points give you good images of faces. The z-point of the middle image in the second to last of the first illustration below has a relatively high distance from the origin. The higher the distance from the origin in z-space the weirder the images get. We shall see this below in a more systematic way.

Reconstruction quality of a VAE vs. an AE – or the “female” side of myself

If I were not afraid of copy and personal rights aspects of using CelebA images directly I could show you now a comparison of the the reconstruction ability of an AE in comparison to a VAE. You find such a comparison, though a limited one, by looking at some images in the book of D. Foster.

To avoid any problems I just tried to work with an image of myself. Which really gave me a funny result.

A plain Autoencoder with

  • an extended latent space dimension of z_dim = 1600,
  • a reasonable convolutional filter sequence of (64, 64, 128, 128)
  • a stride value of stride=2
  • and kernels ((5,5),(5,5),(3,3),(3,3))

is well able to reproduce many detailed features one’s face after a training on 80,000 CelebA images. Below see the result for an image of myself after 24 training epochs of such an AE:

The left image is the original, the right one the reconstruction. The latter is not perfect, but many details have been reproduced. Please note that the trained AE never had seen an image of myself before. For biometric analysis the reproduction would probably be sufficient.

Ok, so much about an AE and a latent space with a relatively high dimension. But what does a VAE think of me?
With fact = 5.0, filters like (32,64,128,256), (3,3)-kernels, z_dim=256 and after 18 epochs with 170,000 training images of CelebA my image really got a good cure:

My wife just laughed and said: Well, now in the age of 64 at least an AI has found something soft and female in you … Well, had the CelebA included many faces of heavy metal figures the results would have looked differently. I bet …

So with generative VAEs we obviously pay a price: Details are neglected in favor of very general face features and hairstyle aspects. And we loose sharpness. Which is good if you have wrinkles. Good for me and the celebrities, too. 🙂

However, I recommend anybody who wants to study VAEs to check the reproduction quality for CelebA test images (not from the training set). You will see the generalization effect for a broader range of images. And, of course, a better reproduction with smaller values for the ratio of the KL-loss to the reconstruction loss. However, for too small values of fact you will not be able to create realistic face images at all from arbitrary z-points – even if you choose them to be relatively close to the origin of the latent space.

Dependency of the creation of reasonable images on the distance from the origin

In another post in this blog I have discussed why we need VAEs at all if we want to reconstruct reasonable face images from randomly picked points in the latent space. See:
Autoencoders, latent space and the curse of high dimensionality – I

I think the reader is meanwhile convinced that VAEs do a reasonably good job to create images from randomly chosen z-points. But all of the above images were taken from z-points calculated with the help of a function assuming a normal distribution in the z-space coordinates. The width of the resulting distribution around the origin is of course rather limited. Most points lie within a 3 sigma distance around the origin. This is OK as we have put a lot of effort into the KL-loss to force the z-points to approach such a normal distribution around the origin of the latent space.

But what happens if and when we increase the distance of our random z-points from the origin? An easy way to investigate this is to create the z-points with a function that creates the coordinates randomly, but equally distributed in an interval ]0,limit]. The chance that at least one of the coordinates gets a high value is rather big then. This in turn ensures relatively high radius values (in terms of an L2-distance norm).

Below you find the results for z-points created by the function random.uniform:

r_limit = 1.5
l_limit = -r_limit
znew = np.random.uniform(l_limit, r_limit, size = (n_to_show, z_dim))

r_limit is varied as indicated:

r_limit = 0.5

r_limit = 1.0

r_limit = 1.5

r_limit = 2.0

r_limit = 2.5

r_limit = 3.0

r_limit = 3.5

r_limit = 5.0

r_limit = 8.0

Well, this proves that we get reasonable images only up to a certain distance from the origin – and only in certain areas or pockets of the z-space at higher radii.

Another notable aspect is the fact that the background variations are completely smoothed out a low distances from the origin. But they get dominant in the outer regions of the z-space. This is consistent with the fact that we need more information to distinguish various background shapes, forms and colors than basic face patterns. Note also that the faces appear relatively homogeneous for r_limit = 0.5. The farther we are away from the origin the larger the volumes to cover and distinguish certain features of the training images become.


Our VAE with the GradientTape()-mechanism for the control of the KL-loss seems to do its job. In contrast to a pure AE the smear-out effect of the KL-loss allows now for the creation of images with interpretable contents from arbitrary z-points via the VAE’s Decoder – as long as the selected z-points are not too far away from the z-space’s origin. Thus, by indirect evidence we can conclude that the z-points for training images of the CelebA dataset were distributed and at the same time confined around the origin. The strongest indication came from the last series of images. But we pay a price: The reconstruction abilities of a VAE are far below those of AEs. A relatively low number of dimensions of the latent space helps with an effective confinement of the z-points. But it leads to a significant loss in detail sharpness of the generated images, too. However, part of this effect can be compensated by the application of standard procedures for image enhancemnet.

In the next post
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – XII – save some VRAM by an extra Dense layer in the Encoder
I will discuss a simple trick to reduce the VRAM consumption of the Encoder. In a further post we shall then analyze the confinement of the z-point distribution with the help of more explicit data.

And let us all who praise freedom not forget:
The worst fascist, war criminal and killer living today is the Putler. He must be isolated at all levels, be denazified and sooner than later be imprisoned. An aggressor who orders the bombardment of civilian infrastructure, civilian buildings, schools and hospitals with drones bought from other anti-democrats and women oppressors puts himself in the darkest and most rotten corner of human history.


Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – IX – taming Celeb A by resizing the images and using a generator

Another post in my series about options to handle the Kullback-Leibler [KL] loss of Variational Autoencoders [AEs] under the conditions of Tensorflows eager execution.

Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – I – some basics
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – II – an Autoencoder with binary-crossentropy loss
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – III – problems with the KL loss and eager execution
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – IV – simple rules to avoid problems with eager execution
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – V – a customized Encoder layer for the KL loss
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – VI – KL loss via tensor transfer and multiple output
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – VII – KL loss via model.add_loss()
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – VIII – TF 2 GradientTape(), KL loss and metrics

We still have to test the Python classes which we have so laboriously developed during the last posts. One of these classes, “VAE()”, supports a specific approach to control the KL-loss parameters during training and cost optimization by gradient descent: The class may use Tensorflow’s [TF 2] GradientTape-mechanism and the Keras function train_step() – instead of relying on Keras’ standard “add_loss()” functions.

Instead of recreating simple MNIST images of digits from ponts in a latent space I now want to train a VAE (with GradienTape-based loss control) to solve a more challenging task:

We want to create artificial images of naturally appearing human faces from randomly chosen points in the latent space of a VAE, which has been trained with images of real human faces.

Actually, we will train our VAE with images provided by the so called “Celeb A” dataset. This dataset contains around 200,000 images showing the heads of so called celebrities. Due to the number and size of its images this dataset forces me (due to my very limited hardware) to use a Keras Image Data Generator. A generator is a tool to transfer huge amounts of data in a continuous process and in form of small batches to the GPU during neural network training. The batches must be small enough such that the respective image data fit into the VRAM of the GPU. Our VAE classes have been designed to support a generator.

In this post I first explain why Celeb A poses a thorough test for a VAE. Afterwards I shall bring the Celeb A data into a form suitable for older graphics cards with small VRAM.

Why do the Celeb A images pose a good test case for a VAE?

To answer the question we first have to ask ourselves why we need VAEs at all. Why do certain ML tasks require more than just a simple plain Autoencoder [AE]?

The answer to the latter question lies in the data distribution an AE creates in its latent space. An AE, which is trained for the precise reconstruction of presented images will use a sufficiently broad area/volume of the latent space to place different points corresponding to different imageswith a sufficiently large distance between them. The position in an AE’s latent space (together with the Encode’s and Decoder’s weights) encodes specific features of an image. A standard AE is not forced to generalize sufficiently during training for reconstruction tasks. On the contrary: A good reconstruction AE shall learn to encode as many details of input images as possible whilst filling the latent space.

However: The neural networks of a (V)AE correspond to a (non-linear) mapping functions between multi-dimensional vector spaces, namely

  • between the feature space of the input data objects and the AE’s latent space
  • and also between the latent space and the reconstruction space (normally with the same dimension as the original feature space for the input data).

This poses some risks whenever some tasks require to use arbitrary points in the latent space. Let us, e.g., look at the case of images of certain real objects in font of varying backgrounds:

During the AE’s training we map points of a high-dimensional feature-space for the pixel values of (colored) images to points in the multi-dimensional latent space. The target region in the latent space stemming from regions in the original feature-space which correspond to “reasonable” images displaying real objects may cover only a relatively thin, wiggled manifold within in the latent space (z-space). For points outside the curved boundaries of such regions in z-space the Decoder may not give you clear realistic and interpretable images.

The most important objectives of invoking the KL-loss as an additional optimization element by a VAE are

  1. to confine the data point distribution, which the VAE’s Encoder part produces in the multidimensional latent space, around the origin O of the z-space – as far as possible symmetrically and within a very limited distance from O,
  2. to normalize the data distribution around any z-point calculated during training. Whenever a real training object marks the center of a limited area in latent space then reconstructed data objects (e.g. images) within such an area should not be too different from the original training object.

I.e.: We force the VAE to generalize much more than a simple AE.

Both objectives are achieved via specific parameterized parts of the KL-loss. We optimize the KL-loss parameters – and thus the data distribution in the latent space – during training. After the training phase we want the VAE’s Decoder to behave well and smoothly for neighboring points in extended areas of the latent space:

The content of reconstructed objects (e.g. images) resulting from neighboring points within limited z-space areas (up to a certain distance from the origin) should vary only smoothly.

The KL loss provides the necessary smear-out effect for the data distribution in z-space.

During this series I have only shown you the effects of the KL-loss on MNIST data for a dimension of the latent space z_dim = 2. We saw the general confinement of z-points around the origin and also a confinement of points corresponding to different MNIST-numbers (= specific features of the original images) in limited areas. With some overlaps and transition regions for different numbers.

But note: The low dimension of the latent space in the MNIST case (between 2 and 16) simplifies the confinement task – close to the origin there are not many degrees of freedom and no big volume available for the VAE Encoder. Even a standard AE would be rather limited when trying to vastly distribute z-points resulting from MNIST images of different digits.

However, a more challenging task is posed by the data distribution, which a (V)AE creates e.g. of images showing human heads and faces with characteristic features in front of varying backgrounds. To get a reasonable image reconstruction we must assign a much higher number of dimensions to the latent space than in the MNIST case: z_dim = 256 or z_dim = 512 are reasonable values at the lower end!

Human faces or heads with different hair-dos are much more complex than digit figures. In addition the influence of details in the background of the faces must be handled – and for our objective be damped. As we have to deal with many more dimensions of the z-space than in the MNIST case a simple standard AE will run into trouble:

Without the confinement and local smear-out effect of the KL-loss only tiny and thin areas of the latent space will correspond to reconstructions of human-like “faces”. I have discussed this point in more detail also in the post
Autoencoders, latent space and the curse of high dimensionality – I

As a result a standard AE will NOT reconstruct human faces from randomly picked z-points in the latent space. So, an AE will fail on the challenge posed in the introduction of this post.

Celeb A and the necessity to use a “generator” for the Celeb A dataset on graphics cards with small VRAM

I recommend to get the Celeb A data from some trustworthy Kaggle contributor – and not from the original Chinese site. You may find cropped images e.g. at here. Still check the image container and the images carefully for unwanted add-ons.

The Celeb A dataset contains around 200,000 images of the heads of celebrities with a resolution of 218×178 pixels. Each image shows a celebrity face in front of some partially complex background. The amount of data to be handled during VAE training is relatively big – even if you downscale the images. The whole set will not fit into the limited VRAM of older graphics cards as mine (GTX960 with 4 GB, only). This post will show you how to deal with this problem.

You may wonder why the Celeb A dataset poses a problem as the original data only consume about 1.3 GByte on a hard disk. But do not forget that we need to provide floating point tensors of size (height x width x 3 x 32Bit) instead of compressed integer based jpg-information to the VAE algorithm. You can do the math on your own. In addition: Working with multiple screens and KDE on Linux may already consume more than 1 GB of our limited VRAM.

How can we deal with the Celeb A images on GPUs with limited VRAM ?

We use three tricks to work reasonably fast with the Celeb A data on a Linux systems with limited VRAM, but with around 32 GB or more standard RAM:

  1. We first crop and downscale the images – in my case to 96×96 pixels.
  2. We save a binary of a Numpy array of all images on a SSD and read it into the RAM during Jupyter experiments.
  3. We then apply a so called Keras Image Data Generator to transfer the images to the graphics card when required.

The first point reduces the amount of MBytes per image. For basic experiments we do not need the full resolution.

The second point above is due to performance reasons: (1) Each time we want to work with a Jupyter notebook on the data we want to keep the time to load the data small. (2) We need the array data already in the system’s RAM to transfer them efficiently and in portions to the GPU.

A “generator” is a Keras tool which allows us to deliver input data for the VAE training in form of a continuously replenished dataflow from the CPU environment to the GPU. The amount of data provided with each transfer step to the GPU is reduced to a batch of images. Of course, we have to choose a reasonable size for such a batch. It should be compatible with the training batch size defined in the VAE-model’s fit() function.

A batch alone will fit into the VRAM whereas the whole dataset may not. The control of the data stream costs some overhead time – but this is better than not top be able to work at all. The second point helps to accelerate the transfer of data to the GPU significantly: A generator which sequentially picks data from a hard disk, transfers it to RAM and then to VRAM is too slow to get a convenient performance in the end.

Each time before we start VAE applications on the Jupyter side, we first fill the RAM with all image data in tensor-like form. From a SSD the totally required time should be small. The disadvantage of this approach is the amount of RAM we need. In my case close to 20 GB!

Cropping and resizing Celeb A images

We first crop each of the original images to reduce background information and then resize the result to 96×96 px. D. Foster uses 128×128 px in his book on “Generative Deep Learning”. But for small VRAM 96×96 px is a bit more helpful.
I also wanted the images to have a quadratic shape because then one does not have to adjust the strides of
the VAE’s CNN Encoder and Decoder kernels differently for the two geometrical dimensions. 96 px in each dimension is also a good number as it allows for exactly 4 layers in the VAE’s CNNs. Each of the layers then reduces the resolution of the analyzed patterns by a factor of 2. At the innermost layer of the Encoder we deal with e.g. 256 maps with an extension of 6×6.

Cropping the original images is a bit risky as we may either cut some parts of the displayed heads/faces or the neck region. I decided to cut the upper part of the image. So I lost part of the hair-do in some cases, but this did not affect the ability to create realistic images of new heads or faces in the end. You may with good reason decide differently.

I set the edge points of the cropping region to

top=40, bottom = 0, left=0, right=178 .

This gave me quadratic pictures. But you may choose your own parameters, of course.

A loop to crop and resize the Celeb A images

To prepare the pictures of the Celeb A dataset I used the PIL library.

import os, sys, time 
import numpy as np
import scipy
from glob import glob 

import PIL as PIL 
from PIL import Image
from PIL import ImageFilter

import matplotlib as mpl
from matplotlib import pyplot as plt
from matplotlib.colors import ListedColormap
import matplotlib.patches as mpat 

A Juyter cell with a loop to deal with almost all CelebA images would then look like:

Jupyter cell 1


num_imgs = 200000 # the number of images we use 

print("Started loop for images")
start_time = time.perf_counter()

# cropping corner positions and new img size
left  = 0;   top = 40
right = 178; bottom = 218
width_new  = 96
height_new = 96

# Cropping and resizing 
for num in range(1, num_imgs): 
    jpg_name ='{:0>6}'.format(num) 
    jpg_orig_path = dir_path_orig + jpg_name +".jpg"
    jpg_save_path = dir_path_save + jpg_name +".jpg"
    im =
    imc = im.crop((left, top, right, bottom))
    #imc = imc.resize((width_new, height_new), resample=PIL.Image.BICUBIC)
    imc = imc.resize((width_new, height_new), resample=PIL.Image.LANCZOS), quality=95)  # we save with high quality

end_time = time.perf_counter()
cpu_time = end_time - start_time
print("CPU-time: ", cpu_time) 

Note that we save the images with high quality. Without the quality parameter PIL’s save function for a jpg target format would reduce the given quality unnecessarily and without having a positive impact on the RAM or VRAM consumption of the tensors we have to use in the end.

The whole process of cropping and resizing takes about 240 secs on my old PC without any parallelized operations on the CPU. The data were read from a standard old hard disk and not a SSD. As we have to make this investment of CPU time only once I did not care about optimization.

Defining paths and parameters to control loading/preparing CelebA images

To prepare and save a huge Numpy array which contains all training images for our VAE we first need to define some parameters. I normally use 170,000 images for training purposes and around 10,000 for tests.

Jupyter cell 2

# Some basic parameters
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
INPUT_DIM          = (96, 96, 3) 
BATCH_SIZE         = 128

# The number of available images 
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
num_imgs = 200000  # Check with notebook CelebA 

# The number of images to use during training and for tests
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
NUM_IMAGES_TRAIN  = 170000   # The number of images to use in a Trainings Run 
#NUM_IMAGES_TO_USE  = 60000   # The number of images to use in a Trainings Run 

NUM_IMAGES_TEST = 10000   # The number of images to use in a training Run 

# for historic compatibility reasons of other code-fragments (the reader may not care too much about it) 
N_ImagesToUse        = NUM_IMAGES_TRAIN 
NUM_IMAGES_TO_TRAIN  = NUM_IMAGES_TRAIN   # The number of images to use in a Trainings Run 
NUM_IMAGES_TO_TEST   = NUM_IMAGES_TEST  # The number of images to use in a Test Run 

# Define some shapes for Numpy arrays with all images for training
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
shape_ay_imgs = (N_ImagesToUse, ) + INPUT_DIM
print("Assumed shape for Numpy array with train imgs: ", shape_ay_imgs)

shape_ay_imgs_test = (NUM_IMAGES_TO_TEST, ) + INPUT_DIM
print("Assumed shape for Numpy array with test  imgs: ",shape_ay_imgs_test)

We also need to define some parameters to control the following aspects:

  • Do we directly load Numpy arrays with train and test data?
  • Do we load image data and convert them into Numpy arrays?
  • From where do we load image data?

The following Jupyter cells help us:

Jupyter cell 3

# Set parameters where to get the image data from  
# ************************************************
# Use the cropped 96x96 HIGH-Quality images 
b_load_HQ = True 

# Load prepared Numpy-arrays 
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~+
b_load_ay_from_saved = False     # True: Load prepared x_train and x_test Numpy arrays 

# Load from SSD  
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
b_load_from_SSD   = True 

# Save newly calculated x_train, x_test-arrays in binary format onto disk 
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
b_save_to_disk = False

# Paths 
# ******

# Images on SSD  
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
if b_load_from_SSD: 
    if b_load_HQ:
        dir_path_load = 'YOUR_PATH_TO_HQ_DATA_ON_SSD/'    # high quality 
        dir_path_load = 'YOUR_PATH_TO_HQ_DATA_ON_HD/'               #  low quality 

# Images on slow HD 
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
if not b_load_from_SSD:
    if b_load_HQ:
        # high quality on slow Raid 
        dir_path_load = 'YOUR_PATH_TO_HQ_DATA_ON_HD/'
        # low quality on slow HD 
        dir_path_load = 'YOUR_PATH_TO_HQ_DATA_ON_HD/'

# x_train, x_test arrays on SSD
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
if b_load_from_SSD: 
    dir_path_ay = 'YOUR_PATH_TO_Numpy_ARRAY_DATA_ON_SSD/'     
    if b_load_HQ:
        path_file_ay_train = dir_path_ay + "celeba_200tsd_norm255_hq-x_train.npy"
        path_file_ay_test  = dir_path_ay + "celeba_200tsd_norm255_hq-x_test.npy"
        path_file_ay_train = dir_path_ay + "celeba_200tsd_norm255_lq-x_train.npy"
        path_file_ay_test  = dir_path_ay + "celeba_200tsd_norm255_lq-x_est.npy"

# x_train, x_test arrays on slow HD
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
if not b_load_from_SSD: 
    dir_path_ay = 'YOUR_PATH_TO_Numpy_ARRAY_DATA_ON_HD/'     
    if b_load_HQ:
        path_file_ay_train = dir_path_ay + "celeba_200tsd_norm255_hq-x_train.npy"
        path_file_ay_test  = dir_path_ay + "celeba_200tsd_norm255_hq-x_test.npy"
        path_file_ay_train = dir_path_ay + "celeba_200tsd_norm255_lq-x_train.npy"
        path_file_ay_test  = dir_path_ay + "celeba_200tsd_norm255_lq-x_est.npy"

You must of course define your own paths and names.
Note that the ending “.npy” defines the standard binary format for Numpy data.

Preparation of Numpy array for CelebA images

In case that I want to prepare the Numpy arrays (and not load already prepared ones from a binary) I make use of the following straightforward function:

Jupyter cell 4

def load_and_scale_celeba_imgs(start_idx, num_imgs, shape_ay, dir_path_load): 
    ay_imgs = np.ones(shape_ay, dtype='float32')
    end_idx = start_idx + num_imgs
    # We open the images and transform them into Numpy arrays  
    for j in range(start_idx, end_idx): 
        idx = j - start_idx
        jpg_name ='{:0>6}'.format(j) 
        jpg_orig_path = dir_path_load + jpg_name +".jpg"
        im =
        # transfrom data into a Numpy array 
        img_array = np.array(im)
        ay_imgs[idx] = img_array

    # scale the images 
    ay_imgs = ay_imgs / 255. 

    return ay_imgs 

We call this function for training images as follows:

Jupyter cell 5

# Load training images from SSD/HD and prepare Numpy float32-arrays 
#               - (18.1 GByte of RAM required !! Int-arrays) 
#               - takes around 30 to 35 Secs 
# ************************************

if not b_load_ay_from_saved:
    # Prepare float32 Numpy array for the training images   
    # ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    start_idx_train = 1
    print("Started loop for training images")
    start_time = time.perf_counter()
    x_train = load_and_scale_celeba_imgs(start_idx = start_idx_train, 
    end_time = time.perf_counter()
    cpu_time = end_time - start_time
    print("CPU-time for array of training images: ", cpu_time) 
    print("Shape of x_train: ", x_train.shape)
    # Plot an example image 

And for test images:

Jupyter cell 6

# Load test images from SSD/HD and prepare Numpy float32-arrays 
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
if not b_load_ay_from_saved:
    # Prepare Float32 Numpy array for test images   
    # ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    start_idx_test = NUM_IMAGES_TRAIN + 1

    print("Started loop for test images")
    start_time = time.perf_counter()
    x_test = load_and_scale_celeba_imgs(start_idx = start_idx_test, 
    end_time = time.perf_counter()
    cpu_time = end_time - start_time
    print("CPU-time for array of test images: ", cpu_time) 
    print("Shape of x_test: ", x_test.shape)

    #Plot an example img 

This takes about 35 secs in my case for the training images (170,000) and about 2 secs for the test images. Other people in the field use much lower numbers for the amount of training images.

If you want to save the Numpy arrays to disk:

Jupyter cell 7

# Save the newly calculatd NUMPY arrays in binary format to disk 
# ****************************************************************
if not b_load_ay_from_saved and b_save_to_disk: 
    print("Start saving arrays to disk ..."), x_train)
    print("Finished saving the train img array"), x_test)
    print("Finished saving the test img array")

If we wanted to load the Numpy arrays with training and test data from disk we would use the following code:

Jupyter cell 8

# Load the Numpy arrays with scaled Celeb A directly from disk 
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
print("Started loop for test images")
start_time = time.perf_counter()

x_train = np.load(path_file_ay_train)
x_test  = np.load(path_file_ay_test)

end_time = time.perf_counter()
cpu_time = end_time - start_time
print("CPU-time for loading Numpy arrays of CelebA imgs: ", cpu_time) 
print("Shape of x_train: ", x_train.shape)
print("Shape of x_test:  ", x_test.shape)

This takes about 2 secs on my system, which has enough and fast RAM. So loading a prepared Numpy array for the CelebA data is no problem.

Defining the generator

Easy introductions to Keras’ ImageDataGenerators, their purpose and usage are given here and here.

ImageDataGenerators can not only be used to create a flow of limited batches of images to the GPU, but also for parallel operations on the images coming from some source. The latter ability is e.g. very welcome when we want to create additional augmented images data. The sources of images can be some directory of image files or a Python data structure. Depending on the source different ways of defining a generator object have to be chosen. The ImageDataGenerator-class and its methods can also be customized in very many details.

If we worked on a directory we might have to define our generator similar to the following code fragment

    data_gen = ImageDataGenerator(rescale=1./255) # if the image data are not scaled already for float arrays  
    # class_mode = 'input' is used for Autoencoders 
    # see
    data_flow = data_gen.flow_from_directory(directory = YOUR_PATH_TO_ORIGINAL IMAGE DATA
                                             #, target_size = INPUT_DIM[:2]
                                             , batch_size = BATCH_SIZE
                                             , shuffle = True
                                             , class_mode = 'input'
                                             , subset = "training"

This would allow us to read in data from a prepared sub-directory “YOUR_PATH_TO_ORIGINAL IMAGE DATA/train/” of the file-system and scale the pixel data at the same time to the interval [0.0, 1.0]. However, this approach is too slow for big amounts of data.

As we already have scaled image data available in RAM based Numpy arrays both the parameterization and the usage of the Generator during training is very simple. And the performance with RAM based data is much, much better!

So, how to our Jupyter cells for defining the generator look like?

Jupyter cell 9

# Generator based on Numpy array for images in RAM
# ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
b_use_generator_ay = True
BATCH_SIZE    = 128

if b_use_generator_ay:
    # solution_type == 0 works with extra layers and add_loss to control the KL loss
    # it requires the definition of "labels" - which are the original images  
    if SOLUTION_TYPE == 0: 
        data_gen = ImageDataGenerator()
        data_flow = data_gen.flow(
                         , x_train
                         #, target_size = INPUT_DIM[:2]
                         , batch_size = BATCH_SIZE
                         , shuffle = True
                         #, class_mode = 'input'   # Not working with this type of generator 
                         #, subset = "training"    # Not required 
    if ....
    if ....

    if SOLUTION_TYPE == 3: 
        data_gen = ImageDataGenerator()
        data_flow = data_gen.flow(
                         #, x_train
                         #, target_size = INPUT_DIM[:2]
                         , batch_size = BATCH_SIZE
                         , shuffle = True
                         #, class_mode = 'input'   # Not working with this type of generator 
                         #, subset = "training"    # Not required 

Besides the method to use extra layers with layer.add_loss() (SOLUION_TYPE == 0) I have discussed other methods for the handling of the KL-loss in previous posts. I leave it to the reader to fill in the correct statements for these cases. In our present study we want to use a GradientTape()-based method, i.e. SOLUTION_TYPE = 3. In this case we do NOT need to pass a label-array to the Generator. Our gradient_step() function is intelligent enough to handle the loss calculation on its own! (See the previous posts).

So it is just

        data_gen = ImageDataGenerator()
        data_flow = data_gen.flow(
                         , batch_size = BATCH_SIZE
                         , shuffle = True

which does a perfect job for us.

In the end we will only need the following call when we want to train our VAE-model

            , b_use_generator = True 
            , epochs = n_epochs
            , initial_epoch = INITIAL_EPOCH

to train our VAE-model. This class function in turn will internally call something like     
        data_flow   # coming as a batched dataflow from the outside generator 
        , shuffle = True
        , epochs = epochs
        , batch_size = batch_size # best identical to the batch_size of data_flow
        , initial_epoch = initial_epoch

But the setup of a reasonable VAE-model for CelebA images and its training will be the topic of the next post.


What have we achieved? Nothing yet regarding VAE results. However, we have prepared almost 200,000 CelebA images such that we can easily load them from disk into a Numpy float32 array with 2 seconds. Around 20 GB of conventional PC RAM is required. But this array can now easily be used as a source of VAE training.

Furthermore I have shown that the setup of a Keras “ImageDataGenerator” to provide the image data as a flow of batches fitting into the GPU’s VRAM is a piece of cake – at least for our VAE objectives. We are well prepared now to apply a VAE-algorithm to the CelebA data – even if we only have an old graphics card available with limited VRAM.

In the next post of this series

I show you the code for VAE-training with CelebA data. Afterward we will pick random points in the latent space and create artificial images of human faces.
Variational Autoencoder with Tensorflow – X – VAE application to CelebA images
People interested in data augmentation should have a closer look at the parameterization options of the ImageDataGenerator-class.


Celeb A

Data generators keras-data-generators-and-how-to-use-them-b69129ed779c

And last not least my standard statement as long as the war in Ukraine is going on:
Ceterum censeo: The worst fascist, war criminal and killer living today is the Putler. He must be isolated at all levels, be denazified and sooner than later be imprisoned. Long live a free and democratic Ukraine!