IEEE International Conference on Multimedia & Expo 2001
(C) 2001 IEEE
HAND AND FACE SEGMENTATION USING MOTION AND COLOR CUES
Nariman Habili and Cheng-Chew Lim
IN DIGITAL IMAGE SEQUENCES
School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Adelaide University, SA 5005, Australia
VLSI Group Leader, Intelligent Pixels Inc.
R&D Center, Sanori House, 126 Grand Blvd.
Joondalup, WA 6027, Australia
In this paper, we present a hand and face segmentation
algorithm using motion and color cues. The algorithm is proposed for the
content based representation of sign language image sequences, where the
hands and face constitute a video object. Our hand and face segmentation
algorithm consists of three stages, namely color segmentation, temporal
segmentation, and video object plane generation. In color segmentation,
we model the skin color as a normal distribution and classify each pixel
as skin or non-skin based on its Mahalanobis distance. The aim of temporal
segmentation is to localize moving objects in image sequences. A statistical
variance test is employed to detect object motion between two consecutive
images. Finally, the results from color and temporal segmentation are analyzed
to yield a change detection mask. The performance of the algorithm is illustrated
by simulation carried out on the silent test sequence.
There is a growing trend towards content-based representation in image
and video processing applications, as shown by the recent MPEG-4 and 7
standardization efforts. Content-based representation requires the decomposition
of an image or video sequence into specific objects, known as video objects
(VOs). In this context, a VO may represent a moving person, a fixed background
or audio. The instances of VOs at a given time (i.e. frame) are called
video object planes (VOPs). A frame can be decomposed into VOPs by means
In sign language communication, or simply signing, the hands and face
are perceptually important and thus constitute a VO. The main objective
of our research is to devise an algorithm for the segmentation of VOPs
in sign language sequences. A comprehensive study on the segmentation of
the hands and face, and the coding of sign language sequences was presented
in . The author modeled the
skin color distribution as a normal mixture in the L*a*b color-space and
used the Bayesian classifier to classify image pixels as skin or non-skin.
The algorithm required a separate skin location algorithm to identify skin
pixels for distribution training. Due to hand and face motion during signing,
motion serves as an important cue for VOP segmentation. The author did
not take advantage of motion information to enhance the segmentation results.
Our hand and face segmentation algorithm is composed of three stages.
In the first stage, image pixels are classified as skin or non-skin to
yield a skin detection mask (SDM). The skin color distribution is modeled
as a bivariate normal distribution and the image pixels are classified
based on their Mahalanobis distance. In the second stage, the statistical
variance test is employed to localize moving objects in the image sequence
and yield a change detection mask (CDM). The third stage involves the fusion
of the SDM and the CDM to generate the VOP. To distinguish between the
hands and face, a face identification method is proposed, employing shape
This paper is organized as follows. The color segmentation and temporal
segmentation techniques are presented in sections 2
and 3, respectively. In section 4,
we present the VOP generation method, and experimental results are presented
in section 5. The paper is concluded
in section 6.
We employ color information to locate
skin regions in each image. The YCbCr color space is considered since it
is typically used in video coding and provides an effective use of chrominance
information for modeling the human skin color. Experimental results indicate
that the skin-color distribution in the CbCr plane remains constant regardless
of any variation in the luminance information of an image [2,
Moreover, the CbCr component of the skin pixels of people from European,
African and Asian descent occupy the same region in the CbCr plane.
This section describes the classification method employed to classify pixels
as skin or non-skin. The method is analogous to the single hypothesis classifier
described in . Single hypothesis
schemes have been proposed to solve problems in which one class is well
defined while others are not. It is assumed that the skin class is well
defined, while the non-skin class, which may include a wide variety of
different colors, is not.
The Skin-Color Model
Let x denote the feature vector formed
by the Cb and Cr components of a pixel, and x is in a 2-dimensional
, called the feature space. The skin and non-skin classes are denoted by
, respectively. The skin color distribution in the CbCr plane is modeled
as a bivariate normal distribution:
are the mean vector and covariance matrix of the distribution, respectively.
Normal distributions are widely used in the pattern recognition community
because of their many desirable properties .
, are estimated from the skin training pixels. The training pixels were
obtained by manually segmenting training images that included people of
European, African and Asian descent.
The quantity d in
is known as the Mahalanobis distance from
. Pixels can be classified as skin or non-skin based on their Mahalanobis
distance. The value of d is related to the probability that a given
pixel belongs to class
. A small value of d indicates a high skin pixel probability and
Test of Normality
An effective test to check the assumption of bivariate normality is the
chi-square test. Equation (2)
can be expressed as:
and A is the whitening transformation .
Since the mean vector and covariance matrix of
and the identity matrix respectively, the
's are independent random variables with zero mean and unity variance.
is indeed normal, then
in equation (3) is a chi-square (
) random variable with n=2 degrees of freedom. Therefore, the test
for bivariate normality is to compare the goodness of fit of the Mahalanobis
are estimated from the skin training pixels. The procedure is as follows:
The plot should follow a straight line. The chi-square plot of the ordered
distances shown in figure 1 does not
show any significant deviation from a straight line. It can therefore be
asserted that the skin class pixels in the CbCr plane follow a bivariate
The squared distances in equation (4)
are ordered in ascending order as
is the number of skin training pixels. Note that
is the ith smallest squared distance, whereas
is the squared distance associated with the chrominance vector for the
skin training pixel.
is plotted against
percentile of the chi-square distribution with 2 degrees of freedom (the
factor of 0.5 is added as a correction for continuity).
Figure 1: The chi-square plot of the ordered distances.
The Segmentation Threshold
The skin detection mask (SDM) is defined as:
is the segmentation threshold, and
is the Mahalanobis distance for the pixel at location (m,n).
is derived by examining the probability of classification error,
denote the region in the feature space where the classifier decides
and likewise for
. There are two ways in which a classification error can occur; either
an observation x falls in
and the true class is
, or x falls in
and the true class is
. Since these events are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive,
the probability of classification error is
denote the a priori probabilities of the skin and non-skin classes,
respectively. For the remainder of this paper, the following notations,
borrowed from radar terminology, will be used
are the probabilities of false alarm, detection and miss, respectively.
Using the above notations, the probability of classification error can
now be expressed as
is a threshold. Therefore, the probability of error is a function of
and the a priori probabilities.
are evaluated for the set of training images
are defined as:
denotes the feature vector of a pixel in training image
The a priori probabilities can be either estimated or assumed. The
that minimizes equation (8) is then
designated as the segmentation threshold.
In this section, a temporal segmentation
method is developed based on the variance statistical test. The motion
of a moving object from one image to the next generates intensity variations
that can be represented in the form of a difference image. However, intensity
variations can also occur due to camera or quantization noise. The noise
is usually modeled as a zero-mean normal distribution .
The objective of temporal segmentation is to distinguish between temporal
variations caused by noise and those caused by object motion. We refer
to intensity variations caused by motion as foreground and those caused
by noise as background.
denote the variance of the background population, and
W a sliding
observation window. We use the statistical variance test to detect background
and foreground regions in the difference image. The statistical variance
test can be formally stated as:
The null hypothesis,
, implies that the set of difference pixels in W is drawn from a
normal population with variance
. The hypothesis is rejected if the variance of the difference pixels in
is significantly greater than
. The intensity variation induced by a moving object is greater than that
of the background because of a higher intensity gradient at the edge and
inside of a moving object.
W is set to
samples (i.e. n=9 samples) and the significance level,
, is set to 1%. If the hypothesis is true, then
distribution with n-1=8 degrees of freedom.
is the sample variance. For a significance level of 1%, the critical value
of Y is 20.1. Therefore if Y>20.1, we would reject the hypothesis.
The foreground and background regions in the difference image are represented
in the form of a binary map, called the change detection mask (CDM). If
the null hypothesis is rejected, a binary 1 is allocated to the center
pixel in W, otherwise a binary 0 is allocated. The parameter
can be estimated by the histogram fitting technique described in 
or the least median of squares technique described in .
Video Object Plane GENERATION
This section describes the VOP generation
method. Firstly, connected components analysis on both the SDM and the
CDM is performed to remove all connected components of 50 or less pixels
(with 8-neighborhood connectivity). These regions can be generally attributed
to false alarms. After connected components analysis, holes in the remaining
connected components are filled. This was performed to promote the formation
of semantic objects and improve the accuracy of VOP generation.
SDM and CDM Analysis
Due to face and hand motion during signing, the CDM can be utilized to
identify the hands and face in the SDM. First, the SDM is superposed on
top of the CDM. When 80% or more of a connected component in the SDM is
covered by a foreground region in the CDM, the connected component is declared
as either a face or a hand.
It may sometimes be necessary to discriminate between the face and the
hands. One method is to compare the areas of the connected components in
the VOP. Intuitively, the face would have the largest area, however if
a subject has part of an arm exposed, the arm may have a greater area than
the face and thus result in inaccurate identification. An effective method
to distinguish between the face and the hands is to model the face as a
rigid object, and the hands as non-rigid objects, due to wrist and finger
motion. Such a model would allow the use of shape features to differentiate
between the face and hands. We have devised three tests to make the differentiation.
It is a well known fact that the shape of the face can be approximated
by an ellipse . The best-fit-ellipse
of a connected component,
, is defined by its center
, its orientation
, and the length of its major (a) and minor (b) axes .
The center of gravity of
gives the center of the ellipse:
where N denotes the number of pixels in
. Orientation is defined as the angle of axis of the least moment of inertia.
It can be computed by utilizing the central moments
of the connected component:
The first test is the orientation test. We have observed that during
signing, the head can tilt in the range
from vertical. Therefore, if the orientation of a connected component is
not within this range, it cannot be the face.
The second test deals with the aspect ratio (a/b) of
. We have observed that the aspect ratio of the face can range from 1.4
to 1.8. Therefore, any connected component outside of this range, cannot
represent the face. a and b are determined by computing the
moments of inertia of
. The least and greatest moments of inertia for an ellipse are
For a given
, the above moments can be calculated as
The requirements for a best fit ellipse are
, which gives the lengths of a and b, respectively:
The final test is to assess the similarity between a connected component
and its best fit ellipse. This is accomplished by computing the difference
between the area of
inside and outside the ellipse. The difference is then divided by the area
of the ellipse. We have found that the above similarity measure should
be 0.8 or higher for facial regions.
For simulation we used the silent
test sequence. Results for frames 11 and 12 are shown in figure 2.
The SDMs are shown in figure 2(b).
The false alarms present in the SDMs are due to similar skin and background
color characteristics. The CDMs, shown in figure 2(c),
also contain false alarms. The false alarms to the subject's right are
due to shadow, induced by hand motion. The false alarms are largely eliminated
after connected components analysis. The face and hands of the subject
have been segmented quite effectively, as shown in figure 2(d).
Figure 2: (a): Frames 11 and 12 of the silent sequence.
(b): SDMs. (c): CDMs. (d): VOPs.
A new hand and face segmentation algorithm
has been presented in this paper. The algorithm consists of three steps,
namely color segmentation, temporal segmentation and VOP generation. In
color segmentation, the aim is to segment skin regions in an image. Meanwhile,
in temporal segmentation, moving objects in the image sequence are localized.
The color and motion information is then used to generate the VOP. Experimental
results indicate that the technique is capable of segmenting the hands
and face quite effectively. The algorithm allows the flexibility of incorporating
additional techniques to enhance the results. Work is currently under way
to incorporate a tracking technique to track the hands and face throughout
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10 A. Jain,
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Fri May 25 15:31:50 CST 2001