Luciano Costa's Group

The Scale Space Skeletonization

Luciano da Fontoura Costa and Leandro F. Estrozi

This page presents a scale space skeletonization technique introduced by Costa and Estrozi [1-3]. Exact dilations - which are related to the Eikonal Equation \({\partial \vec{C} \over \partial t} = F \cdot \hat{n} \) (i.e. a curve \(\vec{C}\) propagating with speed \(F\) in the normal direction) [2] - are used in order to calculate the exact Euclidean distance transform and to propagate labels associated to each of the pixels in a 2D contour. In this page you will also find the complete distance data structure (the SEDR) used in the exact dilation process, animations illustrating the described methodology, pseudo-codes for multi-resolution skeletonization, and an executable code (Windows) illustrating the involved concepts and techniques.

Exact Dilations, Exact Distance Transform And Label Propagation

The concept of Exact Dilations , introduced in [2], allows all the possible dilations of a binary 2D shape in the orthogonal lattice to be obtained. This technique, which is extremely simple, is based on a sorted list containing all the sorted distances that are found inside a ball of limited radius in the orthogonal lattice. This data structure, which is henceforth abbreviated as SEDR - standing for Sorted Exact Distances Representation [2], also includes relative vectors to all the possible points exhibiting the respective distance. Click here for an animated illustration of this data structure and to download a file containing this structure.

The exact dilations of a binary shape can be obtained by scanning the shape contour elements, in sequential fashion (requires a contour following algorithm), for each of the distinct distances in the SEDR structure. At each of such interaction, the relative vectors for the current distance are added to the coordinates of the contour element and, in case such positions are empty, they are marked as 1 (the original image is initialized with zeros). If the distance value, instead of the value 1, is assigned to the positions, the exact Euclidean distance transform is obtained. If the value of the label of the respective contour element is assigned, the process of label propagation is implemented. These processes are illustrated in the pseudo code to be found here. The main feature of such an label propagation implementation is that it provides the exact solution of the Eikonal equation for constant speed.

The figure above illustrates a original binary shape (left) and the respective label propagation (right) obtained by the above described label propagation algorithm.

Scale Space Shape Representation Without Border Shifting

Once the labels are propagated, a simple difference scheme involving the pixels in a 3x3 mask in the label image is used to produce a difference image (illustrated by the gray level traces in the figure below, left).

By thresholding this difference image at successive integer values (click here for a pseudo-code describing this process), a family of scale space skeletons is obtained for the original contour that has remarkable properties, such as the fact of being connected-of-8 and that the previous portions of the skeleton are not shifted along the image space as details are removed (by increasing the threshold). In addition, the obtained skeletons have unitary width and are completely connected.

The above animation (left) presents a scale space family of skeletons. The evolution of the blue lines corresponds to the skeletons obtained for subsequent threshold values.

These scale space skeletons can be straightforwardly used to define a scale space representation of the original shape presenting the important property that the frontiers of large scale portions of the object are not shifted when smaller scale details are removed. Such scale space reconstructions can be easily obtained by combining (by logical or) filled circles centered at each of the skeleton elements, having as respective radius the value of the exact distance transform of the original contour at those points. The above animation (right) presents the scale space reconstruction of the original shape.

The SEDR Data Structure

Distance # Points Coordinates
0 1 (0,0)
1 4 (1,0)(0,1)(-1,0)(0,-1)
1.41421356237310 4 (1,1)(1,-1)(-1,-1)(-1,1)
2 4 (2,0)(0,2)(-2,0)(0,-2)
2.23606797749979 8 (2,1)(2,-1)(1,2)(-1,2)(-2,1)(-2,-1)(1,-2)(-1,-2)
2.82842712474619 4 (2,2)(2,-2)(-2,2)(-2,-2)
3 4 (3,0)(0,3)(-3,0)(0,-3)
3.16227766016838 8 (3,1)(3,-1)(-3,1)(-3,-1)(1,3)(1,-3)(-1,3)(-1,-3)
3.60555127546399 8 (3,2)(3,-2)(-3,2)(-3,-2)(2,3)(2,-3)(-2,3)(-2,-3)
4 4 (4,0)(0,4)(-4,0)(0,-4)
4.12310562561766 4 (3,3)(3,-3)(-3,3)(-3,-3)
4.24264068711928 8 (4,1)(4,-1)(-4,1)(-4,-1)(1,4)(1,-4)(-1,4)(-1,-4)
4.47213595499958 8 (4,2)(4,-2)(-4,2)(-4,-2)(2,4)(2,-4)(-2,4)(-2,-4)
5 12 (5,0)(-5,0)(0,5)(0,-5)(4,3)(4,-3)(-4,3)(-4,-3)(3,4)(3,-4)(-3,4)(-3,-4)

A compressed ASCII file containing the SEDR structure can be found here.


The proposed multi-resolution skeletonization method, which can be extended to 3D [2], allies the advantages of scale space analysis to the power of skeletons as shape representation. Therefore, the proposed technique has many interesting properties and presents great potential for applications, including neuronal shape analysis [3], particle system analysis (forthocoming paper), pattern recognition, among many others.

Algorithms (Scilab)

Distance Transform and Label Propagation Scale Space Skeletonization
// Calculates the distance transform and label propagation
// according to exact Euclidean distances  SEDR is a matrix
// containing the subsequent Euclidean distances and relative
// position vectors (see main page for explanation) 
// Luciano da F  Costa and Leandro F  Estrozi
// Cybernetic Vision Research Group, USP, Brazil
// 25th Jan 2000 === Copyright CVRG
// Obs : list_x and list_y are the lists which store the
// original shape contour coordinates obtained using
// a stardard contour following algorithm.

for x = 1 to N {Initializes img_dist and img_lbl}
    for y = 1 to M
        img_dist(x,y) = -1
        img_lbl(x,y) = -1

for i = 1 to Nd {Scans the subsequent Euclidean dist.}
    d = SEDR(i,1);
    for j = 1 to SEDR(i,2) {Scans all respective pos. vectors}
        dx = SEDR(i,2j+1);
        dy = SEDR(i,2j+2);
        for k = 1 to L {Scans the contour elements}
            x = list_x(k)+dx;
            y = list_y(k)+dy;
            if img_dist(x,y) = -1 then
                img_dist(x,y) = d; 
                img_lbl(x,y) = k; 
// Obtains scale space skeleton for the spatial scale
// corresponding to a threshold T. The result is the
// NxM image img_skl.
// Luciano da F. Costa and Leandro F. Estrozi
// Cybernetic Vision Research Group, USP, Brazil
// January 2002 === Copyright CVRG

for x = 1 to N { Initializes img_skl}
   for y = 1 to M
      img_skl(x,y) = 0

K = number of contour elements
for x=2 to N-1
   for y=2 to M-1
      max = 0
      for every pixel (i,j) 4-neighbour of (x,y)
         dif = img_lbl(i,j) - img_lbl(x,y) 
         dif = MIN(dif,n-dif)
         max = MAX(max, dif)
      if max > T 
         img_skl(x,y) = 1

Demonstration Software

This demo program (for Windows) illustrates the potential of the multi-resolution methodology. This program also includes high accuracy estimation of the curvature along the obtained multi-resolution representation of the shapes, which uses the technique proposed in [4,5]. A fully operational version of this program can be obtained free of charge by contacting us.

Space-Scale Skeletonization Software 1.0 - Demo
Last Update: September 11, 2000.

  • Works on any PC x86 machine running Windows XP or above.
  • Contact Us for the full version.
  • The software is in early stage of development and may present bugs or missing features.
  • By download this software you automatically agree with the Cyvision Restricted Academic License.
    • Acknowledge the credits for the authors in any derived work based on this software, also reference this page if possible.
    • Please cite at least one of the related references in the end of this page.
    • The use of this software is limited to academic or educational purposes.
    • Do not redistribute.
    • The authors take no responsibility for the use of the present software.

Related Manuscripts:

[1] Costa, L.da F. and Estrozi, L.F.
Multiresolution shape representation without border shifting.
Electronics Letters, Volume 35, Issue 21, Pages 1829-1830. (Oct, 1999)

[2] Costa, L.da F.
Multidimensional Scale Space Shape Analysis.
In Proc.International Workshop on Synthetic-Natural Hybrid Coding and Three Dimensional Imaging, Santorini, Greece, 15-17, Pages 214-217. (Sep, 1999)

[3] Costa, L.da F. Campos, A.G.; Estrozi, L.F.; Rios, L.G. and BOSCO, A.
A Biologically-Motivated Approach to Image Representation and Its Applications to Neuromorphology.
In IEEE International Workshop on Biologically Motivated Computer Vision, Santorini, Seoul, Korea. (2000)

[4] Costa, L.da F.
Particle Systems Analysis by Using Skeletonization and Exact Dilations.
Part. Part. Syst. Charact., Volume 16, Issue 6, Pages 273-277. (1999)

[5] Cesar-Jr., R.M. and Costa, L.da F.
Piecewise linear segmentation of digital contours in \(O(n\log(n))\) through a technique based on effective curvature estimation.
Journal of Real-Time Imaging, Volume 1, Issue 6, Pages 409-417. (1995)

[6] Cesar-Jr., R.M. and Costa, L.da F.
Towards effective planar shape representation with multiscale digital curvature analysis based on signal processing techniques.
Pattern Recognition, Volume 29, Issue 9, Pages 1559-1569. (1996)

[7] Costa, L.da F.
Robust Skeletonization through Exact Euclidean Distance Transform and its Application to Neuromorphometry.
Real-Time Imaging,, Volume 6, Pages 415-431. (2000)

Luciano Costa's Research Group - 2016