Unless you are completely oblivious to the creepy, ephemeral hivemind that leads to virality on the internet, you've likely seen some of the alien-looking, indescribably dog-faced imagery permeating the World Wide Web in recent weeks.
Trees with noses. Fingers with faces. Oozing fractals. Horizons made out of amorphous chihuahua-slugs.
We're talking about DeepDream, Google's neural processing simulator code that makes everything look simultaneously totally nightmarish and oddly familiar.
Take, for example, this DeepDream burrito from Reddit:
It's a Siamese twin torso of golden retrievers. But are they dopey? Or happy? Are those octogenarian faces in the plate? A creature in the salsa? Or none of the above: just an acid trip and a tortilla filled with beans, rice, cheese, and meat?
Naturally, the internet went totally apeshit over DeepDream immediately, using it to collectively freak each other out to the greatest extent possible. And—as with all memes—eventually pizza got involved.
An innocent Papa John's commercial becomes an orgy of dogs, eyes, mollusks, tongues, nand whatever else your brain can conjure from this Rorschachian stew.
After initially recoiling, then craving pizza, then never wanting pizza again, and then watching the video four more times, I decided to get in touch with its creator to further venture into the void.
"Deep Cheese Dreams" is the creation of one James Hicks, a UK-based video artist and the art director of Neue Modern. In the past, he has created music videos for Clinic and Ultrademon and visuals for Franz Ferdinand, but he also dabbles in the "net art" and GIF scenes.
"I was experimenting running a few bits of my own work through DeepDream and wasn't very satisfied with the results," he told me via email. "Later, I scrolled past a photo of pizza on Tumblr and just had a realisation that the algorithm would probably work really well with slow gooey footage."
"Gooeyness" is definitely a term that comes to mind when watching just about anything DeepDream, between the swirling and the eyeballs. But Hicks had a particular goal in mind for his pizza warp.
"I spent a couple of hours digging through pizza adverts on YouTube to build a supercut of 'cheese pulls'—I believe that's the industry term for the shot of pulling a cheesy slice away," he said. "Surprisingly few pizza adverts feature it; when you imagine a pizza advert, you'd think that shot would be essential."
Luckily, he found one in an old Papa John's commercial—seems like they're all about the cheese pulls when it comes down to it. And the rest, of course, has become another installment of the internet's latest bizarro fixation.
"I think I was hoping to gross people out and maybe ruin a few pizza parties, but to be honest, watching it just makes me hungry," he tells me. Feedback from pizza fans has been "equal measures of joy and disgust."
And for those who are still confused about why these are cocker spaniels in their mozzarella, he provides this explanation: "[DeepDream] is the result of a neural network originally trained to identify images instead being told to look for things it recognises, then make them more prominent. Repeated thousands of times, eventually the program will transform the image into a mess of snippets from the network, which it turns out was also trained to identify several hundred breeds of dog—that's why it sees dogs everywhere."
That explains why perhaps one must love dogs in order to not run screaming from the next Margherita placed in front of them.
And oddly enough, we could go for a slice right now. Nevermind the hounds.
This first appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2015.