pliers: a python package for automated feature extraction

PyPI version pytest Coverage Status DOI:10.1145/3097983.3098075

Pliers is a Python package for automated extraction of features from multimodal stimuli. It provides a unified, standardized interface to dozens of different feature extraction tools and services–including many state-of-the-art deep learning-based models and content analysis APIs. It’s designed to let you rapidly and flexibly extract all kinds of useful information from videos, images, audio, and text.

You might benefit from pliers if you need to accomplish any of the following tasks (and many others!):

  • Identify objects or faces in a series of images

  • Transcribe the speech in an audio or video file

  • Apply sentiment analysis to text

  • Extract musical features from an audio clip

  • Apply a part-of-speech tagger to a block of text

Each of the above tasks can typically be accomplished in 2 - 3 lines of code with pliers. Combining them all–and returning a single, standardized DataFrame–might take a bit more work. Say maybe 5 or 6 lines.

In a nutshell, pliers provides a high-level, unified interface to a large number of feature extraction tools spanning a wide range of modalities.


The official pliers documentation is comprehensive, and contains a quickstart, user guide and API Reference.

Pliers overview (with application to naturalistic fMRI)

Pliers is a general purpose tool, this is just one domain where it’s useful.

Tutorial Video

The above video is from a tutorial as a part of a course about naturalistic data.


Simply use pip to install the latest release:

pip install pliers


Installing pliers with pip will only install third-party libraries that are essential for pliers to function properly. However, because pliers provides interfaces to a large number of feature extraction tools, there are dozens of optional dependencies that may be required depending on what kinds of features you plan to extract. You may install dependencies piece meal (pliers will alert you if you’re missing a depedency) or you may install all the required dependencies:

pip install -r optional-dependencies.txt

Note, that some of these Python dependencies may have their own requirements. For example, python-magic requires libmagic and without this, you’ll be relegated to loading all your stims explicitly rather than passing in filenames (i.e., stim = VideoStim('my_video.mp4') will work fine, but passing ‘my_video.mp4’ directly to an Extractor may not).

Docker image

You may also use the provided Docker image which fulfills all the optional dependencies.

docker run -p 8888:8888

Follow these instructions.

API Keys

While installing pliers itself is straightforward, configuring web-based feature extraction APIs can take a more effort. For example, pliers includes support for face and object recognition via Google’s Cloud Vision API, and enables conversion of audio files to text transcripts via several different speech-to-text services. While some of these APIs are free to use (and usually provide a limited number of free monthly calls), they require users to register to received API credentials. More details on API key setup are available here.

Another option is to exclusively use local models and algorithms, such as the wide range covered by TensforFlow Hub using the TFHubExtractor.

How to cite

If you use pliers in your work, please cite both the pliers and the following paper:

McNamara, Q., De La Vega, A., & Yarkoni, T. (2017, August). Developing a comprehensive framework for multimodal feature extraction. In Proceedings of the 23rd ACM SIGKDD International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (pp. 1567-1574). ACM.

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