Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Emily--She's Unreal!

From the UK's Times Online comes a fascinating discussion of a new era in computer animation. Have a look at the video below:

This amazing clip shows just how far we have come in this realm. The girl in the movie is the "output" of a computer system at Image Metrics, the folks that animated Grand Theft Auto. What you see in the movie is a completely digital rendering of actress Emily O'Brien. I can't tell the difference between the real thing and her digital doppleganger.

The data is acquired as follows:

One of the attributes that sets Image Metrics apart is their unencumbered video-capture process. Using standard or HD cameras, or a head-mounted camera, an actor's performance is perfectly captured with all of its nuances and subtleties. There are no time-consuming markers or makeup to apply. The director is free to capture the performance he or she needs, while the actor has the freedom to move unhindered about the stage. The result is spectacular performance-driven animation every time.

An actor reads the script and performs the scene as they would on stage.

A director controls the actor's performance as cameras capture it.

The actor can perform freely, without markers or makeup.

The absence of those same markers and makeup allow directors to see the subtleties of an actor's performance.

In addition to taking less time to set up, the director can get the performance he or she wants for their film.

The improvement of Image Metrics' current methods over earlier attempts is the introduction of much finer control, essentially down to the individual pixel level. Beyond this,

"Ninety per cent of the work is convincing people that the eyes are real," Mike Starkenburg, chief operating officer of Image Metrics, said.

"The subtlety of the timing of eye movements is a big one. People also have a natural asymmetry - for instance, in the muscles in the side of their face. Those types of imperfections aren't that significant but they are what makes people look real."

Technology had to catch up for this to be possible:

For many years now, animators have come up against a barrier known as "uncanny valley", which refers to how, as a computer-generated face approaches human likeness, it begins take on a corpse-like appearance similar to that in some horror films.

As a result, computer game animators have purposely simplified their creations so that the players realise immediately that the figures are not real.

"There came a point where animators were trying to create a face and there was a theory of diminishing returns," said Raja Koduri, chief technlology officer in graphics at AMD, the chip-maker.

AMD last week released a new chip with a billion transistors that will be able to show off creations such as Emily by allowing a much greater number of computations per second. "If you're trying to process the graphics in a photo-realistic animation, in real-time, there's a lot of computation involved," said Mr Koduri.

By 2020, the line between photo and photoreality may well be completely blurred. I'll bet it comes sooner than that, based on Emily.

Think of the possibilities. With the proper apparatus, you could have yourself scanned and placed in whatever movie you want....

Brave New World, ain't it?

1 comment :

Puolimatkassa said...

Hi and thanks

I just found your blog and its wondefull that someone writes about these things! (I haven't read much yet so can't tell if I disagree, but that's not the point).

Keep writing


ps. I am junior medicin physicics and free time triathlete..