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Digital Replicas May Change Games and Film 141

Posted by Zonk
from the all-editor-version-of-star-trek dept.
Carl Bialik from WSJ writes "Steve Perlman is touting technology that he says can create animated digital reproductions of the human body that are as accurate as photographs, the Wall Street Journal reports. From the article: 'Game makers could use the system, called Contour, to create very realistic animated characters in videogames with fully controllable movements and facial expressions. Film makers could use the technology as a kind of digital makeup, changing an actor's looks or words or switch camera angles without costly retakes. The technology can even substitute one actor's face for another's and create exact replicas of long-dead historical figures.'"
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Digital Replicas May Change Games and Film

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  • hooray (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    finally: something to make humans totally unnecessary in all film clips! what's that, mr. president? you're addressing 50 audiences at once on live television, saying contradictory things to each? what a talented orator!!!
    • Yes, but how would you target each individual audience? Have them all tagged? Oh, wait
    • Stalin meets Mein Fuhrer... and remakes of historical films. Resurrections of dead actors. New chaplin movies.

      Now add to that virtual enriched realities.

      Could be real fun. I have a vision of young fellows marching to Verdun with gaming sports equipment in their hands.

      Or watch Jesus live.
      • Just to pick nits, but assuming you mean Jesus of Nazareth, at best you'd be watching somebody portraying Jesus, as no statues or painting were made of him while he was alive.
  • Realistic animations are already possible, has been for ages, it's called motion capture.
    I only see the use of this technology for movie to game adaptions were they can quickly copy a real life actor to 3D. For the rest, why would you want to hire multiple actors to do the same thing what a couple of voice actors, motion capture actors and animators can do.
    Besides, how would you use this technology in a non-realistic game.
    • Rtfa (Score:4, Informative)

      by BeardsmoreA (951706) on Monday July 31, 2006 @05:47AM (#15815834) Homepage
      And this is a form of motion capture. And if you believe the slashvertisment, a quicker, cheaper one, with better results. So that would be why.

      And to deal with your second question, textures will still be added after capturing structure and movement information, so you could make people blue, tweak the models or whatever after the fact still. (Like in the example, the teeth, skin, hair etc are all being slotted back in from photo's)

      Did you go near the article? Yes yes, I know, I must be new here...

    • It'll all depend on the software, if it's cheaper to use this technology than it will be used. Look at the Source engine, the mouths move with the sounds instead of just using animations, that way it's much easier to dub things. So if they combind the two technologies they can cut out animators all together and save a whole heap on a years worth of wages, plu sit'll dub into other languages extremely easy.
    • Read the article. It's apparently cheaper than motion capture. Traditionnal motion capturing of facial animation is nowhere near where what he claims his system is. I've asked a buddy from work who's at Siggraph this week to go and check it out. It seems really promising. This might be something nice to include in animation packages like Autodesk's (formely from Alias, originally from Kaydara) Motion Builder (originally Filmbox :p).
      • by Turing Machine (144300) on Monday July 31, 2006 @06:29AM (#15815957)
        Yeah, it sounds sort of like chroma keying turned on its head. Rather than shooting the actor against a background that's easy to remove, you just paint the parts that you do want to show up with the fluorescent paint. I'd guess that this would make shooting in an ad hoc environment much easier. No need to set up a soundstage with a green screen, just set up the special lighting rig wherever you want.

        Definitely a clever and newsworthy idea.
    • Steve's company already does motion capture (MOVA) this gets closer to getting faces right - as good as the body mocap was in Polar, convincingly accurate expression on the faces were sorely missing - this gets you closer to capturing faces and getting a more complete model accurate to motion. If you watch the most recent Robota trailer, they even went to video on the female character to keep it as realistic as possible for the trailer. It can be seen as an attempt at a leap across the uncanny valley.
    • by ben there... (946946) on Monday July 31, 2006 @07:15AM (#15816084) Journal
      Here's just a few ideas:
      • Jessica Alba steals cars and punches hookers
      • Jessica Alba bunny hops and spawn camps
      • Jessica Alba breaks bricks with her head and goombas turtles
      • Jessica Alba does the perfect varial flip kick grind
      • Jessica Alba joins a guild and raids gold farmers
    • by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Monday July 31, 2006 @11:36AM (#15817530)
      "Realistic animations are already possible, has been for ages, it's called motion capture."

      Motion capture doesn't work for the face. You could be thinking about performance capture, which does capture the face, but there's debate about how effective that really is. In any event, no, it has NOT been here for ages. If one actor really can drive the actions of another, this is a Big Deal TM. You would not believe the amount of work that is done to deal with facial movements on a character. Check out the extras DVDs on King Kong or I, Robot if you're really curious about it.

      "I only see the use of this technology for movie to game adaptions were they can quickly copy a real life actor to 3D. For the rest, why would you want to hire multiple actors to do the same thing what a couple of voice actors, motion capture actors and animators can do."

      Funny, the article had a couple of interesting ideas in that department. The character aging in reverse gag, for example, is a rather interesting one. As for the latter half of your question, the answer is time. The end result is a moving character. It's time consuming to hand-key animation, not to mention the potential for lack of subtlety. If you can just throw one talented actor into a scanner and get the performance you need with minimal clean-up, you're in a better place.

      "Besides, how would you use this technology in a non-realistic game."

      Have you played San Andreas?

      I realize a lot of people in this thread don't see the point. Just remember that the human body is the hardest thing to get right when it comes to CG. Remember all those complaints in the Star Wars prequels and the Matrix Trilogy about the digital doubles not looking right? Contour may or may not drag us from that rut, I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that it's still a problem today and it's a Good Thing if they can find a solution that allows the talents of actors to drive the performance of a CG character. The possibilities are a lot broader than a lot of you can imagine. Go read an issue or two of Cinefex. You'll be surprised at what technologies are already making a huge difference in modern movies, even though you probably never have noticed.
  • Virtual Stars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dave1791 (315728) on Monday July 31, 2006 @05:38AM (#15815812)
    Given that TV studios already like reality TV in large part because the cast is cheap, will we start seeing 100% virtual actors? From a business standpoint, intellectual property beats a human face that ages, gets into tabloids ( and potentially ruining the carefully marketed image ) is costly and needs to be recycled regularly.
    • Re:Virtual Stars? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by paul248 (536459) on Monday July 31, 2006 @05:44AM (#15815826) Homepage
      We've had those for years. They're called cartoon characters.
      • Re:Virtual Stars? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) <patrik.vanostaey ... m ['mai' in gap]> on Monday July 31, 2006 @05:56AM (#15815857) Journal
        Most cartoon characters aren't 100% virtual. There's still a voice actor behind them. And those can be just as demanding as ordinary actors. See the whole "we want a raise"-situation of the Simpsons voice actors recently.
        • I fail to see how this development -- which when you get right down to it, is really just a very-much-improved animation technology -- would change that situation.

          Voice actors would still be required, unless your advertising campaign is going to be all done with silent films.
          • I wonder if at some point in the future voice synthesis tech will get good enough to take over for the voice actors too. That wouldn't really work very well at this point though, unless you want everyone to sound like Stephen Hawking. Voice synthesis tech is actually pretty good considering it's trying to completely emulate all the subtleties of a human voice, but it still doesn't sound quite right.
        • The mocap characters aren't 100% virtual either -- don't forget the motion capture actors themselves. This new technology will still require good actors; they just won't have to be good looking any more.

          Look no further than Andy Serkis for proof on both counts.
          • And the freaking legion of modelers, animators, riggers, compositors, set supervisors, art directors, and technical directors needed to turn the raw mocap data into a pleasing final. Headed, in the case of Gollum, by Bay Raitt, who is recognized as quite a star within his field of endeavor. Tools != Artistry.
    • Re:Virtual Stars? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bm_luethke (253362) <> on Monday July 31, 2006 @05:57AM (#15815865)
      However, the virtual actor doesn't fare so well signing autographs, making appearances, and quite a few other things that real poeple do. Plus it seems that having a "realistic" fantasy (in the sense that it is physically possible) with a particular actor motivates a alot of stardom. For many shows this is most of the popularity, even the fans don't care much for the story.

      Plus we would loose all the nice scandals - but I'm not too sure if this would be an overall plus or minus.

      I do believe this type of stuff will really help small production films. I'm not so certain how it would work out for major shows - it may be that even with 50% of the current popularity it would still be such a profit maker that they wouldn't care (just like the mentioned reality shows - they are just so cheap to produce it doesn't take much audience to make a lot of money). Though in the long run that just leaves open a great void for another form of entertainment to rule, at the least such lowered production and distribution costs would really reduce the studios influence (much as what the RIAA is currently thinking of with home studios and digital distribution).
      • I'm not sure I agree with your thoughts on it helping "small production films."

        Actors are cheap; CG is expensive. The percieved 'cost' of actors is distorted by how much it costs to hire a super-star, but most low-budget films can't afford that anyway, so they're using no-name actors to begin with. I think the actors' salaries are a pretty small part of most small-budget films who aren't trying to hire someone with name recognition.

        A machine would definitely be cheaper than hiring Harrison Ford, but to para
      • Plus we would loose all the nice scandals - but I'm not too sure if this would be an overall plus or minus.

        Yeah, CG actors don't have such lose morals as normal actors.

    • Re:Virtual Stars? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by montyzooooma (853414) on Monday July 31, 2006 @06:02AM (#15815885)
      Ian McDonalds "River of Gods" has plenty about virtual actors - thing is though in order to make them feel more real to the viewers they also have their own backstories to generate interest. So they appear to have their own love lives etc going on outside the soaps they appear in. Arguably without the hype around "movie stars" there wouldn't be "movie stars" there'd just be actors. But actors don't sell tickets stars do. So in reality that bad-boy virtual actor is going to be getting thrown out of virtual clubs after a virtual fracas just to give the media something to report on.
    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday July 31, 2006 @09:19AM (#15816607) Journal
      The first was Kyoke Date and others have followed. They are of course not completly virtual as they still need a real human to supply the voice but it is getting there.

      She was apparently a moderate success, a typical idol. Not all idols are shortlived but she was and with so many real girls wanting to be idols who wants to create a virtual one? They are so hard to audition on the couch if you know what I mean.

      But yeah, you can see the appeal of a virtual Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Just crank them movies out without having to deal with a grandpa actor.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Monday July 31, 2006 @05:44AM (#15815825) Homepage Journal
    This may revolutionize the porn industry. Imagine taking all the best porn actresses in their primes and putting them all in one movie. Check that, 1,000 different movies. Now it's possible. On a serious note, the less actual sex involved in making the porn, the less risk to the actors.

    Leaving the p0rn industry for a moment, anyone who ever sold a picture of themselves and waived all future rights and royalties is going to be in for a surprise, especially if the picture is them in a birthday suit. You may see congressional action to protect people from having their images used in such ways if they signed "all rights" contracts before the technology became available.

    Someday, we will have the ability to create totally new "people" for movies, without relying on any existing images. That way the whole concept of royalties and rights is avoided altogether.

  • Did I read that right? So if we want to get rid of the real Tom Cruise and only use a virtual Tom for, say, 30 minutes of a film, that will run us... $2000 * 60 sec * 30 mins = $3.6 million
    • Did I read that right? So if we want to get rid of the real Tom Cruise and only use a virtual Tom for, say, 30 minutes of a film, that will run us... $2000 * 60 sec * 30 mins = $3.6 million

      Given that the top stars regualarly charge $20million for a movie, that actually is a bargain.

      The challenge, though, would be to get your virtual actor to that star status (so much harder without the chat shows and celebrity magazine stories about who he might marry).
    • by Anonymous Coward
      But that's $2000/second this year.

      Next year it will be $1000/second. The year after, even less. In 5-10 years, it will be possible to do it on a $2000 desktop in near realtime.

      You just have to look at how quickly morphing technology went from top blockbusters only (Terminator 2) to TV commercials, to something that can be done at home right now.
    • $3.6m to get rid of the real Tom Cruise sounds pretty reasonable to me. Shame it's only for 30 minutes though.
  • by Alranor (472986) on Monday July 31, 2006 @05:49AM (#15815838)
    I bet Homeland Security will love this.

    Suspect that someone is a terrorist, but have no evidence at all to support your allegations. - No problem, just whip up a photo-realistic animation of them attending a local bomb-making class. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • As seen in the case of film, improving technology of film camera and sound systems means nothing to quality of film (it doesn't improve films, it doesn't degrade films). After a few months/years of photo-realistic-games-shock-therapy we will all get back to unrealistic Mario worlds. I don't think that graphic performance is limiting factor (any more) for todays games quality
    • Graphics don't necessarily make a game good, but you seem to be implying that good graphics are a bad thing. That's just as bad an attitude as the developers who think graphics make the game.

      Graphics are a component. Better graphics make a game better, but it can't be at the expense of other game components.

      Heck I'd LOVE if we could get photo-realistic World of Warcraft for example.
  • The technology can even ... create exact replicas of long-dead historical figures.
    OK but since you apparently need to scan in the body, don't be surprised when little Janey screams as Abraham Lincoln endorses some insurance company. :D
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 31, 2006 @05:54AM (#15815853)
    create exact replicas of long-dead historical figures

    I don't think you want to witness this, judging by how the process is described in TFA:

    First, an actor's face is coated in ordinary phosphorescent makeup like that worn by children at Halloween. The actors then conduct their performance in a studio surrounded by fluorescent lights and digital cameras.

    Dig 'em up, cover 'em in phosphorescent makeup and dangle 'em in front of the camera?
  • AI (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stunt_penguin (906223) on Monday July 31, 2006 @06:04AM (#15815892)
    Game makers might achieve photorealistic representations of human appearance and motion, but our new (mostly welcome) digital overlords will still bump into walls, get stuck behind things, get in your way, not look at you while they're talking and generally make mistake and act like they're just computer representations. Game makers for the most part have all the graphical juice they need to convince us of a world's authenticity.

    Though I really do enjoy advances in the level of graphical detail that increasing sophistication in hardware and software bring, I feel we need better AI, not fancier graphics . If a game's AI was as big a selling point (and therefore had the same amount of money invested in developing technologies and software for it's advancement) as the graphical prowress of the hardware then I think Alyx in Half Life 2 would probably have gone sentient at this stage.

    "I'm sorry Gordon, but your apparent lack of regard for your own safety means I don't want to get involved with you, i'm just afraid of getting hurt."
    • What I loved in Half-Life 2 was how people would clearly get annoyed if you threw stuff at them, but "killing" items would bounce or pass through them harmlessly, and the characters complete diregard to me hopping around like a loon while smashing crates.
      And the reviewers complained that characters 'forced' you along!
  • by Rorian (88503)
    So when can I get this on my PC? I'd probably buy Quake 5 if the people looked completely real - Awesome way to do a tech demonstration..
    • by mrjb (547783)
      And then cast your boss as monster. Of course, you'd still have to convince him to wear phosphorecent makeup first.
  • bad news for films (Score:3, Interesting)

    by chucken (750893) on Monday July 31, 2006 @06:18AM (#15815933)
    I think in some aspects this is bad news for films. I'm completely turned off the idea of watching a movie if I think that they've messed about with an actor's face in order to improve on their expression or fix something. I think it's horrendous. I wonder how many actors will shortly have in their contract that film makers can't animate over their face without written consent? Speaking of which, I wonder how many actors currently have written into their contracts/estates that their image can't be raped after their death in cheesy car adverts etc?
    • P.S. I do realise that they already mess about with actors faces by removing pimples, smoothing the skin etc. It just seems that actually editing their expression is a whole different ball park. It's not them acting any more, it's CGI.
    • Um, then you can't watch ANY movies, because they've been doing this for years. You know how easy it is to splice footage and make it look natural. They've had technology for decades to do anything from make an actor blink a few more times ina scene, to today's bullet time in the Matrix movies. It's just been easier until now to simply tell the actor to do whatever it is (you ARE paying them for a reason) Really, with a little bit of clever foley, you may not even need to touch the image--the human min
  • Not in my life time...
  • by Peet42 (904274)
    "Wohlschläger, team up with the digitalised Humphrey Bogart."

      - Last Action Hero
  • There are a couple of other uses that come to mind. How about a fake presidential declaration of war, a nulclear strike on the U.S., casting doubt on bad footage, demonizing an enemy, child porn, incriminating political opponents, or blackmail? Or even better, embedded reporters.
  • by TheNoxx (412624) on Monday July 31, 2006 @06:41AM (#15815999) Homepage Journal
    Now I see some are afraid of forged "photos".... Actually, the larger problem with this technology is not that you could possibly manufacture photographic evidence to damage someone else's ambitions, goals, or whatnot; it's that in creating that possibility, hard photo/video evidence loses its credibility in court, and will only continue to do so with time.

    I guarantee that when this becomes mainstream (just as most CG geeks knew would happen years ago), that implicating a person of influence/wealth will become nearly impossible, as any time any damaging photo/video evidence pops up (oh, say, like photos of torture at the hands of the US government at Guantanamo or a worse and nameless fascimile) the powerful will declare that it's been manufactured by the opposing side.
  • Awesome (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Chuck Norris vs Mr T, without the universe exploding.
  • Anyone else think that they have a pretty big hurdle to overcome before truly human-looking digital actors are anything but creepy? []

    "The Uncanny Valley is the region of negative emotional response for robots that seem 'almost human'. Movement amplifies the emotional response."
  • Quote 1
    ...and create exact replicas of long-dead historical figures...
    Quote 2
    Mova has run into problems with facial captures, even with its older motion-capture system, when actors have recently had Botox injections, which can immobilize sections of the face
    those two quotes seem to be at odds with each other. Come on guys, can you bring dead people back to life or not? ;)
  • I'm skeptical (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spyrochaete (707033) on Monday July 31, 2006 @07:34AM (#15816134) Homepage Journal
    Does anyone else here cringe when they see computer animation superimposed on film or passed off as a real action sequence? Graphics have definitely gotten a lot better over the years but I always laugh when someone describes the next gen of movie effects as lifelike or realistic.

    Take Spiderman for example - I find those swinging sequences to look so horribly fake and robotic. The character model looks pasted-on because the light doesn't strike his body as it should and he isn't as softened by the camera as other objects, and the body motion appears jerky and forced.

    So we'll see what the next gen has in store for us, but I have a feeling it will impress us only the first time we see it in a theatre. Jurassic park looked amazing that first time, but in subsequent viewings anyone can easily tell the difference between CGI and a model.

    I love video games but I hate movies full of computer effects. Practical effects like those in Sam Raimi's movies are still the only way to go in my books!
    • Re:I'm skeptical (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Spiderman was a Sam Raimi flick ... how else would Bruce Campell have gotten a cameo?

      But I do agree that I like his "practical effects" and overall style.
      • Spiderman was a Sam Raimi flick

        I TOTALLY forgot that!! Sam, how could you??

        how else would Bruce Campell have gotten a cameo?

        And Bruce in an A film? Is it -30 in hell? I missed his cameo - who did he play? Bruce RULES!!
        • In the first film he plays the announcer at the wrestling match. In the second he's the doorman at MJ's (hideous) stage version of The Importance of Being Earnest.
          • He's quite a Bruce of all trades, isn't he?

            I'll watch the first movie again just for his cameo but I don't care to see any of the sequels, even for Ash.
  • by master_p (608214) on Monday July 31, 2006 @07:44AM (#15816165)
    The /. comment is misleading. The technique to digitally capture the surface of a human body will not help make digital movies with no actors. You still need a real actor to do the job; the described technique only projects the original actor's image on the new actor. The age of the digital actor is not here yet, although this technique may be useful for ressurrecting dead actors.

    In order to make fully digital actors, there are several problems to be solved:

    1) animation that follows real life physics. Although digital animation has made great steps, the human motion can not be fully synthesized yet in a way that it totally fools the eye.

    2) realistic voice synthesis. Computers still can not make realistic synthetic voice.

    3) putting emotion into the above. In some day truly believable synthetic animation and voice will be achieved using only digital techniques. But what about the emotions? humans can do many emotions at the same time, all with subtle expressions, and using their face and voice in various subtle manners.

    I would love to have truly believable synthespians. It would allow my favorite series to keep going on for ever. For example, there would be no problem doing a new Star Trek movie with Kirk and Spock (many fans have disagreed with the new movie due to the new actors that will be playing Kirk and Spock). But I just don't see it in the near future.

    • The /. comment is misleading. The technique to digitally capture the surface of a human body will not help make digital movies with no actors. You still need a real actor to do the job; the described technique only projects the original actor's image on the new actor. The age of the digital actor is not here yet, although this technique may be useful for ressurrecting dead actors.

      Actually, I think the background article is misleading. Seems like Perlman & Co tried to explain what they were working on an
    • 3) putting emotion into the above. In some day truly believable synthetic animation and voice will be achieved using only digital techniques. But what about the emotions? humans can do many emotions at the same time, all with subtle expressions, and using their face and voice in various subtle manners.

      Considering the amount of botox in the average Holywood actor's face, I'd wager a computer simulation won't have much trouble with facial expressions... Or the lack thereof.
  • Why is it that each time someone claims to be capable of creating "photo realistic" or "lifelike" digital images only have a shity demo to show what might pass as "realistic" to the clinicly blind?
  • Celebrity culture (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    So this could mean the replacement of real actors with virtual ones? An eventual upside of this technology could be the death of the childish, self-indulgent celebrity culture which so many people inexplicably worship.
  • by hrrY (954980) on Monday July 31, 2006 @10:09AM (#15816913)
    Does the film, "The Running Man" ring a bell? And if so, do you remember how technology that was exactly like this, was used? Scary to say in the least...but I am cynic by nature so...
  • Does this really go under "Games"? I guess it has an application in game production, but no more than in film.

    This is the kind thing that I'm missisng at siggraph this year. :(
  • I can't recall the exact year though. :-( In one of the Siggraph presentation videos, there was a presentation about a system to take a 2-D photo and create a 3-D model (w/ skin texture from the photo) from it. They created an "average" face from hundreds of 3-D face scans and then used information from the photo to build up the 3-D model of the new face from the average face. I was wondering when it would show up in a practical application. TFA seems to indicate his team may have done this on their own
  • create exact replicas of long-dead historical figures.

    Or kidnap and make replicas of living historical figures. Bwa ha ha.
  • Maybe in the next 10 years it'll enhance video games, but in the next 20-30 years this could create serious political problems. Politicians will be misrepresented and fake videos will spread throughout the globe. Perhaps astute people will find ways to determine what is truth and what is not, but a large portion of voters could be completely duped. Corruption will rule. The apocalypse will not be far behind.
  • I think the video game industry will run with this, and make it a great success. However, I think the film industry will play with this (and other motion-capture technologies) for a while, then resort back to good humans. Why? The actors will play along for a while, but their performances will lose authority because audiences will feel their performances were "enhanced" with computer aid. Just like in sports, we want our athletes to perform completely on their own merits, and not with the boost of technolog
    • The actors will play along for a while, but their performances will lose authority because audiences will feel their performances were "enhanced" with computer aid.

      No idea how the general movie going public feels about it, but for me the actor is pretty damn unimportant to a movie, its the action, story and the characters in the movie that matters. The actor simply happens to be the person that plays the character, but I don't really care about him any more then I do care about the person that does the lig

  • I'm not convinced this is as easy as they claim...

    How does the new virtual human data, respond to lighting adjustments? Can you alter the lighting? Add key lights? Add fill lights? Move them around etc?

    How about the simulation of the properties of materials? The human skin is quite difficult to get looking real, and it doesnt look like this process would be able to simulate any of teh real properties of skin and how it reacts to lighting. How about the metalic surfaces in buttons or jewelry? How about shado

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