The Jar Jar Problem — solved?

Tired of plastic, creepily rendered characters in video games and movies? The Wall Street Journal has an article up about an allegedly promising technique to more faithfully render people (hat tip: Slashdot).

It works like this:

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.

The system turns the lights on and off at speeds so fast that the studio appears lit. But during those brief interludes of darkness, the actor’s face glows brightly. The cameras that surround the actor snap digital images of the glowing face — and body, if the actor’s clothing is coated in a phosphorescent dye — producing a ghoulish green three-dimensional computer image of the face.

After artists digitally insert a few important details into a face, including eyeballs, hair and natural-skin color, the striking facial details captured during the acting session become clear: flaring nostrils, furrowing brows and other subtle expressions make the digital face seem like the real thing.

The pictures they have of the process don’t convince me, and there’s still the problem of realistically rendering the movement of the character. But some big shots are pretty impressed: David Fincher (of Se7en and Fight Club fame) and John Riccitiello, chief executive of game developer BioWare/Pandemic Studios. It’ll be interesting to see if this takes off.

— July 31, 2006

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