15 April, 2009

Benjamin Button: Creating a Digital Human

One of the hardest things to achieve in animation, is to be able to create lifelike realistic movement in a character's face. These days, there is MOCAP, but still there are some instances where the performance doesn't look complete and believable. In this this talk, visual effects artist Ed Ulbrich describes the process for creating Brad Pitt's digital character in the movie " The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". For students of animation and visual effects, this is a must see.

In this talk he describes many of the problems his team encountered and the solutions to many of those problems, most of which involving new "MOCAP" technology that is able to capture more of the actor's performance through the use of special makeup created by MOVA. Check their site to learn more. I've also hunted around for a quick video demo on what they do so you can learn more...I've included the clip under the lecture below.

For a while, we came to a point where the digital performance of an animated character was close to being believable, but still there was the "Uncanny Valley". In the industry, this refers to the subtle unreal nature of the digital human that we subconsciously can pick up. Regardless of great modeling, lighting and texturing and MOCAP, there is still something in the model that prevents the digital human actor from being totally lifelike and convincing. Benjamin Button, is perhaps the best example I've seen of really great digital acting (emotion acting) work. The shots are pretty believable from up close and suspend our disbelief for long periods of time.

One of my students mentioned this today..."we're waiting for a time when we see a movie starring dead actors". Can you imagine, through the use of technology, making a movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Marlon Brando acting out a scene together in one room... Now that would be cool!

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