The Digital Emily Project: Achieving a Photoreal Digital Actor

“It is absolutely awesome — amazing. I’m one of the toughest critics of face capture, and even I have to admit, these guys have nailed it. This is the first virtual human animated sequence that completely bypasses all my subconscious warnings. I get the feeling of Emily as a person. All the subtlety is there. This is no hype job, it’s the real thing … I officially pronounce that Image Metrics has finally built a bridge across the Uncanny Valley and brought us to the other side.”
Peter Plantec, VFXWorld, August 07, 2008


Over the last few years our lab has been developing a new high-resolution realistic face scanning process using our light stage systems, which we first published at the 2007 Eurographics Symposium on Rendering. In early 2008 we were approached by Image Metrics about collaborating with them to create a realistic animated digital actor as a demo for their booth at the approaching SIGGRAPH 2008 conference. Since we’d gotten pretty good at scanning actors in different facial poses and Image Metrics has some really neat facial animation technology, this seemed like a promising project to work on.

Image Metrics chose actress Emily O’Brien to be the star of the project. She plays Ms. Jana Hawkes on “The Young and the Restless” and was nominated for a 2008 daytime Emmy award. Emily came by our institute to get scanned in our Light Stage 5 device on the afternoon of March 24, 2008. The image to the left shows Emily in the light stage during a scan, with all 156 of its white LED lights turned on.

Our previous light stage processes used to capture digital actors for films such as Spider Man 2, King Kong, Superman Returns, Spider Man 3, and Hancock captured hundreds of images of the actor’s face from every lighting direction one at a time. This allowed for very accurate facial reflectance to be recorded and simulated, though it required high-end motion picture cameras, involved capturing a great deal of data, and required a custom face rendering system based on our SIGGRAPH 2000 paper. Nonetheless, studios such as Sony Pictures Imageworks achieved some notable virtual actor results using these techniques.

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