A team of researchers from the University of California's Institute for Creative Technologies and the Imperial College in London has developed a way to capture the complexities and subtle deformations in human skin, enabling them to translate an incredibly realistic model of human skin into a computer-generated character.
The development could have a significant impact on the realism of CGI characters in movies and video games.
The technique works hand in hand with motion capture, in which a real-life actor's physical performance is captured and applied to a CGI representation of the character. While some argue that motion capture is a shortcut when it comes to creating animations, using the technique enables animators to capture incredibly subtle aspects pf a performance that they might otherwise miss out on.
Motion capture doesn't have to be applied to the whole body of the performer, however. Instead, it can be used to capture only the facial performance of an actor. Despite this, researchers so far have not really been able to capture the subtle ways that the skin moves when a person's face changes.
The tech itself is able to capture patches of skin and how it changes at 10 microns as the skin is stretched and moved by the rig designed by the team. At such a zoom level, researchers can detect how individual skin pores deform when being stretched, resulting in the creation of CGI skin that is extremely realistic.
"Simulating the appearance of human skin is important for rendering realistic digital human characters for simulation, education, and entertainment applications. Skin exhibits great variation in color, surface roughness, and translucency over different parts of the body, between different individuals, and when it's transformed by articulation and deformation," said the researchers in a report. "But as variable as skin can be, human perception is remarkably attuned to the subtleties of skin appearance, as attested to by the vast array of makeup products designed to enhance and embellish it."
The researchers hope to eventually be able to create a model that can determine more or less how skin will deform based on things like the person's age, sex, race and emotions, without the actors themselves having to use the skin motion capture device.
It will certainly be interesting to see how this technology progresses to being usable in things like movies and video games.