Image Metrics Animates ‘Emily’ for SIGGRAPH

Image Metrics, a provider of facial animation solutions for the entertainment industry, partnered with Paul Debevec of the University of Southern California Institut for Creative Technologies (ICT) to create a completely photo-realistic computer-generated animated face. ICT’s facial scanning system was used to create a computer-generated replica of actress Emily O’Brien’s face at high-definition resolution, while Image Metrics brought the CG character to life by capturing, tracking and animating the actress’ exact performance. ‘Emily’ will make her worldwide debut in Image Metrics’ booth (#1229) at SIGGRAPH 2008, taking place Aug. 12-14 in Los Angeles. A behind-the-scenes Tech Talk on Emily’s creation will be given on Aug. 13 at 1 p.m. in Room 2, Hall G.

‘Our goal was to create a completely convincing, animated computer-generated face,’ explains Image Metrics producer David Barton. ‘Given the caliber of creative work and talent in our industry, it was a challenging goal, but one we were confident we could accomplish by pairing our technology with the facial scanning system developed by Paul Debevec and his team at ICT. The unmatched level of detail delivered by ICT’s facial scans perfectly complemented the power and accuracy of Image Metrics’ technology to achieve a new level of believability in facial animation.’

ICT employed its high-resolution face scanning process to capture O’Brien in 35 facial poses directed by Image Metrics. This newest process from the ICT Graphics Lab places the actor inside a sphere of LED lights, illuminating the talent with a set of polarized spherical gradient illumination patterns while a pair of high-res digital cameras takes around 15 photographs in under three seconds. The patterns allow the shine of the skin to be photographed independently from the main skin tone so that precise colors and characteristics can be calculated at hundreds of measurements per square millimeter. The resulting CG models provide unprecedented detail down to skin pores and fine wrinkles with perfectly aligned shading information that allows photo-real faces to be rendered under any illumination and viewpoint with standard rendering packages.

‘It’s exciting to see the results of combining our high-resolution face scanning with the animation pipeline Image Metrics has created,” says Debevec, associate director for graphics research at ICT. “This collaborative research project means that, for the first time, we’re seeing the realism of our face models truly come alive on screen, with a pipeline that would be straightforward to apply to future projects’

Image Metrics began planning the Emily project in March. After the company developed a script for the animation, the ICT Graphics Lab scanned O’Brien to develop the template for her CG double. A team of eight artists working part-time on the internal project then built a custom rig for the Emily character, captured O’Brien’s performance with video and applied it to the CG character with its proprietary facial animation solution. Once the capture and rigging processes were finalized, the 90-second animation took just one week to complete.