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Face Robot facial animation technology pioneers new approach to believable, emotional digital acting


August 2, 2005

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August 3, 2005 The world’s most important computer graphics showcase SIGGRAPH 2005 opened yesterday with a rash of new important announcements and techniques to be seen on the floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center, though none are likely to have the far reaching ramifications of SoftImage Face Robot, a revolutionary new facial animation technology. Face Robot software is the first technology that allows 3-D artists to achieve realistic, lifelike facial animation for high-end film, post and games projects. The technology is built on a new computer model of facial soft tissue that mimics the full range of emotions portrayed by the human face. SIGGRAPH attendees made a bee-line to the Avid Computer Graphics booth to experience the Face Robot system. The technology offers artists a very intuitive way to interact with CG characters while providing precise control over facial details, including wrinkles, frowns, flaring nostrils and bulging neck muscles.

Blur Studio in Los Angeles is an acclaimed animation studio that was recently nominated for an Academy Award in the animated short category. The company is showing work created with Face Robot at SIGGRAPH. “On our projects, digital acting is important and the face is the most critical piece,” said Tim Miller, creative director and co-founder of Blur. “There were no tools on the market that could get us close to the quality we wanted, so we began to work with Softimage on a solution. Face Robot has made a huge difference in the quality of the facial animation of our characters. For the first time, I look forward to the moment when the characters stop beating each other up and have a little chat!” Adds Jeff Wilson, animation supervisor at Blur Studio, “Creating believable facial animation is very important because the face is fundamental in understanding emotion. It is also very difficult because facial expressions emerge primarily from deformations of the soft tissue on the face, which is nearly impossible to capture with existing 3-D software. Face Robot removes the cumbersome, repetitive work of legacy approaches and allows us to focus on bringing a character to life. Softimage is creating a truly incredible tool for facial animation.”

The Face Robot software supports both keyframe animation and motion capture, the primary techniques used for digital acting today. The soft tissue model at the core of the technology removes the need to manually create dozens or even hundreds of 3-D shapes for different facial expressions and allows animators to work with an optimal number of control points. Keyframe animators can gain very direct, intuitive access to facial expressions, while motion capture animators can work with fewer markers to reduce setup and cleanup time. “We work closely with many of the world’s most renowned animation studios to understand their challenges in key areas like facial animation. This new technology is the culmination of years of research and development in support of ambitious animation and effects productions,” said Michael Isner, head of the special projects consulting group at Softimage. “Now, with innovative, dedicated facial animation technology, Softimage has created a new category for computer graphics. We are breaking down the barriers to believable digital acting to help the 3-D community fulfill their creative imagination.”

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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