Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

Programmer nails real-time rendering of ultra-realistic human skin


February 9, 2012

With his "separable subsurface scattering", graphics researcher Jorge Jimenez may just have cracked the problem of rendering realistic human skin in real-time on consumer-level hardware

With his "separable subsurface scattering", graphics researcher Jorge Jimenez may just have cracked the problem of rendering realistic human skin in real-time on consumer-level hardware

Image Gallery (5 images)

Graphics researcher Jorge Jimenez has cracked the problem of rendering what he calls "ultra realistic skin" in real-time with consumer-level computer and graphics hardware. It's a breakthrough made possible by the process of separable subsurface scattering (SSS) which quickly renders the translucent properties of skin and its effect on light in two post-processing passes. The code is based wholly on original research using DirectX 10. Jimenez describes the achievement as the result of hours of "research, desperation, excitement, happiness, pride, sadness and extreme dedication."

Though Jimenez has released a high definition video of the effect, he's gone two better by releasing downloadable executable demo files that will run on a home PC provided it has a powerful enough GPU, as well as making the source code available on GitHub.

Though the code runs on consumer-level hardware, it'll take more than an everyday PC to run well. On his GeForce GTX 580-equipped machine Jimenez was able to run the demo at a mean of 112.5 frames per second, varying between 80 and 160 FPS. It's worth bearing in mind that that's a graphics card that costs about US$470 from Amazon.

And it may be too early to salivate at the prospect of a Call of Duty, Mass Effect or Elder Scrolls sequel with such realistic characters. The demo consists of a single, stationary head and shoulders - literally a world apart from the dynamic, character-filled environments of modern video games. If the principles are applied to games in the near future, it may be that the results are significantly watered down simply because the graphics processors have a lot more on their plate (unless Attack of the Gigantic Mutant Killer Head from Venus is released any time soon).

And SSS alone is not sufficient for rendering realistic character models. "Efforts towards rendering ultra realistic skin are futile if they are not coupled with HDR, high quality bloom, depth of field, film grain, tone mapping, ultra high quality models, parametrization maps, high quality shadow maps (which are lacking on my demo) and a high quality antialiasing solution," writes Jimenez on his blog. "If you fail on any of them, the illusion of looking at a real human will be broken." The task of rendering realistic skin is especially challenging close up at 1080p, he adds.

It's an impressive achievement, and one you can observe in all its HD glory in the video below. Of course, if you've got the hardware, you can run the demo for yourself.

Source: Jorge Jimenez via Wired UK

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

astounding - gathering the hair patterns, scars, ingrown hairs - never would have guessed this wasn\'t human. Well done!


That\'s pretty impressive. I was hoping the guy would open his eyes. Later versions?

Jim Parker

Looks spot on, but means nothing until you see it in motion. Huge difference between making something look realistic in an illustration and a video

Walter Costescu

Having no eye lashes makes it look inhuman still.

Lee Storm

@Lee Storm - good eye. I was wondering what was just a bit freaky about it. I don\'t think he was worrying about eyelashes, though; the skin is amazing. . .


Just wait until the porn industry gets this.


Stunning! Congratulations to Jorge Jimenez for this achievement.


Good, Awesome... Now sell it to MicroSmith Poser Pro, It will speed up their rendering time by squillions, and you will be a multi millionaire al. What\'s the music?

Paul Perkins

Have I got a suspicious mind, but could this be a real person(without eyelashes)? Most models of a head tend not to look real, due to the inability of an artist to get proportions right. This is absolutely spot on, and the detail is stunning. This level would not be require in computer games. Let\'s face it, the main aim is to KILL!


Congrats! The pc industry has been waiting for this for EONS.... Just think...realistic computer generated porn, newscasters, games, you name it. You wouldnt be looking for investors would you?




Very good! Looks a little shiny to me like he had lotion on or was sweaty but still a vast improvement. It may need to show different levels of shininess for different areas. A better test might be a 90 year old. They need to hard-wire the algorithms onto the graphics chips so they could do this fast. It seems to me a lot of other surfaces could use this treatment as well.


@Walter Costescu - did you watch the video?

Nate Ferrero

Sheesh windykites1 ...it\'s not only for KILLing \'games\'.

Besides the missing eyelashes, his back looked a little like vinyl... but very impressive.


windy: No, this isn\'t a real person, or even a wax person. Hold your finger a few cm above a flat surface with a distant light source on it - notice the blurring at the edges? Now, go back and look at the shadow under the ears... then maybe try some good non-violent video games (I\'m loving \"World of Goo\" on Android). Okay, so most of those games would be as good without crazy good graphics like this too, but think of the cut scenes this would allow - in 10 years we\'ll be looking back and wondering how we were willing to accept the blurry lack of detail in \"Avatar\"... and computer drawn cartoons will be that much more creepily imperfect compared with our viewing standards.

Good catch on the eye lashes. I knew there was something off besides the texture. Now I kind of want to trim my eyelashes just to throw people for a loop.

Charles Bosse

I was wondering, that computers do play movies, with real people, of course in make up. It\'s real, it\'s a movie, but still, it\'s a display on small screen format, and shown, 2 and a half hours covered, not stressing the graphics processor, I was wondering, rather than focus so much on the graphics components and their processing requirements, the shaders, the passes, the light scatter, and fancy processor, why simulate directly, like a movie, small screen format. What I mean to say is, the same hardware is displaying a movie, which as real as it gets, this is the objective. Now any game, interaction or activity requiring better realism can simulate the real format, either the software can reverse engineer reality of film, or aquire that file format and make this interactive.

Dawar Saify

That\'s Joshua Jackson!

Paul Hutchinson

SO if you put a light source directly next to the skin does it light up red like what happens when you put a flashlighton your skin?

Raymond Johnson
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles