Developer to lease high-tech humans

Moving a step closer to enabling helmers to direct digital actors, Paraform Inc., the software developer funded by Paul G. Allen, has begun building a library of digital humans. The company plans to lease them to f/x houses and videogame developers.

The Palo Alto-based company, along with Los Angeles-based Film East, completed scans of six models last week in Westwood, Calif., using a 3-D laser scanner, one of only six available commercially in the world.

Once completed, Paraform’s library will feature up to 60 digital humans, ranging from 425-pound football players to 4-year-olds. Work is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“The resolution is so refined that you can see veins in foreheads, wrinkles in faces and musculature in arms,” said Paraform’s director of marketing, John H. Doffing.

The company also offers a more detailed laser head scanner.

The result of a traditional 3-D scan is a point cloud, or millions of points of data from which a computer can shape the object in a wire-like mesh skeleton.

“The goal for artists has always been to come up with a way to deal with this unstructured mesh,” Doffing said.

Paraform’s software enables artists to work with the scanned images, animating them and enabling digital humans, for example, to be used by f/x artists for crowd scenes or as stunt doubles and as characters in videogames.

“It’s a piece of the production puzzle that helps you rapidly get a physical object into the digital world and actually be able to do something with it,” Doffing said. “We’re creating tools for artists to save time and money.”

Where View Point Data Labs sells its own digital human models for $9,000 each, Paraform plans a $4,000 pricetag.

Paraform currently offers a free downloadable digital human through Paraform’s Web site at http://www.paraform.com.

Paraform’s software, when it ships in April, is expected to sell for $15,000 to $20,000 and will run on computers with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows NT operating system or Silicon Graphics Inc. workstations.

In addition to Allen’s Vulcan Ventures LLP, Paraform’s investors include Chase Capital Partners and Techfarm Capital Management.

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