Backstage at the Oscars after collecting his statutette for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Digital Domain's Eric Barba said he hoped that the studios would dust off projects that demand photo-realistic digital humans — and that that is already happening. Today we get another indication that he is right.
Image Metrics, the facial motion capture company, has announced that London vfx studio Double Negative is beta-testing Image Metrics' latest offering. Image Metrics uses an array of miniature cameras to do markerless facial performance capture, then uses that data to animate a CGI face. It's been used to let actors perform a new commercial "starring" "I Love Lucy" characters Fred & Ethel, for example.
Image Metrics' software was repurposed by Digital Domain for one part of its "Benjamin Button" pipeline, but DD's pipeline was cobbled together with technology from several sources, including Image Metrics' rival Mova.
I spoke to Image Metrics' Kelvin Duckett, who explained what's new about what DNeg is testing:
Previously, Image Metrics did almost everything in-house. They ingested the data, animated the final digital face and sent the completed animation back to the client. Clients who wanted to tweak that animation had to come to Image Metrics offices in either Santa Monica or England.
Now, Image Metrics can send the data to DNeg, who will do their animation in their own facility, with a software plugin from Image Metrics that works with commercial software. DNeg can tweak to their hearts' content, in their own facility, with their own security. (And DNeg has experience with high-security projects. On my one visit there, during production on "Batman Begins," the computers for that picture were on a separate floor with its own, isolated computer network and restricted card-key access.)
DNeg has become one of London's more important vfx studios and their website lists many major movies in production. So what are they using this softare for? Managing director Alex Hope would only tell me: "We are using it within our general R&D effort. I'm afraid at present I can't discuss project applications." — which is normal for vfx shops, especially if they're doing tests for a future studio tentpole. It sounds like they're looking at a future project that's not already announced. But clearly something's in the works that involves some heavy-duty work on digital humans.