If you've ever seen a CGI movie that dipped a little too far into creepy territory, you're familiar with the concept of the uncanny valley.
Now, Disney Research has conceived a tool that could do away with terrifying "dead eyes" forevermore. According to them, the problem stems from animators simply "approximating" the look and feel of an eye, which causes that hollow, does-this-creature-feast-on-souls effect. If you're like me and carry the repressed memories of watching The Polar Express between your fingers, you're rejoicing right now. We'll never have to see this again!
Here's a look at the technology that will save us from ever again considering Tom Hanks to be scary.
With Disney's novel capture system, animators measure and replicate every minute piece of the eye instead of simply guessing at its size and shape (the method most often used in today's movies). They break the eye up into three parts that are all developed independently: "the white sclera, the transparent cornea, and the non-rigidly deforming colored iris." By building each of the parts separately, the digital eye features more realistic movements and a near-perfect appearance.
Using this method, designers will be able to achieve fine-scale surface variation on the iris unique to each captured eye. They even allow for a different amount of dilation depending on the individual eye, recreating the most accurate and diverse ocular image. This is one of the clearest examples of why this method is important. The diversity of the iris manipulation (even though it is the same action across all of these eyes) gives the appearance of fully individualized eyes as opposed to a generic model.
Look at these eyes! The ones on the right are IMAGES, recreated from the revolutionary capture system. These are nearly perfect replicas, the closest they have ever been able to get in depicting the human eye.
Essentially, designers will now be able to craft digital eyes unique to the actor, just like they do with nearly every other feature in the motion capture process.
Put simply, this means no more dead eyes!
Even more amazing, the technology detecting the pupil's size can be used during "facial performance transfer." This means that an animated character's eyes can AUTOMATICALLY respond to lighting changes in the environment (much like the feature of our own eyes). As the light turns on, the digital iris reacts naturally. This is incredible, folks, a simply unprecedented level of detail.
While I'm having a nerdgasm over how jaw-droppingly real our movies are going to look in the future, I can't help but wonder where this will eventually take us. Are we getting to the point where we won't even need actors? Will the plot of [The Congress](movie:864937) play out in real life, with actors cataloging their movements and likeness to be used in virtually any scenario? Will we ever have a purely digital star, who never had an actual person as inspiration?
As I descend into this existential crisis, let me know how you feel about the end of the Uncanny Valley in the comments.