Monday, July 14, 2008

As predicted virtual humans are becoming popular. Unfortunately the most common ones are the brain dead ones on the phone. And then there are the virtual human actors that creep us out, like in Polar Express and Beowulf...although the latter had definite improvement. It seems the film makers, especially Robert Zemecks, just don't understand the psychological factors involved in creating believable virtual actors. It's doable with todays technology. The problem is that they rely too much on technology and not enough on the art of virtual human design. They don't do anything with the personality to overcome the botox faces that creep us out.

It's possible to write scripts for virtual human actors that will help them overcome the limitations on motion capture, but more than that, we need hand animated nuances that are lost entirely in the MoCap.

Thankfully, Dr. Paul Debevec who's contributed so much to the vfx industry, is teaming up with Image Metrics in Venice, California, to help bring in a new generation in face motion capture. Done at extremely high resolutions on a pixel tracking basis, the results should virtually eliminate the Botox look. I understand some of this new technology is being used in the Benjamin Buttons movie and that we won't be able to tell the virtual actor from the real one. I'll believe it when I see it as the movie is due for release shortly.
Something very cool. I'm now on the International Board of Advisors for the Digital Design Foundation in Beijing. I'll be working with some legends of our industry helping the Chinese Government to set national standards in education and certification of animators and vfx artists. I'll also be teaching the occasional classes in how to create a killer demo reel and virtual human design. Heres a link to the DDF
I just got back from the Mundos Digitales Conference in A Caruna Spain. Awesome time, great people and amazing food and wine. I fell in love with Spain.

I did a talk entitled "Crossing the Uncanny Divide" about the psychological factors that make us find virtual human actors creepy the more real they look. The second talk was entitled "Creating a Killer Demo Reel" the title pretty much says it all. Most demo reels totally suck and most of us hate looking at them. But exercising a little good judgment, creative initiative and excellence you can create a demo reel that will stand out. The Spanish students were wonderful and I had an very interactive audience. Later we all partied together at a hugh dome overlooking the Atlantic and the oldest lighthouse in Europe, build originally by the Romans. It was quite an experience.

I wanted to thank all the vfx supervisors and animation supervisors who contributed their ideas on what makes a killer Demo. Nearly 30 of them responded. I created a handout sheet with their ideas and had it translated into Spanish for Mundos Digitales.

Next It looks like I'll be hosting the 5D conference in Long Beach, California this Octobe 4-5. It's sponsored by the Art Dirctor's Guild with many partnerships. This one is all about the design and production of immersive narrative media. The brainchild of one of Hollywood's top Production Designers, Alex McDowell, it is a forward looking conference about not only immersive media, but the new collaborative, immersive production environments that virtual work spaces make possible. It's about getting art into the picture earlier (litterally) and having the art lead the way, rather than the technology. I think you'll enjoy it. Got to for more information.

I'll be starting a new column at in New York. Don't have a title yet, but it will be a regular look at the latest trends in film production. It should be lots of fun, informative and maybe a little controversial.