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CGI Skin Just Got a Whole Lot More Realistic

Researchers are capturing detail down to the last pore.

We might be one step closer to eradicating the uncanny valley.

Researchers from the Imperial College London and the University of Southern California have created a new way to depict human skin, making facial expressions more lifelike.

Motion capture of a human actor remains the best basis for a realistic CGI animation, but no motion capture system is capable of recording the minute details and deformations of skin that appear with different facial expression. To combat this, the researchers built a special device that manipulates the skin on an actor's face, capturing detail at a resolution of 10 microns.

They noted how skin becomes rougher as it contracts, and smoother and shinier when it is stretched, and how different areas of the face are contracted and stretched with different facial expressions. Once this data has been recorded, CGI artists will know which areas of the face of blur and which to sharpen, based on the compression and stretching that corresponds to each expression. This data can then be mapped to the CGI character's face, providing a new level of verisimilitude.

Unveiled at this years SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques) conference, it's unsure how long it will take before this technology filters down to the media we consume. But be on the lookout for eerily lifelike CGI characters.