CGI goes through the motions

A new cinematography process claims to make photo-real facial animation a reality for films and computer games while making the motion capture process cheaper and easier to control.

San Francisco-based motion capture studio Mova’s Contour system employs two separate-yet-synchronised camera systems to simultaneously record visual and geometric information of the subject. The two sets of data are combined to given a high-resolution 3D digital image. The markerless, optics-based process records every subtle detail of a human performance in real time, offering directors and producers a greater level of creative control.

Contour’s high-definition, 3D, volumetric representation of the action can be imported, modified, manipulated or retargeted to other characters using off-the-shelf CGI animation software.

Traditional marker-based motion capture is used to create realistic performances for skeletal captures, but was never designed to capture the intricacies of soft tissue motion, like pursing lips or billowing fabric. Contour captures the motion of a 3D surface, deformable or not, with sub-millimetre precision at up to 120 frames per second, at a resolution of over 100,000 polygons per frame. The result is a realistic, digitised performance that requires minimal manual clean up.

Contour’s performance is enabled in part by a collaboration with graphics processing pioneer NVIDIA. Graphics processors are usually used to accelerate the rendering and display of 3D scenes. In the Contour system, they are being used for the first time to accelerate the capture of 3D scenes.

Due to the enormous costs involved, most attempts to create photorealistic CG humans have been limited to big-budget films with long production schedules. Mova claims that Contour not only dramatically reduces a photo-real production budget, but it provides the director with photo-real CG characters to review much sooner after a shoot. This could mean photo-real CG characters appearing in a much wider range of motion picture, video game, television and commercial productions.