Uncanny Valley Update- The Avatars Are Among Us

19 08 2008

From the Times Online.

Image Metrics, a company which makes computer animation for movies and games like GTA 4 has a major new breakthrough in delivering high quality lifelike facial animation. They make realistic animated avatars using a new motion-tracking camera system which is a significant advancement over previous marker-based systems.

Eww, creepy.

Eww, creepy.

The challenge with animation of the human face is how to make it realistic without suffering from the “uncanny valley” effect, in which an image that is so close to realistic, but just shy of completely real, causes a negative reaction in the viewer, similar to the revulsion one experiences viewing a corpse.   This uncanny valley has long been a barrier to completely immersive experience in games and movies.  The wooden rendering of Tom Hanks in The Polar Express is a high-profile example.  His face and voice are widely known, so hearing his voice emerge from an expressionless “ventriloquist’s dummy” had the effect of turning off most viewers of the film.

But now it seems the uncanny valley may start to lose it’s population of zombies, corpses, mannequins and monsters.  As this technology and others like it come online in the next few years, computer renderings of people that are indistinguishable from real people will become commonplace.  and the age of the mediasapien will truly begin.  A complete disruption will occur that replaces all on-camera talent (actors, newscasters, athletes, etc…) with hyper-realistic digital representations, and real-life actors will be reduced to organic input devices.  Can the age of the Mediasapien be far behind?

Read the whole story and see the amazing video HERE.



1 08 2008

I am fascinated by the HUD.  No, not the 1963 Western starring Paul Newman, but the Head’s Up Display found lurking in the corner of many video game interfaces.  You know what I mean.  The small map-like radar scope or grid view of the game world that lets the player know at-a-glance his situational awareness.  The player is usually presented as a dot in the center of the HUD, with various icons and graphics representing other players or items nearby.  Every HUD is different, and their variety and depth and significance has become a minor obsession of mine. 

When I first came across this site from Cornell University my jaw hit the floor.  Collaborating with Buddhist monks, researchers created a stunning animation of the Kalachakra Mandala – a 2D image that represents the three-dimensional palace of the Kalachakra deity.  Basically they took a 2D sand painting, and extrapolated a 3D model of a five story temple. Go look.  You will never look at sand paintings the same way again.

There is an interesting parallel between the visual language of HUDs and Mandalas.  Even though they come from radically different sources, there is a similarity in the use of icons and signifiers to represent elements of value or importance.  I can’t help but take the analogy one step further and imbue the HUD with the kind of spiritual relevance and guidance within the game that the mandala has in reality.  Think about it, while fighting it out in GTA 4 multiplayer, the player needs the information in the HUD.  To a l337 gamer, the HUD is the difference between life and death.  I definitely do NOT want to sound glib, or suggest that real people’s spiritual practices are in any way trivial. I’m trying to say just the opposite.  In some small way, as games become increasingly relevant in our lives, the language of the HUD reflects this significance, and serves as a visual reminder of the in-game experiences and values of the player.

Recognize any of these?