Digital Domain Aims to Advance Facial Capture

The 'Curious Case of Benjamin Button' VFX house is rolling out a new technique
Courtesy of Digital Domain

Visual effects house Digital Domain demonstrated notable work toward advancing facial capture and the ability to create a digital human with its Oscar-winning CG version of Brad Pitt in 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. On Monday, the film’s VFX supervisor Eric Barba is still working to further develop this area at Digital Domain -- and based on a demonstration clip that he recently shared with The Hollywood Reporter, the company may be getting closer to doing just that.

Its new process, dubbed Direct Drive, starts with capturing a facial performance using the Mova system that earlier in its development was employed on Benjamin Button and more recently on films such as Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy. The Mova system captures the facial performance of an actor who is wearing ultraviolet makeup, using a specially designed camera rig. The Direct Drive process then employs some proprietary technology to apply the Mova camera data to a CG human or creature.

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The test clip that Barba shared with THR features a furry creature named Brimstone performed by Mova’s Greg LaSalle (steps are pictured above). Explained Barba: “The proportions [for animals and other creatures] are different than humans, this technique is able to take a human performance and transfer it to another human or creature, but with those nuances."

He explained that other such systems used today in VFX will typically involve capturing many points on a face, “but if you are taking a subset of someone’s face there are gaps and you are missing data.”

Barba claimed that with Direct Drive, a director will get a more accurate rendering of a facial performance. “They’re getting the actor, not the actor plus interpretation by software and highly talented animators,” he said. (That's not to say the animators will not still be making great contributions to the work.)

The concept behind the Direct Drive service was first tested when Benjamin Button was in production. “We experimented with the idea to take the raw Mova data to drive Benjamin,” Barba says. “For one shot we attempted it, and it was the most photoreal human animation I had ever seen. [Button director] David Fincher thought it was great, but he didn’t want to use that particularly performance in the film, so we ended up using a different performance for which we didn’t have that data. But that gave us an idea of where we wanted to go.”

The Mova system remains available to other VFX houses, and the Direct Drive proprietary secret sauce is offered exclusively through Digital Domain.

Additional efforts to advance facial capture include one from a group that calls itself the 'Digital Human League.'

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA

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