"Digital Andy Serkis" Debuts at GDC

Andy Serkis Digital Human Demo - Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Dana Cowley

A digital rendition of Andy Serkis, reciting lines from Macbeth, was unveiled Wednesday morning at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The challenges of creating photoreal digital humans is something that resides mainly in the realm of high-end visual effects. For instance, this year's VFX Oscar winner, Blade Runner 2049, included a digital version of Sean Young as she appeared in the 1982 original Blade Runner.

This is still considered among the most challenging VFX tasks. But, according to Epic Games, "someday photorealistic digital humans will be used in interactive entertainment, simulations, research, non-verbal communication as an interface with machines, artificial intelligence and mixed reality applications as well."

The Andy Serkis demonstration occurred during an Epic Games session and was created using Epic's Unreal Engine real-time rendering system combined with 3Lateral's Meta Human Framework volumetric capture, reconstruction and compression technology. The pre-processed data was generated from a series of high frame rate images of Serkis, which were captured from multiple angles under controlled lighting.

Also during the session and in collaboration with Lucasfilm's ILMxLAB and tech developer Nvidia, Epic Games demonstrated its work in real-time ray tracing in Unreal Engine, using Star Wars’ Captain Phasma and two Stormtroopers.

“Ray tracing is a rendering process typically only associated with high-end offline renderers and hours and hours of computer processing time," said Epic founder and CEO Tim Sweeney, adding that this development work is aimed at "media and entertainment linear content worlds and any markets that require photorealistic visualization.”

GDC runs through Friday at San Francisco's Moscone Center.