'Human' characters key topic at Siggraph 2008

Conference and exhibition opens Monday

Advancements in creating photoreal CG "human" characters and the related subject of motion capture will be key topics at Siggraph 2008, the international conference and exhibition on computer graphics and interactive techniques that opens Monday at the Los Angles Convention Center.

"We are now at a point where we can create photoreal characters, but it is hugely labor-intensive and it is really expensive," said Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Michael Fink ("The Golden Compass"), who recently was named president of VFX worldwide at Frantic Films VFX and Prime Focus Group.

"Can we do an absolutely, totally realistic Elvis Presley? Probably not. But that is because he is so well known," he said. "But if we had to create a character that nobody had ever seen before? That might be possible at this point. And in a few years it will be possible to do Elvis. A lot of people think it is possible now. I don't."

Motion capture, also called performance capture, is the process of digitally recording an actor's movement. It is not new, but the technology involved is advancing, making the process faster, more accurate and more flexible for VFX/animation houses to incorporate into their CG character creation.

This summer, Industrial Light + Magic used the technique to capture Robert Downey Jr.'s performance for their CG Iron Man. And Digital Domain similarly captured performances for its CG terra cotta army and foundation army in "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor."

"It went from a reference tool to a body animation tool. Now we are getting to facial motion capture -- and all with less and less constricting systems," Digital Domain CEO Mark Miller said.

At Siggraph, technology developers will demonstrate advancements in motion capture, while content creators will show finished work.

As for upcoming projects, there is a lot of interest surrounding Digital Domain's work on the upcoming "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," though that is not scheduled to be unveiled at Siggraph.

Also on the conference program is the topic of stereoscopic 3-D, the subject of two days of panel discussions and screenings. In the exhibition, several manufacturers are expected to showcase stereoscopic filmmaking tools.

The two-day 3-D program is part of a newly expanded Siggraph Computer Animation Festival, which now includes five days of screenings, four days of talks and three nights of studio events presented by ILM, Pixar Animation Studios and Sony Pictures Imageworks. Awards will be handed out to projects showcased in the festival on the confab's final day.