Digital makeup

Today I participated in a very interesting discussion about “Virtual Humans”. People were talking about the fact that computer graphic representations of people are getting near the point when an actor will be able to don “digital makeup” and nobody will be able to distinguish the synthetic result, rendered on a computer, from an actual image of a physical person, shot with a conventional movie camera.

When that happens, of course it will free actors from the accidents of physical appearance. For example, a brilliant but not “leading man” actor like Paul Giamatti, might be able to take on the kind of role that had previously gone only to Brad Pitt or George Clooney. You get the idea.

By the way, the real technical bottleneck to this scenario becoming a pervasive reality won’t be the proper capture of physical appearance per se, but rather the proper capture of all the tiny facial movements — particularly around the eyes and mouth — that an actor uses to convey emotion. Today’s best technology can already come remarkably close to making “digital make-up” look quite convincing. But once an actor’s face starts to move, things begin to slip. Current technology can get almost all of it, but almost all is not quite enough when you’re talking about capturing the subtleties of emotion.

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