Can Digital Actors Act? A New Facial Motion-Capture Paradigm at Pendulum

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Animation and digital FX studio Pendulum has been pursuing this challenge by dedicating substantial R&D efforts toward creating a unique solution for this growing need in the entertainment industry. Partnering with the motion-capture experts at House of Moves, the Pendulum team is diving deep into the complex realm of high-end digital actors with the development of its new proprietary facial motion-capture software, and a uniquely powerful 3D character creation pipeline unlike anything else in the industry.

One of the most difficult aspects of creating believable 3D CGI characters and impactful digital acting is the portrayal of genuine emotion. Animation and digital FX studio Pendulum has been pursuing this challenge by dedicating substantial R&D efforts toward creating a unique solution for this growing need in the entertainment industry. Partnering with the motion-capture experts at House of Moves, the Pendulum team is diving deep into the complex realm of high-end digital actors with the development of its new proprietary facial motion-capture software, and a uniquely powerful 3D character creation pipeline unlike anything else in the industry.

A fundamental hurdle in bringing digital actors to the screen is achieving realistic facial animation. With the most recent implementations of the Vicon motion-capture system, Los Angles based House of Moves is able to achieve an unparalleled level of precision in the capture of facial motion. But applying that data efficiently, cost-effectively, and in a manner which successfully breathes life into a lifeless digital model has been painfully difficult. Pendulum's research into this area has resulted in the creation of a proprietary software application, called Stretchmark. Their primary goal is to make it not only possible, but efficient and economical to bring the nuance of a real actor's facial performance into the virtual world.

To fully demonstrate this new technology, Pendulum's owners, Robert Taylor and Michael McCormick, needed to capture a powerfully expressive performance which delivered a wide emotional range. "We wanted to put the process through a vigorous and unforgiving test to see if our digital actor could really emoteā€¦ and what could possibly be a better source of emotional acting than Shakespeare?", notes Taylor. They chose a passionate monologue from Antony and Cleopatra, and proceeded to build a 3D Mark Antony and a richly textured environment appropriate to the play. Pendulum's artists then sculpted over 40 facial "blend-shapes" for the character. These sculpted expressions can be realistic or exaggerated, allowing a digital character infinite stylistic possibilities, ranging from life like to cartoony. Next, they worked with the House of Moves team to simultaneously capture the full performance of the actor, including his body, hands, facial motions and even his voice. The data was then applied to the digital character using the studio's new software, and Mark Antony came to life.

To see the Mark Antony movie, please visit: http://www.studiopendulum.com/qt_images_mat.html

The new paradigm allows Pendulum to transform extensive amounts of facial mo-cap data into extremely realistic and accurate facial animation. The process delivers exceptional results at surprising speeds with very little fine tuning needed, yet still provides directors and animators a great deal of flexibility to tweak or add to the character's facial expressions. While the implications for the film and commercial industry are obvious, Pendulum is already applying the technique in the games development arena as well. With this proven approach, the realism of facial and full-body performance is only limited by the quality of the actor and the director's vision.

Pendulum Studios is the San Diego based 3D animation and digital fx studio specializing in high-end character animation and story-telling. Owned and operated by directors, Michael McCormick and Robert Taylor, the studio strives to produce the highest quality animation for commercials, game cinematics, film, and their own animated shorts. For more information about the studio, please visit http://www.studiopendulum.com

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