Do we need actors anymore? A look at how far Face Replacement in VFX has come

FXGuide

writes some of the best VFX articles on the web, the latest of which is a complete look at the history of face replacement technology in visual effects in film:

Faces are the most recognized conduit of emotion. To quote John Cleese’s BBC documentary Faces, ‘We don’t put photos of our loved one’s feet on our walls and desks, we put pictures of their faces.” For a long time it has therefore been the target of computer graphics research to solve being able to produce CG photoreal faces. In this article we will explore the area of digital faces, focusing primarily on the work done by the team at USC ICT and the various companies and films they have been involved with and influenced.

Light Stage is a name for a series of lighting or relighting domes invented by Dr Paul Debevec and the team at USC ICT in California. Initially the work was centered on relighting in post, but it grew into advanced geometry, textures and performance capture, and the domes grew from Light Stages you could sit in, to Light Stages you could run in.

Here’s an interview from the man himself:


 
And here’s where we’ve come:

Jump to today and at SIGGRAPH 2013 in a collaboration between Activision and USC ICT at the Real-Time Live Event, the audience saw Activision’s ‘Digital Ira’ – a real time, high resolution real human head which could be seen from any viewpoint, in any lighting, and could perform realistically from previously recorded performance capture – even in an extreme tight close-up. Not only was the head real time, interactive and high res, but it ran in a real time game-ready production pipeline, ultimately achieving 180 frames per second for a full-screen character on a two-year old graphics card. In short, Emily was rendered and traditionally composited over days if not weeks, but Digital Ira was talking to you – rendered in real time and shown the same week also on a new graphics card in real time at 4K on the NVIDIA booth.

Here’s digital Ira:

And here’s the video:


 
Click here to read the entire article. It’s a must read if you’re into filmmaking or visual effects.