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Horror film splice's Benjamin Button style facial animation

The scarily convincing facial movements of the ‘young Dren’ character in Warner Bros’ new horror flick Splice were created by facial animators Image Metrics, using data captured during a motion capture shoot at Toronto’s Core Digital studio.

During the shoot, a rig controlling the cheeks, eyes, eyebrows and forehead of the actress Delphine Chanéac, who plays the adult Dren, captured a wide range of facial movements.

Five animators and four tracking artists at Image Metrics used this data to build an accurate if unrefined first animation pass for the character.

Next, the animation team “took more time” to intricately refine this initial pass and further hone the realism of the movements to closely match the vision of director Vincenzo Natali.

In total, Image Metrics’ proprietary rigging and animation technology, which has been used in a long list of games and films (including Benjamin Button), created 128 seconds of facial animation in Splice.

Check out the trailer for Splice below and watch carefully for a few tantalising glimpses of the ‘young Dren’ character.


Posted 29 June 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Behind the scenes at a 3d outside broadcast

Sony Professional has put together a 'behind the scenes' video demonstrating how live 3d sports broadcasts work. The video (watch it below) was recorded during the run up to a live 3d broadcast of a Premier League match on Sky a few months ago.

A very similar setup is currently being used to broadcast 25 World Cup games in 3d. Unfortunately, none of these games is being broadcast on TV in the UK as neither the BBC nor ITV has a 3d channel.

The good news, though, is it's recently been confirmed that 40 cinemas (including branches of Odeon, Cineworld, Vue and Empire) will be showing eight of the matches in 3d, from the quarter finals onwards.

Posted 25 June 2010 by Jake Bickerton

The 2d-to-3d conversion debate

There's been a strong reaction to the comment from Framestore's vfx exec producer of commercials Tim Keene (who was also exec producer of 3d effects on Avatar) in Televisual this month about how much he dislikes 2d-to-3d conversions.

One of the responses we received about Tim's piece was from Prime Focus' Martin Hobbs, who heads up View-D, the facility's proprietary process for converting 2d to 3d stereoscopic images. Martin has equally strong feelings about the subject – so in order to provide some balance, here's the full, unedited version of Tim's comment piece, followed by Martin's response.

Is Sky right to ban 2d to 3d conversions?

Tim Keene, vfx exec producer, Framestore
"Sky’s recent – and slightly controversial – announcement that it’s banning 2d to 3d conversions on its new 3d channel is excellent news for our industry. For too long, 3d has been associated with the age-old red and blue anaglyph glasses that gave us all a headache. But with improvements in stereographic techniques, 3d is now a subtle and very watchable artform, as proven by the outstanding success of Avatar. But if 2d content is simply re-versioned into 3d via a post-process, the effect is more awkward and in danger of harking back to the bad old days of painful viewing experiences.

True clarity of depth can only be achieved if the work is originated stereographically, ie – where it’s shot 3d in the first place using two cameras in ‘stereo’; one for each eye. The subtleties of depth perception are surprisingly recognisable by the human eye. Converted footage is effectively a cheat and runs the risk of producing ‘bad’ 3d which can detract from the viewing experience.

The concern, given the already massive investment and excitement over the emerging world of 3d, is that poorly executed 3d runs the danger of making the experience 'gimmicky’ and 'B-movie' like. There is now little excuse for this given the UK expertise that is now at hand in both production and post production, something Sky is only too aware of. And, it should also be noted that if material is shot or generated in 3d in the first place, you get the 2d version for free.

If new 3d platforms, like Sky 3d, don’t boldly stand up for industry standards by discouraging 2d to 3d conversions, 3d  will lose all the hard-earned credibility it’s recently gained. And the headaches will just start all over again."

Martin Hobbs, exec producer, Prime Focus

"The question that was posed in June’s issue of Televisual to Framestore’s Tim Keene - ‘Is Sky right to ban 2d to 3d conversion’ - was somewhat flawed. Although Sky initially said they wouldn’t use any converted content, Chris Johns, chief engineer at BskyB, has gone on record to say that while they’ll be looking for native content where possible, they’re continuing to monitor 2d-3d conversion technology and they’ll look at conversions on a case-by-case basis.

Tim Keene’s response also contained some sweeping statements. I agree with Tim that converted footage can ‘run the risk of producing bad 3d’, but the technology’s evolving and when it’s done right - and it’s creatively led by people that know what they’re doing - it can produce great results on a timescale and at a cost that will be instrumental in providing content as fast as the technology itself is moving.

Conversion shouldn’t be ruled out – planning early is the key. Shooting in 2d with 3d conversion in mind is a time and cost effective alternative to shooting stereo 3d and if you work closely with your post house from the beginning they can advise you on shooting in a way that will look best in 3d – which is just as important when shooting in stereo.

Obviously when converting existing content you won’t always have this luxury. There are some shots which have the potential to give you a headache, for example when there’s rapid movement between shots or when a wide shot zooms in quickly to a close up, as these don’t translate well when converted into 3d. But there are ways of minimising these effects and if you choose the right conversion technique and the right team, they can make this happen.

t Prime Focus, our artists have spent many years calculating 3d space for the post production and visual effects projects they’ve completed for 2d films, TV programmes and commercials. We’ve used these skills, along with our stereo 3d VFX experience on films such as Avatar and Journey to the Center of the Earth 3d, to develop our 2d-3d conversion process that sits as part of our stereoscopic 3d pipeline, and which was recently used to convert Clash of the Titans to stereo 3d for Warner Bros.

I’m certainly not saying that conversion is the only way – at Prime Focus we’re working on content that’s been shot in stereo, content shot in 2d that we’re converting, and a mixture of the two. But Tim Keene’s view that converted footage can only lead to a painful viewing experience is flawed and misleadin

Posted 16 June 2010 by Jake Bickerton

What's the future for stereo 3d broadcasts?

Yesterday’s Westminster eForum, held at a very near capacity Congress Hall, London brought together the great and good from the world’s of stereo 3d and TV technology to talk about what the future holds for 3d broadcasts.

With a delegate list including all the main UK broadcasters, representatives from many Government departments, management consultancies and plenty of city types, it was a fairly corporate, suited affair.

But it was far from dry, with speakers such as BSkyB’s director of product design and TV product development Brian Lenz (pictured), providing further detail on the broadcaster’s forthcoming 3d channel, which launches in the autumn.

Lenz revealed the channel will mix arts, docs, films, general entertainment, music and kids programming alongside (naturally) sports content, with the emphasis being on quality, not quantity: “It’s in our own hands to control quality – that’s the key,” he says.

He pointed to Sky’s recent 3d commission, the David Attenborough-fronted Flying Monsters and an English National Ballet production, both acquired in 3d, as good examples. He admitted there’s currently a “scarcity of content” in stereo 3d, but added that Sky “isn’t prepared to fund everybody’s first 3d project, as it isn’t likely to be their best.”

As regards the technical side of Sky's stereo 3d broadcasts, Lenz says Sky subscribers won't require new Sky set-top-boxes. He added that the transmission structure to deliver 3d is the same as HD, so there’s no need for Sky to make any costly infrastructure changes either.

Lenz says the same stereo 3d broadcast works with all 3d TVs, so “you shouldn’t be alarmed by any talk of format wars”. He compared the option between active and passive screens (the two different types of 3d TVs available to consumers) as similar to choosing between plasma and LCD.

Whichever you go for, the screen will be able to display all 3d broadcasts so, says Lenz, “The format war is really just hype.”

Paul Gray, director of European TV research at consultancy company DisplaySearch, who was up next, talked about the price of 3d TVs, which, at around £1,700, he says, will remain a niche interest until prices fall to the £800 mark. This will happen, Gray believes, “very, very rapidly”, at which point 3d sets will then grab around a 10% slice of the TV market.

A few speakers later came Tony Mattera, director, Digital Switch Over Network Design at Arqiva. He explained the pros and cons of the different means of getting stereo 3d content through terrestrial TV. It’s technically possible already, using the existing transmission infrastructure, by transmitting the left and right image side-by-side, he explained.

But the limited bandwidth available for terrestrial broadcasts makes this option (which would mean having a dedicated channel only viewable on 3d TV sets) an extremely inefficient way to do things.

Instead, Mattera says, the focus is on looking to transmit 3d and 2d at the same time, using a system called ‘2d plus Delta’. This makes it possible to transmit a 3d version without using additional bandwidth. Essentially, it works by transmitting the 2d version complete with additional data so conventional TVs display the 2d picture and 3d sets utilise the extra information to create a stereo 3d image.

The system just requires a new encoder at the transmission end before it can be transmitted through existing infrastructure, so again, this wouldn’t be a massive upheaval for those companies providing transmission services.

Mattera acknowledged there are potential issues as to whether ‘2d plus Delta’ impairs the quality of the stereo 3d image, but says it depends on the content and that Avatar, for example, would work “quite effectively” transmitted this way.


Posted 11 June 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Famous faces brought back from the dead

William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon and “arch criminal” John Dillinger are amongst the key historical figures brought back from the dead using what Cardiff-based indie Wild Dream Films describes as “revolutionary technology” for its forthcoming History Channel doc Death Masks.

The doc takes the ‘death mask’ face casts made of famous figures from the past at their time of death, and recreates them in vivid detail using "advanced facial-reconstruction techniques and 3d imprint detailing".

The resulting facemasks, as showcased in the doc, represent an exact replica of every feature of the faces and
help solve age-old mysteries about the way these people lived their lives and how they ultimately died.

Death Masks features two scanned masks (based on an official and an unofficial mask) of Abraham Lincoln, which apparently provide fresh insights into his health and reveal how the civil war aged him.

“In the process of creating these lifelike faces, amazing new details emerged about these historic figures – what they really looked like, what illnesses they suffered from and how they lived their lives,” explains director,
Wild Dreams Stuart Clarke.

“We reveal the real face of Shakespeare [above], make Abraham Lincoln open his eyes and blink and have solved the mystery surrounding the death of arch criminal John Dillinger."

Death Masks is being broadcast on the History Channel in August, and has been nominated in the Best History Programme category at the Banff World Television Festival awards. The winners of the Banffs are revealed on Monday 13 June.

Posted 08 June 2010 by Jake Bickerton
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