CGI technology advancing in Hollywood

CGI films_155669

(CNN) – Computer generated imagery is the magic behind many movie scenes that leave you asking ‘how did they do that?’

In Hollywood, actors can do the impossible.  Think of Tom Cruise fighting himself in “Oblivion” Brad Pitt aging backwards in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or Angelina Jolie taking flight in “Maleficent.”

The goal is to make seeing, believing, “You really want to base it in reality, visual effects company digital domain provided computer generated imagery, or CGI, for those films,” Darren Hendler says conquering the human face is the final frontier our faces are so complicated, “We have so many different facial muscles and just the number of poses we can get into, to replicate all of those things, every single nuance of the human face, is really really difficult to do and takes a lot of effort.”

A lot of effort and a flesh and bone actor scanned in a multitude of images, “The scanner is a very good base and can show us exactly what that actor’s face looked like at that specific moment in time, but it doesn’t give us that performance the way the actor would have acted,” Hendler continued.

If it wasn’t for CGI Paul Walker’s character might not have appeared in “Furious 7” after the actor’s untimely death.

“If you are trying to recreate an actor, someone who is deceased, having those scans is really really helpful.  As much real material we have of the actor, as much real footage of the actor, that’s all helpful for us,” Hendler continued.

So why don’t studios digitally scan all actors before filming begins, a move that could help keep the cost of insuring a movie down?

Just like in children’s’ stories, in Hollywood, all magic comes at a price.  To see how the actors are digitized, we headed to the light stage at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies.

“The actor is invited to sit down in the middle of the stage and then we have seven sports photography cameras that take a series of 16 photos of them really fast under specialized lighting conditions that tell us everything we need to know about how light reflects off of their face and what the shape of their skin is,” said Chief Visual Officer Paul Debevec.

Now my turn, I was scanned making a series of expressions and ultimately, from those images, my avatar.

Copyright CNN 2015

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