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Will This New Development in CGI Skin Overcome the Uncanny Valley?

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YouTube

Computer graphics populate the levels of your favorite video games and help turn actors into superheroes. Bad CGI can derail a project and distract the audience, but when done skillfully, it can seamlessly fill gaps and enhance the overall viewing experience. A recent breakthrough in creating CGI skin by researchers at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies and Imperial College London is changing the game, and will most certainly raise the bar for what can be considered “realistic.”

By developing a “10-micron resolution scanning technique” to capture very subtle skin microstructure deformations, the researchers were able to translate the tiniest movements in the skin and pores into usable data. The data was then used to manipulate the CGI character’s artificial flesh, resulting in rendered skin that stretches and compresses in ways that are more nuanced and realistic than ever before. The next step would be to study and use this technique to mimic various emotions, as well as differences in expression across age, race, and gender.

This is a major development, and one that computer graphics designers have been building towards for decades. Back in 1992, the makers of the film Death Becomes Her used CGI skin software (paired with silicone and animatronics) in various scenes and took home the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. Fast forward to 1997, and Pixar was pushing the envelope with CGI textures and skin with Geri’s Game, a short that also snagged an Academy Award. 

As the years progressed, the software seemed to peak at a point where CGI skin looked real, but not photo-real (this scene in The Matrix Reloaded is a good example). Attempts to make actors seem younger or to help them achieve inhuman feats with “digital cosmetic enhancements” was impressive, but still unnatural and a little weird. This CGI sits firmly in what is often called the “uncanny valley,” a step just shy of photorealism that evokes a negative emotional response. 

Is it possible that this study could be the key to escaping that uncanny valley? Check out the video below, which explains the study and its findings, and head to the project website to read the technical paper in full.

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Google
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Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
Google
Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
Google

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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The Force Field Cloak
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Design
This Glowing Blanket Is Designed to Ease Kids' Fear of the Dark
The Force Field Cloak
The Force Field Cloak

Many kids have a security blanket they bring to bed with them every night, but sometimes, a regular blankie is no match for the monsters that invade their imaginations once the lights are off. Now there’s a glow-in-the-dark blanket designed to make children feel safer in bed, no night light required.

Dubbed the Force Field Cloak, the fleece blanket comes in several colorful, glowing patterns that remain invisible during the day. At night, you leave the blanket under a bright light for about 10 minutes, then the shining design will reveal itself in the dark. The glow lasts 8 to 10 hours, just long enough to get a child through the night.

Inventor Terry Sachetti was inspired to create the blanket by his own experiences struggling with scary nighttime thoughts as a kid. "I remember when I was young and afraid of the dark. I would lie in my bed at night, and my imagination would start getting the best of me," he writes on the product's Kickstarter page. "I would start thinking that someone or something was going to grab my foot that was hanging over the side of the bed. When that happened, I would put my foot back under my blanket where I knew I was safe. Nothing could get me under my blanket. No boogiemen, no aliens, no monsters under my bed, nothing. Sound familiar?"

The Force Field Cloak, which has already surpassed its funding goals on both Indiegogo and Kickstarter, takes the comfort of a blanket to the next level. The glowing, non-toxic ink decorating the material acts as a gentle night light that kids can wrap around their whole body. The result, the team claims, is a secure feeling that quiets those thoughts about bad guys hiding in the shadows.

To pre-order a Force Field Cloak, you can pledge $36 or more to the product’s Indiegogo campaign. It is expected to start shipping in January 2018.

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