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Getty Images

Why Computer Scientists Are Studying Tom Hanks's Face

Getty Images
Getty Images

Computer scientists at the University of Washington are trying to figure out just what makes Tom Hanks look like Tom Hanks. Using the thousands of photos taken of the actor over the course of his lengthy career, they’ve mapped out his face, and created a digital replica that can mimic his expressions. It’s all part of a larger project to create highly accurate 3D simulations of human faces.

Hanks makes an especially great subject because there are so many pictures of him out there—and because his facial expressions are so distinct (as The Atlantic notes, he's got an "essential Tom Hanksiness").

In their recently published paper, appropriately titled “What Makes Tom Hanks Look Like Tom Hanks” [PDF], the University of Washington scientists wrote, “Tom Hanks has appeared in many acting roles over the years. He’s played young and old, smart and simple, characters with a wide variety of temperaments and personalities. Yet, we always recognize him as Tom Hanks. Why? Is it his shape? His appearance? The way he moves?”

It’s a surprisingly existential question for a group of computer scientists to ask, but its answer may hold the key to some pretty significant advances in virtual reality and filmmaking. Already, computer scientists have developed an algorithm that charts changes in facial expression using 49 pre-defined points on a person’s face. Using photographs of Tom Hanks and other celebrities, they’ve built realistic facial simulations, whose movements eerily mimic those of their real-life counterparts.

The Atlantic explains that once the technology is more advanced, it will it make it easier to portray real people’s faces in virtual reality and movies. Most older forms of facial mapping have involved the laborious and complex process of photographing a subject from all angles in a highly controlled setting. By contrast, the new process doesn't even require the person you're simulating to be present—all you need is a few good photos.

“In the optimal setup, you’d say, ‘Let’s go to a lab, put 20 cameras around the room, decide on some lighting, and constrain all sorts of environmental conditions,” Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, one of the researchers on the study, told The Atlantic. “The big breakthrough in our research is we’re doing it in completely unconstrained environments unlike other research in this space.”

Check out examples of the researchers' strange and fascinating digital ventriloquism below:

[h/t: The Atlantic]

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MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

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ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
Look Closely—Every Point of Light in This Image Is a Galaxy
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Even if you stare closely at this seemingly grainy image, you might not be able to tell there’s anything to it besides visual noise. But it's not static—it's a sliver of the distant universe, and every little pinprick of light is a galaxy.

As Gizmodo reports, the image was produced by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, a space-based infrared telescope that was launched into orbit in 2009 and was decommissioned in 2013. Created by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), it looks out from our galaxy toward the North Galactic Pole, a point that lies perpendicular to the Milky Way's spiral near the constellation Coma Berenices.

A close-up of a view of distant galaxies taken by the Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Each point of light comes from the heat of dust grains between different stars in a galaxy. These areas of dust gave off this radiation billions of years before reaching Herschel. Around 1000 of those pins of light belong to galaxies in the Coma Cluster (named for Coma Berenices), one of the densest clusters of galaxies in the known universe.

The longer you look at it, the smaller you’ll feel.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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