There’s a new trend in the world of visual effects.
Whereas once the digi-double was the talk of the town – the CG counterparts of Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy or Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button earning countless column inches – there’s a new trend, and one that’s really captured my imagination.
Recently at Animatrik we’ve been working on the performance capture behind Duncan Jones’ Warcraft.
Here human actors are transformed into the Orcish Horde of Azeroth via ILM’s most cutting-edge techniques. Animatrik’s contribution is in delivering the reconstructed data set for the original facial performance capture that ILM uses to drive each digital model’s animation.
And yet, despite the transformation from human to heavy-set orc, an element of the original actor remains deep within each CG character. Their semblance is embedded deep within the eyes; in the subtle movements of the brow; in the way they emote and react to the world around them.
This trend – that of retaining an actor’s likeness in a digital character despite a massive physical transformation – isn’t new: we’ve seen it before in Dawn of the Planet of the Ape’s Caesar, Pirates of the Caribbean’s Davey Jones, and Avatars in blue-skinned Na’vi tribe. However, it’s undeniably rising to prominence.
What we’re seeing isn’t just the rise of the digi-double; it’s the rise of the digi-likeness.
But ‘likeness’ comes down to much more than just a person’s facial features. It means capturing their total essence, from head right down to toes. At Animatrik, nothing is more important to us.
Our core aim is to return to our clients the performance that was captured on the stage – not some watered-down facsimile that only hints at the person behind the movements. If you want a true digi-double – or a digi-likeness, as the case may be – then you need to represent exactly what was seen on that stage. Advanced cloth FX, subsurface scattering, physically based rendering – these elements are certainly, undeniably important, but if a character’s posture and gait are not also believable, if they don’t move with the rhythm and tempo of the actor you’ve come to know and love, then the audience will instantly be drawn out of the illusion you’re so carefully attempting to craft.
It’s all about the quality of the capture. For Animatrik, that means utilising a capture volume that doesn’t miss data; making early decisions about what we’re going to capture and how; using the most up-to-date tools and processes; and ensuring that the roots of the process are as healthy and well thought-out as they possibly can be.
Using this approach, we can create a skeletal and facial mirror image of a performance – of a person – that is exactly representative of that which we saw on stage.
When it comes to the rise of the digi-likeness – those digital characters that possess a deeply embedded yet undoubtable mirror image of the actor they represent – getting the look right isn’t enough alone. You need to capture every nuance, every shade of emotion, every inflection of body language that defines who that person is. Without it, you’re working with an empty shell.