The gap between real-life scenery and digitally produced visuals is continually shrinking, and one day we might not be able to tell the difference between the two. Working in that direction is Epic Games. Using its Unreal Engine, the development studio has created a digital human called Siren with realistic graphics and facial animation that is remarkably similar to that of a real human.
"One thing we’ve been interested in over the years is digital humans. Two years ago we showed Senua, the Hellblade character. To this day, that’s pretty much state of the art. But we wanted to see if we could get closer to crossing the uncanny valley. She was great, but you could see that the facial animation wasn’t quite there. The details in the skin and the hair—it was still a fair way from crossing the uncanny valley," Epic Games chief technology officer Kim Libreri explained to VentureBeat in an interview.
To create a more realistic representation in Siren, Epic Games got together with Cubic Motion and 3Lateral once again, along with Vicon and Tencent's research lab Tencent Next. Siren is based off a real-life actress in China named Bingjie Jiang, for which the digital character's body and animation do a remarkable job replicating through motion capture.
One of the things Epic Games focused on with Siren is adding more detail in terms of the resolution of the face. By way of having access to more powerful GPUs that what were available a couple of years ago. Epic Games was able render "a tiny bit of peach fuzz. little hairs all over the face." Specifically, there are 300,000 tiny hairs on Siren's ears and noise.
"We also improved the shading technology. The skin shading now supports two layers of specular reflection. It also supports back scatter. If you put a light behind her ear, it glows red like it would in the real world," Libreri says.
There are already shows that feature characters rendered with Unreal Engine, and as the realism increases over time, we suspect we will see more digital actors and actresses take to the screen.