"Digital Ira" and Nvidia's FaceWorks software are pulling us out of the uncanny valley, one face at a time.
"Meet 'Digital Ira'. Ira represents a big leap forward in capturing and rendering human facial expression in real time, and gives us a glimpse of the realism we can look forward to in our favorite game characters," says Nvidia on the download page for its FaceWorks demo. Nvidia previously showed off FaceWorks earlier this year, but only as a video running on its stupidly powerful Titan video card. You can now download and fiddle with the demo yourself, and you won't need a graphics card from the future to experience the full effect. My mid-range GTX 570 ran the demo fine, and sufficiently "wow-ed" me.
You'll get to watch Ira go through a whole range of emotions, and there is a control panel to the side where you can tinker with him. You can change his location (natural light forest, well-lit street and dimly-lit street), minor details on the face (such as eye color, pupil dilation, shading) and turn on wireframes. There's also a button that makes him yell "take my money," which i'm sure is what Nvidia is hoping developers will do after seeing this demo.
You can also zoom in to a creepily close level, revealing stubble, eye veins and facial blemishes, as well as contort his face into horrifying disfigurations. We're not quite out of the uncanny valley yet, but we are definitely getting there.
All Ira's motions were acted out in a "light stage" at the Institute for Creative Technology at USC. The team there headed by Dr. Paul Debevec was able to photographically capture facial geometry, surface detail, and lighting information of the actor without any of the traditional tricks of face markers or special makeup.
Nvidia recommends GeForce GTX 670 and above for the best viewing of the demo. There is only a Windows 7 download, and it clocks in at around 300 MB.