What most often gives away a CG character as fake is their dead, lifeless eyes. It's a common contributing factor to the uncanny valley effect, but now researchers at Disney have developed a system to perfectly capture a performer's eyes that promises to make CG characters finally appear more lifelike and convincing.
Motion capture systems are typically used to record an actor's physical performance, which is then applied to a CG character, or even a CG stunt double, to ensure their digital counterpart moves as lifelike as possible. And while the subtle movements and contortions of an actor's face, including their eyes, are also recorded, the CG doubles are usually just rendered with a pair of generically-shaped and simplified eyeballs that always seem to lack a spark of life and believability.
So the researchers at Disney developed a new capture system that takes footage of an actor's eyeball and perfectly extrapolates and reconstructs every last detail from its unique shape, to bumps created by veins, to the movement of the iris, to even how light is reflected below the its surface. It sounds a little like overkill given how small the eyeballs are on a CG character, but they provide a disproportionate amount of believability, and the ultimate goal of visual effects is to be completely invisible so as not to distract the viewers.
The new capture system can also help make the process of animating lifelike eyeballs on a CG character even easier. After the captured footage has been analysed a full animated 3D model of the actor's unique eyeball is generated, and it can be automatically rigged to react to different lighting, or even move and focus in a believable manner to what else is happening in a scene. And the easier it is to implement, the more likely it is that visual effects or animation studios will use the new technology to help their characters finally climb out of that creepy uncanny valley. [Disney Research]