1. What is it about
You are watching a video with your mouth half open. You simply cannot believe what your see. How is it possible that the prime minister of Britain would say such a thing? It is so politically incorrect; that he might as well shot himself in the public.
Two days later, it is revealed that the footage is fake and it’s been produced by ‘Invincible Animators’ who created the video using 3D animations and morphing techniques to achieve the result. This immediately leads to lots of conspiracy theories on the net that suggest the Prime Minister actually said those words and this is just a cover up trying to convince the world that this never happened. Everyone is amazed and you start to wonder how can you trust a video source now? After all it can be faked again.
The above scenario is perhaps a dark side of this technology, though there are many lighter sides to this too. Ever since 3D animation industry was conceived, the holly grail was to make a photorealistic animation that looked like it had been filmed from a real scene in the world. The industry has come a long way since it’s inception as it can be seen in special effects produced by Hollywood. We are still a few years away from getting the holly grail, but we are advancing quickly.
2. Where is the fun
The real fun of producing realistic 3D animations is when it becomes extremely easy to create them. Currently, the field is dominated by professionals and hard-core enthusiasts with very specific talents. As it becomes easier to put together an animation, more and more people may start to have a go at it and will be interested to express themselves artistically. Expect to see many bizarre videos on:
- Strange looking monsters and creatures doing just about anything.
- Humans doing things thought humanly impossible.
- Amateur-produced animations on any subject. The ability to create real-life looking videos will make one feel like god and many may simply enjoy creating and exchanging them as a form of entertainment. This is in contrast with today’s model where there are a few creative films and movies and the vast majority consume them. In the future everyone will be a producer as well as a consumer.
- Erotic animations where all actors are artificial. Again expect a wide range of fantasies including physic defying scenarios to be crafted. Rapid production of these animation is more likely to be created using Machinima, though they may not be as realistic looking as rendered animations.
3. What are its Applications
3D animations currently have a wide range of applications from entertainment to education. As they become easier to produce by non-professionals, they will be increasingly used in more imaginative ways than ever before. A few examples are as follows:
- Animations that demonstrate operation of complex mechanical machines or engines (see video).
- Real video replacement with animation footage. MIT carried out research on generating 3D human face. The researchers used stock footage of a face and could morph the face to lip-sync with any audio file they where given. In effect they could produce a talking face that was indistinguishable from the real face, with any script they wanted.
- Full feature animation that try to tell you a story. Since you can design the entire environment, these animations will ultimately be a lot richer and more creative than the current movies produced in the ‘real world’.
4. How developed is it
These days 3D animations are used everywhere, though at a cost. Animations are still perceived as expensive products to produce though this is changing fast. One of the great advantages of the 3D world is that once objects are created they can be used in large quantities with little additional costs. This led to creation of 3D model libraries on the net where you can find models of common 3D objects to use in your scenes. Creating those models may take a lot longer than the price you pay for and once bought, they can be used in many different animations. In addition, unlike real world models, they can be easily modified and retextured to look different from the original model with minimal effort.
This will lead to a dramatic reduction of cost for those animations that take place in more common environments and need common 3D models. You can easily buy a couple of couch, some chairs and a table and create a high quality scene of a living room in under a day. As more models are created by the artist community, the need to do modeling is reduced and creators will work more as composers as opposed to 3D modelers.
Currently, most computer-animated movies show animal characters (Finding Nemo), fantasy characters (Shrek, Monsters Inc.), anthropomorphic machines (Cars, Robots) or cartoon-like humans (The Incredibles).
Animating realistic humans is still a great challenge, though we are getting very close. For example, the following shows a computer generated face with very realistic facial gestures and eye movements.
And of course when creativity starts to flow, you get to see much more valuable content than you could do before.
Insert image of good facial features. Render something and put it in here.
Computer generated still images can already fool us into believing that they are of real people with incredible detail and realistic features.
5. How can it be improved
Tool usability and rapid animation production is perhaps the most significant improvement we can expect in this field. Producing ultra-realistic images is already possible with tools such as Adobe Photoshop or even static renders (An example, another example, a close-up and a short animation). Realistic animation however is still a challenge mostly carried out by professional.
The most difficult objects to render with photorealism are humans. This is not necessarily because we are more complex than other creatures and that we are so detailed (although that’s probably what we like to think!). The reason can be described by uncanny valley. We are simply very sensitive to anything that looks like a human, a legacy of our evolution. If a human looks very real, but somehow not right, we might think of it as a freak of nature and may be disgusted by looking at it. On the other hand, if we look at a cartoon or caricature image of a real entity, we will easily accept it since we understand it should not look real. The movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is considered as the first computer-generated movie to attempt to show realistic-looking humans. However, although the humans look realistic visually, they act mechanical and emotionless. Nevertheless, photorealistic human animations have so many benefits that we can be sure that at some point in the future we will produce humans in videos that will be indistinguishable from reality.
6. What does it lead to
At the simplest level, when it becomes easier to produce realistic animations, we will end up with a lot more content as video and film production becomes cheaper and more accessible to ordinary people. You no longer need to have access to a set, actors, logistics, extras, costumes and all the rest of it. It’s all virtual and you can spend your money to extend your 3D model library which you can use in many different films.
Availability of photorealistic animations will lead to viewing films that you may not have thought was even possible. Today, the vast majority of computer graphics used in special effects cost a fortune to make and as a result are designed specifically to lead to sales of the movie so that at least the original production costs can be recovered. As the need to make money is reduced, you can expect to see 3D graphics used on a whole new variety of topics that was not feasible before. You can expect to see a lot of exciting and amusing videos. It’s thrilling to think about it.