Last November, in the “Clueless Gamer” segment of his late-night talk show, Conan O’Brien played a few levels of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The video game stars Kevin Spacey as the scheming president of a private military firm; his performance is rendered in striking digital detail, save for one conspicuous flaw. “Can’t they fix his eyes?” O’Brien wondered. “They hired one of the greatest actors in the world and then they give him the eyes of a carp that’s been in the refrigerator for three days.”
Creating computer-generated eyes that, in O’Brien’s words, “actually have life in them” has been a perennial challenge for visual-effects artists and animators. Like long hair and loose clothing that don’t conform to the laws of physics, soulless eyes can send a movie or video game hurtling into the so-called Uncanny Valley, that realm of nearly-but-not-quite where C.G.I. characters look just inhuman enough to be profoundly disconcerting. Though there have been considerable advances in motion-capture technology in recent years, allowing for the digital replication of an actor’s performance, the eye is often synthesized from scratch, a time-consuming and painstaking process that still leads to frequently mediocre results. It is the equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci letting someone else slap a couple of peepers on the canvas while he goes home early.
Late last year, however, at a computer-graphics symposium in Shenzhen, China, a team from Disney Research Zurich outlined a solution in a paper called “High-Quality Capture of Eyes.”
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