View all newsletters
Receive our newsletter - data, insights and analysis delivered to you
  1. Technology
November 23, 1995

THE SCANNERS ARE HERE: THE TECHNOLOGY TO CREATE VIRTUAL ACTORS IS AT HAND

By CBR Staff Writer

It was once the proud territory of George Lucas’s company Industrial Light & Magic Inc and used only in movies like Jurassic Park, where 3 models of the dinosaurs were scanned. But now it is used in many movies including Brett Leonard’s (director of Lawnmower Man) forthcoming sci-fi blockbuster Virtuosity, where five of the principal characters were scanned. Between them, Industrial Light & Magic and lesser-known US laser scanner inventor, Cyberware Inc, pioneered ‘people scanning’ in 1986 when they scanned the heads of the principal characters for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But at that stage the best that they could do was to scan the heads of people and then recreate the bodies using three-dimensional packages – such as SoftImage – and join them together after the fact.

Milling machine

However, Cyberware has now developed a full body scanner, meaning that a person can be completely scanned into the machine’s memory in around 17 seconds. Generic scanning was developed by Cyberware in 1982, for engineering purposes. A low-level red helium laser beam (similar to those used in bar code scanners in the supermarket) with a power of about 100 micro-Watts is projected at an object. A charge-coupled device camera is offset at a 90 degree angle to the laser and it picks up a profile slice. In engineering, the information is transferred to a computerised numerical control milling machine, which takes the geometric information and cuts a mould as required. Many engineering companies bought scanners for making tools, such as the Middlesex Murry Engineering, which has spun off a separate laser scanning operation called Cyber Site. We originally used the scanner for making moulds for arms and the aerospace industry, says Andrew Ball, managing director at Cyber Site. But the bottom has fallen out of that market now so we started to use it for all sorts of things. Cyber Site now has a Cyberware People Scanner, which has some added extras. To scan a person it needs two charge-coupled device cameras – one to record the details of skin and eye colour, and another to take the profile slice information. In all, there are 512 profile slices taken, each with 450 points. In aggregate, this is far too much information for the computer to process in one go, so the data set is reduced with a decimation algorithm.

Scanned virtual actors are appearing on Hollywood’s horizon. Niall McKay looks at the art of laser scanning and asks will it move? Digital Laser scanning is the latest Hollywood special effects craze – but will it be the end of flesh and blood actors as we know them?

The algorithm rolls over the data set and looks at the topology of the object, says David Addleman, managing director at Cyberware, so it leaves more information for the complex areas, such as the eyes and lips, than it does for the cheeks. Animatronix expert and director of data capture at Viewpoint, William Plant, agrees. This is the difficult bit, he says. The problem is that you tend to get enough data for a tree trunk, when you want a match. So you need to have a skilled animator to reduce the data. Once the data is reduced, a mesh of the person is recreated on the computer, and the animator then texture maps the skin and eye colour onto the mesh and you have an exact replica of that person. There are many famous names in data form: The Pet Shop Boys were scanned for the video of When I was Mad; Sylvester Stallone was scanned for the film Judge Dredd; and Val Kilmer was scanned for Batman Forever. But these are by far the least prevalent examples of scanning. Many medical CD-ROMs use scanning for training doctors and surgeons, and it is now widely used as a measuring instrument. The Royal Navy and the US Wright Patterson Air Base use scanners for fitting oxygen masks and body armour to pilots. The US Army has just bought a scanner to measure new recruits for uniforms. And the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH, is scanning construction workers to assess how much stress can be put on their backs. Equally quirky examples are abundant in the UK: Cyber Site is scanning thousands of womens’ breasts for a leading brassiere manufacturer so that it can manufacture in-between sizes. On a more sober note, the Home Office has a people scanner for identifying and verifying the authorisation of its staff. However the most widespread use of scanners will certainly be in the computer games industry. Already scanners are used to record major stars for game spin-offs of hit movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, was scanned for Universal’s theme park version of Terminator II, in three dimensions. But a simple inanimate digital three-dimensional image is not enough for movies or games. The next problem is getting the three-dimensional object to move.

Jerky and unrealistic

Although this can be achieved in many of the three-dimensional animation packages – Cosa After Effects and Adobe PhotoShop, to name two – the movements tend to end up jerky and unrealistic. The answer is still surprisingly untechnical The solution is to have an extra or stunt man to do the relevant motions and data capture those motions and map them to that three-dimensional scanned object, says Plant. Wearing a reflective suit, the stand-in actor goes through the movements and the motion is recorded in the memory banks of a computer. These movements can then be added to the scanned person and hey presto! realistic action. But where will all this lead? It’s tempting to believe that in a few years you won’t need actors, but that is rubbish, says Mike Milne, head of computer animation at London production facility The Frame Store. But these effects only work if you can make them look realistic, so most of these techniques are used to cheat reality, not replace it.

Content from our partners
Sherif Tawfik: The Middle East and Africa are ready to lead on the climate
What to look for in a modern ERP system
How tech leaders can keep energy costs down and meet efficiency goals

Topics in this article :
Websites in our network
Select and enter your corporate email address Tech Monitor's research, insight and analysis examines the frontiers of digital transformation to help tech leaders navigate the future. Our Changelog newsletter delivers our best work to your inbox every week.
  • CIO
  • CTO
  • CISO
  • CSO
  • CFO
  • CDO
  • CEO
  • Architect Founder
  • MD
  • Director
  • Manager
  • Other
Visit our privacy policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.
THANK YOU