Epic Games unveil photorealistic facial rendering

Epic Games has unveiled a tech demo showing off photo-realistic facial animations using Unreal Engine 4. The news comes from the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco where Epic released a video highlighting the new tech. The short video features a Vampire-like beast side by side with non other than Hollywood’s Andy Serkis reciting a monologue. Shakespeare fans will identify the soliloquy as the famous “Out, out brief candle” speech from MacBeth (Act V, Scene V). Epic used both their Unreal Engine 4 and 3Lateral’s Meta Human Framework volumetric capture, reconstruction and compression technology. The new technology aims to eliminate elements of uncanny valley, being the creepy effect created by almost real facial renderings. The important thing to note about the video is that Serkis’ side is a rendering. Constructed from high-frame rate photos of Serkis, taken at different angles, the rendering certainly looks photo realistic.

From here it would be interesting to see what developers do with the technology. While not perfect, this is by far the best facial rendering has looked in video games. The benchmark is set pretty high, with studios like NaughtyDog using dedicated art teams to painstakingly animate faces. Now the process is significantly simplified, with the subtleties of an actors face getting translated into the digital world. This process looks like the modern equivalent of the MotionScan technology used in LA Noire, where a camera takes high-end photos of an actor from multiple angles.

MotionScan technology in 2011. Source: LA Noire Tech Trailer

While the animated beast looks like a finished product, with subtle facial movements coming across, the animation of Serkis could use a NaughtyDog style touch up to smooth out things like the mouth and eyes. Since that said, the technology is an exciting step forward for developers. With games like Detroit: Become Human focusing on cinematic close-ups and the rise of Telltale style adventure games, facial animation is growing more important. Having hyper-realistic animations is an important narrative tool for developers and it’s exciting to think of what they can do with the technology.

Uncharted 4 recorded some facial movement, which is a step-up from The Last of Us. Source: Pure PlayStation

Epic also showed off some new real-time ray tracing in Unreal Engine 4. Highlighting the rapid improving lighting processes, Epic showed a rendered Star Wars scene.

What do you think of the new facial animating technology? Is it really as photo-realistic as they described? Or is there still an uncanny valley creepiness to Andy Serkis’ performance? Let us know in the comments below and stay tuned to Gamers Classified for more GDC news.