Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reshaping Reality in Movies

Drastically gaining or losing body weight for a coveted film role has been the ultimate challenge for method actors.

Robert De Niro piled on the pounds for his Oscar-winning role in Raging Bull, and Christian Bale starved himself to the point of emaciation for The Machinist.
But such extreme bodily transformations may now be a thing of the past.

A new kind of image manipulation software is under development that promises to allow filmmakers to alter the appearance of their actors without resorting to time-consuming frame-by-frame digital touch-ups.

What has until now taken either the most dedicated of actors, or a painstakingly slow process of computer editing, can be done in a relatively short period of time. The new software, called MovieReShape, has been developed by Christian Theobalt and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbr├╝cken, Germany.

The researchers generated 3D scans of 120 men and women of varying shapes and sizes all in various poses. They then fed these scans into a computer, merging them together to create a single model that can be morphed into any desired pose. Programmers can then use existing software to track an actor's silhouette throughout a sequence of frames, and then map the silhouette onto the 3-D model. The software can be manipulated to simultaneously adjust an actor's height, weight and muscle tone - even bust size, without having to resort to the painfully slow process of digital touch-ups, one frame at a time.

Can it transform Rosie O'Donnell into Christina Hendricks on film? Not quite but I'm sure there will soon be an app for even that.

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