Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Emily Project

This has been making the rounds on the Internet for a while now, but if you're not familiar with it, check out the video before reading further.

Remarkable stuff, no? A scrutinizing eye will spot imperfections (eyes are glassy, lips too soft), but, at some point, I have to question whether the tells I'm spotting are actually there, or if it's just the power of suggestion causing me to see things. The point is, were I just casually watching the computer-generated Emily in the mundane context of a daytime soap opera, I would very likely be fooled.

As far as gaming is concerned, an obvious application would be for sports games. Gone would be the inadequate and inconsistent likenesses of today, replaced by the players' real faces, leading at last to that long-sought dream of having a random passerby mistaking a game of NBA Live for a live NBA game, pausing to ask in earnest, "Why does Shaq keep jacking up threes?" Movie-based titles, meanwhile, could exactly employ the faces of actors, having them star as never before in interactive sequences nearly indistinguishable from the films they are adapted from.

But, honestly, who cares about all that? In the end, sports games would still be sports games, and license-based games would still be garbage. What does any of this mean for real games? Could, say, Rhona Mitra's face be pasted onto the CG body of Lara Croft in a future Tomb Raider title? Based on the Emily video, it won't long be a matter of "could." The question is whether or not such a thing is desirable.

Through three generations, Lara Croft's design has undergone significant evolutions in a trend toward more realistic features and proportions, but I wonder whether, apart from any technological concerns, there aren't limits as to just how real she can become. Despite extensive reworkings, she has remained always identifiable by her exaggerated eyes and lips, distinguishing features that have kept her more recognizable from title to title than James Bond is from actor to actor. Is there any live human being who could match the character's look so faithfully as to own the role of the real Lara Croft, "real" in this case referring ironically to the one in the video games? Is that even the goal?

What, in other words, is the ideal form of Lara Croft that the Tomb Raider artists are reaching toward in their continuous refinements of the character's design? Does a photorealistic human woman lie at the end of that rainbow? Or is she basically a cartoon character, the same as Mario and Donkey Kong, who have seemingly already arrived at their final forms? I do not use "cartoon" in a derogatory manner, as good cartoon characters achieve life convincingly through designs and animations full of personality, causing us to believe in them, sometimes even more so than live action actors, regardless of how exactly they physically resemble us.

Photorealistic characters remain as yet unachievable, so the question has been moot. But, in the face of Emily, technology is now close enough that these matters must be considered.


Czardoz said...

"Photorealistic characters remain as yet unachievable, so the question has been moot."

Wasn't this achieved in Pit Fighter?

I'm not impressed. Just a lot of mumbo-jumbo dressed up as something real. Maybe if they're very good and don't tell any lies, they can all become real boys!

Riyuu said...

The face just doesn't look real. There's not enough detail; it looks too smooth.

Henry said...

"Just a lot of mumbo-jumbo dressed up as something real."

Perhaps the same could be said of all religions.