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March 20, 2013

3D Leaps From Movies to Real World

by Elizabeth Lee

From movies to computer gaming, audiences are delighting in the super-realism of computer-generated video, including increasingly sophisticated three-dimensional, or 3D imagery. In Los Angeles, a team of developers is working to bring that 3D technology out of the realm of entertainment and into real world applications for business and education. 
 
In the movie Superman Returns, the audience knows that the superhero is not really flying, but there's also another illusion. The actor who looks like he's flying is also not real. He's a virtual actor. And the first step in creating the digital stand-in is to place a real actor in something called a light stage. It's a hollow sphere illuminated by lights.  Once an actor steps inside the sphere, a computer captures the contours of his face and records how they reflect light.
 
“We can light them with very specially computer-controlled illumination, and take photos of them from seven different view points with high resolution digital still cameras," explains Paul Debevec, who is with the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies.
 
Debevec is a part of a cross-disciplinary team working to create computerized images of people, objects and environments that look and act real. He says the light stage allows actors to be digitally created into animated versions of themselves, like the blue aliens in the movie Avatar.  The real world could soon be using a similar technology created at the Institute: a 3D video teleconferencing system that projects a video image of a participant into a meeting room. The video image can interact with other participants who can see the image in 3D without special glasses.

“The person who is being transmitted to a remote location can actually look around at the people in the room, and everybody in the room knows who they’re looking at.  And that's such a fundamental part of human communication," he said.

Debevec believes the business world will begin to use 3D video teleconferencing within the next five years.  But the public may see the next generation of this technology a bit sooner...

The Institute is using its light stage and Interactive 3D Display technology to record and display video testimonies of Holocaust survivors for the Shoah Foundation, also at the University of Southern California.

The 3D images will be shown on special screens in classrooms or museums, and will be programmed to play in response to specific questions about the Holocaust from students or visitors. 

Kim Simon, the managing director of the Shoah Foundation, says the Holocaust survivor can answer a wide range of topics.

“It could be about faith. It could be about love, it could be about beliefs, it could be about identity," she said.

Simon says having young people interact with a 3D Holocaust survivor will enrich their learning experience.

“It’s also a medium with which young people today are particularly comfortable," she said. "And the amount of information that comes though seeing a person’s face and hearing their voice at the same time is multiplied.”
   
A demonstration of an interaction between a Holocaust survivor and students may be possible in a year.  In 10 years...we might be able to play 3D video games without special glasses.