The internet is hysterically flapping its wings over a video that portends to show a man flying. Flying like a bird! But is it real? There's no consensus, but George Lucas' CGI masterminds say it's a big avian hoax.
We spoke with Ryan Martin, Technical Director at preeminent Industrial Light & Magic, who not only offered his own take, but that of over a dozen coworkers. He asked me to forgive the delay in their response because they've "all been pretty busy finishing up The Avengers." Yeah.
Here's their case:
Okay, so I don't see any glaring visual problems, but that's expected when the quality is as shitty as this. But that's the first thing that makes me question its authenticity. They're able to afford to build this thing, but can't invest in proper video equipment, or... a tripod. If I were to make a fake video with the intention of going viral, I would make certain that the quality was as poor as possible to disguise any flaws in poor cg work. Another big visual issue I have with this video is the stability of his head during flight. Try and keep your head that still while waving your arms up and down when they aren't attached to a giant wing contraption. Still, it seems almost too crazy to be fake and I was unable to find other glaring flaws with the video. So, I've queried our entire facility because we have some pretty amazingly smart people here. Here's what some of them had to say:
Employee 1: "without a doubt, fake"
Employee 2 (also a pilot) "the camera seems very strange. I know that when I am flying in an airplane, I don't look straight ahead all of the time. Also, the only way people have been able to propel themselves above the ground have been by bicycle arrangements to power a fixed-wing aircraft. A human powered helicopter managed 10 seconds of flight about 5 inches above the ground. The legs are much more powerful than the arms.
I have serious doubts about it just on the physics and physiology points alone. "
Employee 3: "I agree, I saw that earlier today. I can't spot any glaring visual problems, but the physics just don't add up."
Employee 4: "Bad physics, shaky cam with bad focus (always a giveaway) and the most steady head I've ever seen on a guy flapping his arms in order to not break every bone in his body. FAKE."
and some others....
he is talking about the motors that assist his flying, so he isn't flapping all by himself.
if its a hoax, its a pretty elaborate hoax, because he has been trying t build up trust for months before hand."
Employee 6: " it is a matter of weight ratios! Have a look at the gossamer condor surface area of the wing to sustain flight at 1.5 miles an hour."
Employee 7: "6 December 2011,For weeks I have been programming the HTC phone and the Wii remote to work together in order to let them flap my wings in the right movement.",,http://www.humanbirdwings.net/project-timeline/" I've had my wiimote just shut off suddenly without any warning. Sounds like marketing bs or soon to be granted Darwin award."
Employee 8: "I constantly see gliders taking off (Fort Funston in Daly City) and It doesn't look right to me:
- the motion of the wings and physics looks bogus to me. the flapping motion is weird to me.
- the wing cloth, totally looks like cloth simulation. the cloth look structurally too rigid looks like a thick velvet.
- the wing clothing material looks CGI."
Employee 9: "Look how steady the GoPro footage is. You seriously think his neck is that stable when flapping his arms? To get that high and not move your head around an inch to take in the view? FAKE"
Employee 10: I have to wonder where the power is coming from (where are the batteries, etc). The most efficient for human transportation appears to be a fixed wing aircraft. You can get very good results from a good laminar wingform and a low power engine/motor. His wings will definitely not provide the aerodynamics to haul a 180 pounds in the air. The largest bird had a 23 foot wingspan, and was only 171 pounds. It also had very large pectoral muscles to handle the power needed.
Employee 11: "The wing-loading is crazy. ,,Also, a major purpose of a tail on a bird or airplane is to counter-act the forward pitching moment of the wing. If you could get your weight down to about 50 pounds for those wings, you would still find yourself rolling forward. Straight-wing flying wings need a specific twist, or large dihedral, to maintain stable flight (both of which kill lift). The configuration in the video is prone to gerbilling.,,I think the animation cycle on the figure is borrowed from the monkeys in Wizard of Oz."
Emphasis added. Martin even produced a smoking gun:
Okay Sam, They wouldn't let this go without getting to the bottom of it. We've got proof it's faked.
The proof comes from one of their other videos and the guys here are genuinely impressed that it's taken so long even for us to determine the truth.
These guys are fooling everyone.
At 1:45, you can see a little black square on the fabric
Now, without cutting, the camera pans down and then back up again. When the camera pans up, the wing is cg. You can tell because the model they used didn't have perfect textures
It's a pretty good fake, but it is absolutely fake.
Again, emphasis added.
We also talked with a CGI brain at Visual Playground, who spotted what he says is another giveaway:
So if it's a fake, it's a pretty masterful one. Even the Star Wars guys are impressed.
Update: Martin has more refutation out of ILM:
Even more definitive evidence from on of our veteran compositors:
"At 0:18 - the cast shadows of the three fellas on the wings are another giveaway. The shadow on screen right, for example, was created using an articulate of the man himself, then hand-animated and warped to look like a cast shadow on the wing. Watch how the cast shadow does a moon-walk/shuffle, incongruous with the man himself.
All that said, it's still very well done. Good stuff. And I truly believe this is a healthy exercise for folks who do this stuff for a living."
Update 2: Another heavyweight CGI alum weighs in:
This is really convincing CG work, but the public needs to understand that CG artists can detect things the same way a master chef can detect the ingredients of a dish. I take my hat off to these artists for their commitment to this project, creating and releasing so many videos with convincing graphics that have fooled a LOT of people. It's the perfect PR for a visual effects studio. Wish I'd thought of it!