Rendering CGI faces that look close to real is hard, but we're starting to see hardware that can pull it off. Then, the problem becomes the source material; you've got to have models that look good enough to pass for real. For that, a new kind of facial scanning is going to come in handy, one that can get detail all the way down to each skin cell.

A team of researchers led by led by Abhijeet Ghosh of Imperial College London and Paul Debevec of the University of Southern California have developed a process of scanning human faces at such a high level of detail that the reproductions are effectively perfect. No pore goes unnoticed.

The process works thanks to extremely detailed application of light during the capture process. As New Scientist explains:

Using a specially developed lighting system and camera, they photographed samples of skin from people's chins, cheeks and foreheads at a resolution of about 10 micrometres, so that each skin cell was spread across roughly three pixels. They then used the images to create a 3D model of skin and applied their light reflection technique to it. The result was CGI skin complete with minute structures like pores and microscopic wrinkles. Finally, they fed the CGI images to an algorithm that extended them to fill in an entire CGI face.

Earlier versions of this same tech have been put to commercial use before. In fact, digital effects company Weta Digital used some of these same techniques in the production of Avatar. But many of the finer details that helped get the Na'vi across uncanny valley—like moles and wrinkles—are were added by hand. The latest and greatest version of this capture tech can pull that stuff off automatically, making it waaaay more practical and less labor intensive.

The crew at USC is already working with games publisher Activision to try to find a way to bring these sort of high quality faces to games as soon as possible, though it'll probably be a while before consumer tech can handle it. We're close to finally getting across the uncanny valley though. The porn can't be very far behind. [New Scientist]