From implementing tricky 3D imaging of facial hair and liquids to robotics, the research at the four year old lab includes computer graphics, video processing, computer vision, robotics, radio and antennas, wireless communications, human-computer interaction, displays and machine learning, with the latest research being shown last week at the SIGGRAPH conference.
The researchers at the Zurich lab, working with ETH Zürich and Cornell University, have invented a system to digitize facial hair and skin. Capturing facial skin and geometry is a fundamental technology for a variety of computer-based special effects for movies. Up to now, no method was capable of reconstructing facial hair or even handling it appropriately, which is surprising as facial hair is an important component of popular culture.
“Our method captures individual strands of facial hair and stores them separately from the actual human face,” said Thabo Beeler, a computer scientist at Disney Research, Zürich, who is the main inventor of the technology. “This approach allows us to ‘shave’ people with facial hair virtually with the computer."
The system employs several consumer-grade photo cameras to capture a face in a fraction of a second. The method then automatically detects hairs in the captured images. These hairs are being tracked and followed in the input images, and a mathematical method called multi-view stereo (MVS) reconstructs them in three dimensions. The trick the researchers applied is to remove the hair strands from the input images similar to an artist painting over parts of a picture. This process makes the 3D skin surface to look as if it were digitally shaved. The system was applied to a large variety of different facial hair styles, ranging from designer stubbles all the way to wild mustaches, to demonstrate its robustness.
"The long-term goal of our research is to make facial animation and special effects more realistic and ultimately indistinguishable from reality. This method is going to be a very important step toward this long term goal," said Prof. Markus Gross, director of Disney Research in Zürich.
Computer graphic artists also struggle to render smoke, dust and liquids in a way that makes a scene look realistic, but the researchers in Zürich, along with Karlsruhe Technical Institute in Germany and the University of Montreal in Canada have developed a new and efficient way to simulate how light is absorbed and scattered in such scenes.
"Our technique could be used to simulate anything from vast cloudscapes, to everyday ‘solid’ objects such as a glass of orange juice, a piece of fruit or virtually any organic substance," said Dr. Wojciech Jarosz of Disney Research Zürich, who led the research team.
The approach uses a Disney Research technology called photon beams which challenged the traditional views on how to simulate light in scenes with smoke, dust or liquid. This allows more realistic graphics, from clouds, the appearance of fruit juices and milk, the haze in smoggy cities, and even the subtle dimming of distant objects on an otherwise clear day.
The virtual ray lights technique was also designed to be flexible, and the researchers hope it will find its way into many different areas of the computer animation and special effects industry. Virtual ray lights were designed to be progressive, meaning that they can very quickly generate a preview-quality result while converging to a final result as time goes by.