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The Future of CGI Films: Creating True Photo-Realism

By Ed Sum

If keen observers of video game cinematics and CGI films think the computer graphics look great now, especially in how cloth material and hair are rendered, the next wave is going to be amazing.

The science behind how these surfaces are rendered have been restudied and restructured in such a way, where if there was a real world analogy: the way any type of thread is weaved on a loom in specific patterns is what the team of computer engineers from the Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego looked at, but at a microscopic level. What they have discovered is a simpler method which matches this real world analogy and the ‘virtual threads’ are more cylindrical.

When writing software to deconstruct how the real world looks inside a computer, programmers are required to have an intimate mathematical understanding of how to make those visual images understood within the machine. For the technically inclined, that means writing a proper sequence of logical statements to describe how a ray of light reflects off a particular object molecule by molecule. How the computer responds is by instructing what’s inside its mechanisms to draw the right color, shape, transparency and density (to name a few) to a screen after all that complex math resolves what a computer eye sees of this virtual object.

But for the team who already know this science known as ray tracing theory, to find a new method to measure and render how light reflects off fabrics is going to revolutionize how any entertainment product utilizing computer graphics is going to look. When the next wave of display technologies include 4K, a ultra-high definition display format, this recent discovery will most likely take advantage of really making any CGI world look beyond photo-realistic. It will be unmistakable from the real thing!

(Image: Iman Sadeghi, et. al/Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego)

Software like Maya or Cinema4D will have to be updated for those computer artists looking to recreate the world of James Cameron’s Avatar.

In a report by Gizmag, Oleg Bisker is a fellow researcher who believes that the new algorithms developed can simulate any kind of weaving pattern and thread types in a computer animated world. Even in still life, the simulations of real world cloth objects look far more realistic than ever before. Bisker is working with Henrik WannJensen, PhD advisor to Iman Sadeghi, software engineer who has done work in the past with ILM and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

When the team consists of people who have done work within the movie-making industry in the past (Sadeghi worked on Lord of the Rings and Tangled), their work will certainly not go unnoticed. Gizmag also reported that their work has raised eyebrows at SIGGRAPH, a computer graphics conference. As for when it will appear in end products is simply a matter of time.

If Cameron is not aware of this technology yet, he will hear about it soon enough. He may invest into it as well if he truly wants to remain ahead of the game with creating visual wonders to wow audiences with. After all, that is what he does best.

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