Patent: Disney to Clone Human Faces for Realistic Audio Animatronics

Disney's Physical Face Cloning PatentIn this day and age in which 3D scans of human faces are turned into exciting keepsakes such as the Disney/LucasFilm Star Wars Weekends experience ‘Carbon Freeze Me,’ in which guests could receive a replica of themselves frozen in carbonite a la Han Solo, and the upcoming ‘I Am A Princess,’ which builds on a previous test in which guests could have a princess doll in their likeness made, technology is becoming a key player in what has been even the most traditional of trades.

Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the pioneering technologies employed by The Walt Disney Company is being updated in a fascinating new way that will attempt to make audio animatronic figures rival the most advanced 3D, high definition screens. The ominous-sounding ‘Physical Face Cloning’ patent application (US 2012/0185218) seeks to improve upon the decades-old theme park experience by using some complicated algorithms to produce the most life-like audio animatronic figures to date.

Based on the listed location of the majority of the inventing team, the project appears to come out of Disney Research in Zurich, Switzerland. Disney Research recently came into the limelight with its technology dubbed touche, allowing users to control devices by gestures.

The problem with today’s audio animatronic figures, according to the patent, is that they require enlisting a team of animators, sculptors and other experts to create a face and skeletal system able to produce a realistic set of human expressions, as relayed through a layer of artificial skin. Taking the guess work out of the process, the new system could simply use motion capture technology to record the human subject’s face making various expressions and, via some very non-simple mathematical formulas, generate the perfect layer of silicone rubber skin (or whichever material is desired) of varying thickness, along with directions for attaching said skin to the skeleton, so that when the skin is stretched and manipulated on the figure to form the desired expressions, it provides the most realistic visuals possible.

UPDATE #1: 7/25/12 – Disney Research will discuss the new technology at SIGGRAPH 2012 on August 9. More information here.

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