Here is the latest example of a company deciding the best way to sell a product is to use modern technology to resurrect the dead. It stars Audrey Hepburn, making amiable mischief thanks to the amiable mischief fuel that is Galaxy Chocolates.
This is not the first time Hepburn has posthumously appeared in an advertisement. In 2006, The Gap used digitally manipulated footage to combine her winsome dance moves with the charming melodies of AC/DC.
So what technical devilry brought forth the Hepburn this time? After the jump for the somewhat expected but still kinda startling reveal.
If you guessed "They got a lookalike, used her in some of the mid/cutaway shots, used some CGI to blend old footage and new footage, applied some filters, hit it with a magic wand and called it good?" You're close, but wrong.
That smiling, doe-eyed Audrey Hepburn face is 100% computer generated imagery.
Framestore, the VFX company responsible for creating the advertisement, have explained their methodology in detail, but the gist of it is this: They hired a lookalike, scanned her, and then shot the commercial in live-action. Once the footage was shot, they built a model of Hepburn's face using all of her film appearances, plus many promotional stills, often manually tugging & tweaking on the imagery in attempt to discern what kind of lens was used in each individual photo.
From there, it was a matter of hand-animating her looks, her blinks, and her smile to ensure that viewers not have to deal with the off-putting nature of being trapped in the uncanny valley, a place where large segments of Tron: Legacy resided as effects technicians valiantly fell short at making Jeff Bridges realistically young again.
Did they bridge that valley? No. But they definitely pulled one side way closer to other, so close you can practically just *hop* right over it.
Sure, this is just a 60 second ad, probably helped by the fact YouTube's compression is helping cover up what seams there might be. She also never talks, or emotes beyond looking demurely adorable, which helps hold the illusion together just as much.
But we're probably no more than 5-10 years away from effects technicians completely nailing this, their holy grail, 100% indiscernable photorealism. It's no longer a question as to if they will do it, but when. The new question is if VFX companies will survive the starve-out major movie studios are currently putting them through.
Until then, let us commence with the arguments over how creepy/weird/gross it is that the best thing we can do with some of our favorite movie memories is feed them into a computer and reanimate them so as to sell us stuff. Or, as many a less-savory commenter on YouTube has pointed out, they can start making porn with them. To which I respond: Are you sure you want that?
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