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Future of Kinect? Microsoft's nearly perfect 3-D model of the human face

Microsoft's system picks up the complex nuances of an actor's facial expressions.
Microsoft's system picks up the complex nuances of an actor's facial expressions.Microsoft Research

You know you’re on to something in computer graphics when you get to explain in your research paper how you’ve advanced the state of the art beyond "The Matrix: Reloaded" and the "Beowulfremake.

In a paper to be presented at the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in Vancouver, B.C., this week, Microsoft researchers tip their hats to the technologies used in those movies for accurate 3-D computer modeling of the human face.

(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

But the researchers, from Microsoft’s Beijing lab, say they’ve figured out how to do it even better. The technique they’ve come up with can automatically model faces with a new level of accuracy — down to the last wrinkle.

They use a combination of 3-D scanning technology and a motion-capture system (which explains the markers on the actor’s face above), plus a technique they developed to determine the minimal number of face scans needed to create an accurate model, which makes the system faster and more efficient.

Research projects don’t necessarily translate into shipping products, but it’s easy to imagine aspects of the approach being incorporated somehow into future versions of Microsoft’s Kinect sensor, either for the Xbox 360 or Windows PCs.

Microsoft’s recently released Avatar Kinect virtual conferencing service lets people control some of the facial expressions on their on-screen avatars — by lifting an eyebrow, for example. But a more accurate model of the face could open up more possibilities.

Who knows, maybe future Windows users will be able to launch Outlook with a particular type of smirk.

Todd Bishop of GeekWire can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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