Replay: This first appeared in 2014, so you'd expect it to be dated given the incredibly fast pace of technology. But it's still an incredibly realistic animation even by today's standards. It's not easy to make a photo-realistic animation of an eye, but this proves that it can be done - complete with peach-fluff!
The human eye is perhaps the most complicated-looking of all our body parts. It's got a transparent, highly reflective surface. It's moist, and it has complex components, like eyelashes, and, of course, the iris.
And then you have to deal with the movement, not just of the eye, but the face surrounding it. Most of us wouldn't know where to start.
But this hasn't daunted Chris Jones. He's taken a sensible approach to animating the human body: do it in bits. And well he might, because apparently (from the information we've managed to piece together) the render times have been horrendous - up to a month in some cases. This level of perfection isn't going to happen in real-time any time soon - but don't be surprised if you see it in less than ten years time. We believe this was created using Lightwave.
A lot of people have told us that they think this is real. That's a huge compliment to its creator. And, given that he's used software that's not normally seen as cutting edge these days (although there's clearly nothing wrong with it!) this says more, perhaps, about talent than technology. Quite a few people have said it's the best thing they've seen and some have even said that it crosses the "Uncanny Valley", which is the huge obstacle you have to cross when your animation becomes realistic enough to arouse your primitive suspicions, and your brain tells you it's not only not real, but downright creepy! Halli Bjornsson, CEO of games company Lockwood Publishing said "That's pretty much crossing the uncanny valley by some distance.".
Is this the best animation ever? We don't actually know. There may be something even better out there, and if you know of something, perhaps you could let us know. But, right now, this is by far the best facial animation we've seen.
Remember, though, that this took a very long time to render. It will be a long time until you see this level of detail in computer games.
Some people have also speculated that this might mean we could have full-body CGI actors in films. Yes, it well, might, but there are many more issues in animating a full body than just a small part. It's only a matter of complexity and the persistence of the animators, though. On the one hand, to manually create a full model (and multiple models for that matter - it's quite unusual to only have one character in a film!) at this level of detail will take ages, but the more characters you create, the more you can take advantage of what what they have in common. Techniques for realistic walking, and, yes, eye movements, can be shared. In other words, all the research that's gone into making this eye can be pretty much duplicated and with only minor adjustments can be carried across to other characters.
Before long, such techniques could be incorporated into "Standard" CGI software, and we can expect to see virtual actors if not becoming the default, at least taking their place on the virtual sound stage alongside real characters and objects.
But for now, the stand-out thing about this amazing animation is that most people, when they first see it, simply think it's real. And in that sense, we really have crossed the uncanny valley.
Congratulations to Chris. Enjoy his video, after the break, and then look at this, which is remarkable in itself, because it is rendered in real time.