Based on original research led by Paul Debevec at the University of California at Berkeley and published at the 2000 SIGGRAPH conference, the Light Stage systems efficiently capture how an actor's face appears when lit from every possible lighting direction. From this captured imagery, specialized algorithms create realistic virtual renditions of the actor in the illumination of any location or set, faithfully reproducing the color, texture, shine, shading, and translucency of the actor's skin. The first Light Stage, built on a minimal budget, had just one spotlight which spiraled around on a wooden gantry pulled by ropes in about a minute.
Light Stage 2 built at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies featured thirty bright strobe
lights on a ten foot semicircular arm which rotated to capture detailed facial reflectance in
just eight seconds.
In 2002, this process attracted the attention of visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk of Sony Pictures Imageworks, who chose it for creating photoreal computer-generated stunt doubles of actors Alfred Molina ("Doc Ock") and Tobey Maguire ("Spider-Man") for the movie Spider-Man 2. Mark Sagar, a collaborator on the original research, led the effort to adapt the process for film production. He was soon joined by computer graphics supervisor John Monos on Imageworks' look development team.
The technology was used in nearly 40 shots and helped the 2004 film earn an Academy Award® for Best Achievement in Visual Effects.
After Spider-Man 2, Mark Sagar transitioned to Peter Jackson's visual effects company
WETA Digital in New Zealand where he oversaw the use of USC's Light Stage 2 system to
record the facial reflectance of actress Naomi Watts for her digital stunt double in
Peter Jackson's King Kong in 2005.
Continuing at Sony Imageworks, John Monos led an effort which used Light Stage 2 scans of actor Brandon Routh to create a digital Superman character for the 2006 movie Superman Returns. The film achieved a new high water mark in the realism of virtual actors, with the digital Superman being successfully employed in both action sequences and extended closeup shots. The seamless digital character work helped earn Superman Returns an Academy Award® nomination for Best Visual Effects.
Sony Imageworks subsequently used Light Stage 2, as well as its full-sphere LED-based successors Light Stage 3 and Light Stage 5, to create digital superhero versions of actor James Franco for Spider-Man 3 in 2007 and Will Smith and Charlize Theron for Hancock in 2008.
Video and Artbook available at Amazon:
The Spider-Man Chronicles: The Art and Making of Spider-Man 3
Hancock (Two-Disc Edition)
In 2008, visual effects company Digital Domain used detailed reflectance information captured
with ICT's Light Stage 5 system to help create a computer-generated version of Brad Pitt as
an old man for David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The film, which featured the first extended performance of a digitally rendered actor in a feature film, won last year's Academy Award ® for Best Visual Effects.
Video and Artbook available at Amazon:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Two-Disc Special Edition)
The Making of the Motion Picture (Hardcover)
USC ICT's Lightstage 5 system was also employed in the extensive visual effects in James Cameron's
worldwide hit Avatar. Working closely with the visual effects team at WETA Digital, ICT's Graphics
Laboratory digitized the faces of most of the film's principal cast using a new high-resolution
version of their geometry and appearance capture techniques.
This innovative technology, housed at ICT's Marina del Rey campus, captures the shape, shine, color and texture of an actor's face down to the level of each skin pore, crease, and wrinkle. These detailed scans were used by WETA Digital in their process of creating the film's photorealistic digital humans and humanoid aliens, which have been lauded as a groundbreaking achievement in the evolution of digital filmmaking.
Through USC's Stevens Institute for Innovation, the Light Stage technologies have been licensed
to LightStage LLC, a Burbank-based company
which offers commercial scanning services to the
motion picture and interactive entertainment industries. LightStage, LLC's Chief Technology
Officer Tim Hawkins was involved in the development of the Light Stage technology beginning
with the original research at UC Berkeley and throughout its application in motion pictures
as a researcher in the Graphics Laboratory at USC ICT.
Paul Debevec, who is also a research associate professor in the Computer Science Department of USC's Viterbi School of Engineering, continues to lead ICT's graphics research program, which has published over 20 peer-reviewed publications involving the Light Stage systems to date.