On Wednesday morning at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Epic Games unveiled a remarkable demonstration of its latest real-time digital rendering system called Unreal Engine. The demonstration showed a completely digital copy of actor Andy Serkis reciting lines from Macbeth illustrating the incredibly rapid evolution of photorealistic digital effects.

Back in 2016 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivered up a completely photo-realistic, computer-generated Peter Cushing, reprising his role from the original 1977 Star Wars. Since that milestone moment we have seen a variety of photorealistic digital characters invade our live-action films from a computer-generated young Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to a resurrected 1980s Sean Young in Blade Runner 2049.

The latest state-of-the-art demonstration of illustrating where we are it with photorealistic digital characters comes through a combination of new technology from several different companies, blending volumetric capture advances with a new real-time rendering system. This allows actors to have their face and body captured in real-time and transferred immediately into the visage of a digital avatar.

The big showy new demonstration came from actor Andy Serkis, known for his critically acclaimed motion capture performances as Golum in the Lord of the Rings movies, or more recently Snoke in the new Star Wars episodes. To first show how lifelike a digital replica can be, the demonstration translated Andy Serkis reciting lines from Macbeth into a completely photorealistic digital replica.

The result is full uncanny valley stuff, with an amazing depth of detail that replicates micro-muscular contractions on the actor's face in startling lifelike detail. The second demonstration was just as impressive, translating the real-time data captured from the actor's performance onto a vastly different digital character, a monstrous creature called Osiris Black.

Epic Games also revealed another video introducing Siren, a self-dubbed "digital human." Again the character is deep in the uncanny valley, with some jarringly odd facial tics, but perhaps the most remarkable thing about Siren is that she can be controlled in real-time by a human actor. In the past this kind of rendering would take days to create but the amazing work from Epic Games, in association with several other entities, now allows these figures to be created instantly.

In announcing the new technology Epic Games did not mince words, suggesting that it is only a matter of time before digital characters are indistinguishable from real humans. The company boldly states, "… someday photorealistic digital humans will be used in interactive entertainment, simulations, research, non-verbal communication as an interface with the machines, artificial intelligence and mixed reality applications…"

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