An infinite number of facial expressions can be created from a single picture. Its eyes rotate and lips move. It smiles and cries. A familiar face gazes and talks at you in unfamiliar ways.
An image processing technology with such capabilities is drawing attention as a promotional tool on the Internet in Japan. MotionPortrait Inc, a subsidiary of leading Internet provider So-net Entertainment Corp, developed the technology.
Since established in July 2007, the company provided the technology to more than 30 companies, including cosmetic firm Shiseido Co Ltd and shaver company Schick Japan KK, as a sales promotion tool. Also, it has been used in various kinds of software for home game consoles. The technology, which deals with human faces, one of the most familiar objects to us, is now making consumers interested and have a sense of affinity.
The image processing technology is a brainchild of Sony Corp's Kihara Laboratory, which was closed in 2006. It was established by Nobutoshi Kihara, the company's former senior managing director who developed the first tape recorder and household video tape recorder in Japan.
The laboratory is also famous for developing technologies for PlayStation 2, Sony's home game console. Its image processing and computer graphics technologies are about to blossom again with Internet technologies.
3D graphic created from picture of human face
The core technology, which has the same name as the company, "MotionPortrait," enables to create a 3D graphic by automatically identifying specific characteristics, such as the shapes of eyes and mouth, of a human face in a picture. The eyes and mouth can be moved at will because computer graphics (CG) are created from a still picture (see related video).
MotionPortrait limited the objects of the technology to human faces so that the process of identifying characteristics of a face becomes simple and the processing speed is enhanced. With a PC server, it is possible to create a CG face within two seconds.
Also, it is possible for embedded devices, such as mobile phones, to display a 3D image by using existing CG data. A picture of a face is transmitted from a mobile phone to a Web server via the Internet, and CG data is created on the server side. Then the data is sent to the mobile phone so that it can display a "moving face."
"It's not the case that we employed a new elemental technology for identifying facial characteristics and making CG images," said Daichi Sasaki, researcher at MotionPortrait Inc and one of the core developers for the MotionPortrait technology. "But we made many improvements to accelerate the processing speed in view of applications to mobile phones."
Once a CG is created from a picture, it is easy to attach a pair of glasses or change hair styles. Also, a technology to synthesize two facial images was derived from the MotionPortrait technology. By combining the elementary CG technology and a technology to integrate two facial contours, skin colors and so forth, it becomes possible to synthesize, for example, user's eyes and mouth with those of a fashion model.
MotionPortrait Inc used those technologies and established a system to show a beard on user's facial image for "Beard Change," a Website that Schick Japan opened in 2008 to promote its products. All users have to do is to send their facial images and choose their favorite beards from 1,000 types. Then, they can check if beards look good on them by changing the angles and expressions of the CG faces.
By using a similar method, the company provides services where wedding dresses can be tried on and where hairstyles featured in magazines can be tried, showing the growing applications of the technology.
The MotionPortrait technology can replace a face of a character in a video clip with a CG face. In this video, the CG face is used as the face of "Adamo-chan," a character played by comedian Toshiro Shimazaki in "We Are Humorists," a Japanese popular variety TV program in 1980s. On a mobile Website named "MotionPortrait Park," MotionPortrait Inc and its partners offer a service where everyone can become Adamo-chan by sending his or her picture. This movie was posted by the company in commemoration of the release of DVD software named "I Spotted Adamo-chan."