Skip to Content

Softer Virtual Skin

New physics-based software renders virtual human skin more realistically than previous computer models.

Computer-generated human faces usually look plastic and unconvincing on the silver screen; one of the biggest problems is getting simulated light to bounce off the skin just right. Now computer scientists Henrik Wann Jensen of the University of California, San Diego, and Pat Hanrahan of Stanford University have written software that renders virtual skin in a more realistic way. A graphic artist defines the shape and color of the face, the lighting conditions, and the translucency of the skin; the software then uses physics to calculate how light is absorbed and scattered beneath the surface of the simulated skin. That gives the skin a softer, more diffuse, and more natural look than previous computer models did. What’s more, the technique requires no more time to render each frame of animation than existing methods, thanks to mathematical shortcuts. Studios and effects companies including Pixar, ILM, and Disney are starting to use the technique, says Jensen.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting

With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.