Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Kate Greene

A View from Kate Greene

The Special Effects of Benjamin Button

A new type of motion-capture system tracks facial expressions.

  • March 2, 2009

At the Academy Awards last week, the Oscar for visual effects went to the team behind The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The movie was a special-effects success thanks, in part, to a company called MOVA and its novel motion-capture system.

Credit: MOVA

Motion-capture systems track actors’ movements and allow those movements to be animated using computer-generated characters. The technology has come a long way in the past decade, but many of the systems used for movie making require a human actor to wear hundreds of reflectors, so they are limited to sensing large movements of the body, not subtle details in a facial expression.

However, MOVA’s technology, employed in Benjamin Button along with other technologies, uses a glow-in-the-dark powder that can reveal tiny details like laugh lines or a furrowed brow. In a studio, MOVA’s system uses an array of cameras to film an actor’s facial expressions while the lighting alternates between light and dark at a rate of 100 times per second. The video is then sent to a computer where the glow-in-the-dark tracking points on the actor’s face are used to create a three-dimensional digital version of her face. Because the powder can’t be used in the eyes and mouth, digital engineers add them afterward.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.