Bringing Humans to Life

One of the highlights on day four of Innovation Week, where all the sessions focus on “Beyond Media”, was delving behind the scenes into how Microsoft brought the multi award-winning Channel 4 Humans campaign to life. Frazer and Arthur, Microsoft experts at AOL, took us through the process, along with Sam and Aviv – the cutting edge specialists in their fields of visual effects, photography and CGI. They gave us an in-depth look into how data and tech created the synths, and how Kinect brought them to life.

We were taken from the very beginning- a blank canvas. Extras from the Channel 4 show were scanned in 3D- using over 40 pieces of specialised tech to capture analogue information from the real world and digitalise it. One type of equipment scanned the body, rotating it to ensure all details were included. The other scanned the head and hands as these are actually perceived differently, and in more detail. These were then stitched together and refined in a mesh format which allowed the simplification of the data. This derives the 3D aspects of that person, with points that represent that person in 3D space, turning them into surfaces and then make them programmatic.

Still with me?

Lighting and texture were next on the agenda, after the company Airship built the characters from the scanned data. The models were sculpted like clay, tidying up the eyes, accentuating pore information and more. The key thing here was finding the middle ground between 100% photorealistic and too robotic. They were looking to hit the sweet spot where there was something a little off with the synths, to tap into humans fears and to make us feel uneasy and uncomfortable.

Lastly, Kinect stepped up to bring our synths to life. This powerful piece of tech can see skeletons and people, using cameras, tracking technology and more. Kinect can see your movements and your gestures, tracking and interpreting motion. This allowed the synths to respond to you, waving back and following you around the room. They can smile, engage and even see your heart beat- a slightly unnerving thought!

So that’s how you build a human with eight weeks and some serious tech! It was a fascinating talk, and left us with the promise of even more from our synths for Humans round twoh.


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