Beyond the Uncanny Valley: Creating Realistic Virtual Humans in the 21st Century

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Date: Wednesday, December 5th
Time: 2:15pm 4:00pm
Venue: Hall C (4F, C Block)

Speaker(s): Christophe Hery, Pixar Animation Studios, United States of America
Matt Aitken, Weta Digital, New Zealand
Prasert “Sun” Prasertvithyakarn, Luminous Productions Co., Ltd., Japan
Erik Smitt, Pixar Animation Studios, United States of America
David Hanson, Hanson Robotics, United States of America
Mike Seymour, The University of Sydney

Abstract: Bridging the Uncanny Valley was once the Holy Grail for every roboticist, computer graphics, animation and video games professional. This panel gathers acclaimed professionals from those fields for an exploration of the State of the Art in creating realistic Virtual Humans. Does the concept of Uncanny valley still stand in 2018? What are the next steps and where do research efforts need to be directed? The discussion will be a great opportunity to find out the devices used by each discipline for achieving a greater suspension of disbelief.

Speaker(s) Bio:
"Christophe Hery joined Pixar in June 2010, where he holds the position of Senior Scientist. He wrote new lighting models and rendering methods for Monsters University and The Blue Umbrella, and more recently for Finding Dory, Piper, Cars3, Coco and Incredibles 2 and continues to spearhead research in the rendering arena. An alumnus of Industrial Light & Magic, Christophe previously served as a research and development lead, supporting the facility’s shaders and providing rendering guidance. He was first hired by ILM in 1993 as a Senior Technical Director. During his career at ILM, he received two Scientific and Technical Awards from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences."

"Matt is one of Weta Digital’s most experienced Visual Effects Supervisors. He has recently finished supervising Weta Digital’s work on Avengers: Infinity War. Matt’s other projects as Visual Effects Supervisor include District 9, The Adventures of Tintin, Peter Jackson’s King Kong 360 3-D attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, Iron Man 3 and all three films in The Hobbit trilogy. Matt has worked at Weta Digital since the early days of the company. Matt was Digital Models Supervisor on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, pre-production / R&D Supervisor for King Kong, and CG Supervisor for Avatar. Matt was nominated for the Academy Award® for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, and the BAFTA Film Award for Best Special Visual Effects, both for District 9. He has won multiple Visual Effects Society Awards. Matt has a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Victoria University of Wellington and a Master of Science in Computer Graphics from Middlesex University, London. He has had technical papers published by Eurographics and Graphite and has given presentations on Weta Digital’s work at many conferences and festivals including SIGGRAPH, FMX, the Australian Effects and Animation Festival, Imagina, the London Effects and Animation Festival, and AnimfxNZ. Matt is an active member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences®, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and the Visual Effects Society."

Prasert "Sun" Prasertvithyakarn is a lead game designer in charge of user experience with AI characters and system in FINAL FANTASY XV. His specialty in emotional AI design allows him to introduce the game industry with an unseen game experience created by AI.

Erik Smitt began his career at Pixar Animation Studios 18 years ago in the lighting department on Monsters Incorporated. In addition to his CG work, he is a painter, photographer, and live action cinematographer who combines elements from each discipline into his work at Pixar. Erik has helped develop many projects inside of the studio including Wall•E, The Incredibles and Piper. Most recently he was the Director of Photography on Pixar's Incredibles 2.

Throughout his career, Dr. Hanson has produced many renowned, one-of-a-kind robot characters that have received massive media attention and public acclaim. Dr. Hanson started as a Walt Disney Imagineer, working as both a sculptor and a technical consultant. Today, as CEO and Founder of Hanson Robotics, he publishes regularly in materials science, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and robotics journals -- including SPIE, IEEE, the International Journal of Cognitive Science, IROS, AAAI, AI magazine and more. He has been featured in the New York Times, Popular Science, Scientific American, the BBC and CNN. He has also been labeled a "genius" by both PC Magazine and WIRED, and has earned awards from NASA, NSF, AAAI, Tech Titans’ Innovator of the Year, RISD, and Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial. Dr. Hanson received his BFA in Film, Animation and Video from the Rhode Island School of Design and his Ph.D. in Interactive Arts and Engineering from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Mike Seymour is a researcher at Sydney University in Digital Humans and co-founder of His research is covers both the entertainment industry and exploring using interactive photoreal faces in new forms of Human Computer Interfaces (CHI). His research is looking at deploying realistic digital humans and embodied conversational agents. His work is focused on real time digital humans, and direct interaction in the form of Actors, Agents and Avatars. Mike aims to help take technology from the traditional cutting edge entertainment industry and apply it in new exciting areas such as virtual production. Mike has previously worked in film and TV R&D and in production, winning an AFI and being nominated for an Emmy Award. He has worked as a compositor, vfx supervisor and second unit director. He is perhaps best known for his work as a writer, consultant and educator with the web sites fxguide and fxphd. These web site now have huge followings, as they provide an important link between the film and vfx community and the researchers and innovators who constantly push the limits of technology.



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