Light Stage is a special effects system for films that records how people and objects look when lit from every possible direction. That way, virtual versions of actors can be accurately "lit" to perfectly match the background set. You've probably seen the magic of Light Stage (and not realized it) in fils like Spider-Man 2, Peter Jackson's King Kong, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and many other films. The Light Stage systems was first developed by Paul Debevec, a brilliant graphics researcher at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies who I first met (and wrote about) when we were grad students at UC Berkeley in the 1990s. Now, Debevec, and his colleagues Tim Hawkins of LightStage LLC, John Monos of Sony Pictures Imageworks, and Mark Sagar of WETA Digital received a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award for their work. I'm really proud of Paul. I distinctly remember when he first blew my mind with a demonstration of a photorealistic virtual fly-through film he had made of UC Berkeley's Campanille tower from photos acquired using kite aerial photography. The technique was later used in The Matrix's "Bullet Time" sequences. Congratulations, Paul and team! More info and Paul's demo video from TED after the jump.
From the ICT press release:
Based on original research led by Debevec at the University of California at Berkeley and published at the 2000 SIGGRAPH conference, the Light Stage systems efficiently capture how an actor's face appears when lit from every possible lighting direction. From this captured imagery, specialized algorithms create realistic virtual renditions of the actor in the illumination of any location or set, faithfully reproducing the color, texture, shine, shading, and translucency of the actor's skin.
While the first Light Stage had just one spotlight which spiraled around on a wooden gantry, Light Stage 2 built at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies featured thirty bright strobe lights on a ten foot semicircular arm which rotated to capture detailed facial reflectance in just eight seconds.