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New CGI technology used in Warcraft could mean actors live forever

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image copyrightUniversal/ ILM
image captionWarcraft: The Beginning includes never-before-seen facial performance capture

The company behind some of the most advanced CGI technology in Hollywood has new kit to make actors live forever.

Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), a company started by Star Wars' George Lucas, is behind it and has used it in the new Warcraft film.

For those who don't know, the film is based on the global hit computer game franchise.

It stars Dominic Cooper, Paula Patten and Ben Foster.

Dominic told BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra that he knows actors who are getting themselves "scanned" so they will always be able to play a younger version of themselves in future films.

"It is going to happen. I think it is more terrifying than it is exciting though."

The company has pioneered special effects in movies including Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and their latest project, Warcraft: The Beginning.

BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra's film critic Ali Plumb travelled to San Francisco to meet the gurus at Industrial Light and Magic, at their offices for a special BBC iPlayer documentary.

The company's digital supervisor Nigel Sumner told Ali that they had faced their biggest challenge yet in making the effects for the Warcraft movie.

"Amazing groundwork has been done.

"But there is a way to go before you put a digital human character side by side onscreen for a whole movie and have no one question the origin of that performance."

Basically, we still can tell what's CGI and what's real.

image copyrightUniversal/ ILM

Is that a hair I can spot on the back of his neck?

Warcraft: The Beginning used ground-breaking CGI which shows the exceptional detail of orcs' facial expressions; so much so you can see the amount of hairs on their heads.

Plus, the size of the motion capture stage used for the gigantic battle scenes is the largest ever used in any film.

Director Duncan Jones says the technology was vital in making the film.

"When we started working on this project, I did a re-write on this script.

"There was a pretty dramatic change of emphasis from humans being the good guys to the creature, the orc being the bad guys.

"What I wanted to do is spend a lot more time with the orcs and humanise them.

"In order to do that I was going to have to do a close up on the orc."

image copyrightUniversal/ILM
image captionWarcraft: The Beginning includes never-before-seen facial performance capture

So how do you turn a human actor into a fully formed digital character?

The answer is a technique called motion or performance capture.

"The physical movement of an actor, both their body and face, can be captured and digitally set onto a matrix," Duncan explains.

"That matrix can be used to drive a computer generated character."

image copyrightUniversal/ ILM
image captionA suit using tracking markers and head mounted cameras are used to reinterpret the actors' facial performance

During the making of Warcraft: The Beginning, actors wore suits using tracking markers and cameras mounted on their heads to reinterpret their facial performance.

Duncan said that there were endless possibilities with the technology.

"I don't think there was a limitation as far as technology as far as what we were able to achieve.

"The limitation is about time and money."

image copyrightUniversal/ILM
image captionWarcraft: The Beginning includes never-before-seen facial performance capture

But back to ILM's digital supervisor Nigel Sumner who said the work on this movie is just the beginning.

He believes photorealistic humans in film will be possible in two years.

image copyrightUniversal/ ILM

"The ultimate goal is that if the actor can see themselves onscreen in their digital performance and they believe it's their performance coming through then we've got the right amount of detail the right amount of nuance and we've achieved our goal.

"I believe we're on the cusp of seeing fully digital characters that you wouldn't know are digital on the big screen."

Watch the full documentary on the BBC iPlayer.

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