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Interview: Image Metrics Takes Facial Capture To Social Games

Image Metrics' first Portable You gaming partner is Arkadium, and CEO Robert Gehorsam tells Gamasutra what he hopes the tech will bring to personalizing social games through advanced image capture tech.
Animation technology company Image Metrics is mainly known for the facial capture technology it serves to developers primarily in the AAA space. But now it's trying something a little different, enabling developers to put face-scanning tech right into their players' hands. The tool is called Portable You, and games that implement it will add functionality for players to create 3D renderings of their own faces to be used in avatar creation, social networks and other services that might benefit from user-generated player images. Image Metrics is announcing that it's partnering with Arkadium, its first gaming partnership around Portable You, to serve the tech in Arkadium's games. Arkadium claims 9 million unique players globally across several distribution channels, enjoys a Facebook presence and claims to have the world's largest library of Flash games. "Mostly we've been the user of our own technologies," Image Metrics CEO Robert Gehorsam tells Gamasutra. "But we've also really come to realize and believe there's a major shift going on in how people want to represent themselves, express themselves and communicate online, starting with creating your own character in a game." Previous attempts at avatar personalization in online environments have been "fairly rudimentary and manually-intensive," in Gehorsam's view. "We thought our technology could play a really interesting role in empowering people in terms of expression animation." The vision? Realtime 3D image capture for users using only their webcam. "We saw a progression from being able to create a likeness of yourself in a way that didn't involve [extra capture tools]," Gehorsam observes, noting the avatar mapping that's becoming popular through tools like Kinect and Move. Thus the Portable You software development kit was born, enabling developers to offer some of that functionality to any user with a home computer. "Specifically the head and face, which can then be customized and accessorized, into any applications and across applications," Gehorsam describes. "Eventually these avatars are animatable. You're in front of your webcam, or you can upload a photo, and within 20 seconds, what's returned to you is a fully-rigged, fully-3D character that can be integrated into any kind of experience." He hopes that the Portable You tech will offer developers a more sophisticated option for their users than prior solutions that mainly wrap images over models, benefiting from integration with Image Metrics' internal suite in the time since the company bought Portable You owner Big Stage earlier this year. "We work directly from video; we don't require any kind of markers, or the special makeup," Gehorsam describes of the company's in-house tech, whose clients include Activision Blizzard, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Bethesda and other major game makers. "We can go directly from a video screen or from a single image to 3D animation... through a whole bunch of equations that recognize the face in a 2D context." That same technology can recognize the depth of a user's features in a webcam still, says Gehorsam, through data that can be mapped directly onto a rig. "It's not a photo; it's really 3D," he says. He hopes tech like Portable You will find a home particularly in a climate that sees social game developers looking for ways to become more immersive and attractive to core gamers. "Part of what we offer, besides personalization, is immersion," Gehorsam says. "To that degree I think we can play an interesting role in bridging that world."

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