Photorealism is slowly reaching a stage where the “uncanny valley” does not apply anymore. Activision just showed an impressive video of a face animated in real-time at GDC 2013 (Games Developers Conference):
One of the collaborators is Paul Debevec (USC – ICT, California), one of the superstars of the computer graphics community, inventor of the “light stage“, a device that allows to recreate a huge amount of light moods for a piece of video! Another project of his was “digital emily” (2008) which is probably the base technology behind the Activision demo. Here’s a talk at TEDx:
Anybody interested in facial animation should have a look at the German Animationsinstitut of the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg who developed the Facial Animation Toolset based on scientific findings on facial expressions (most notably by researcher Paul Ekman who developed the facial action coding system aka FACS).
Alexander O., Rogers M., Lambeth W., Chiang M., Debevec P. Creating a Photoreal Digital Actor : The Digital Emily Project. IEEE European Conference on Visual Media Production (CVMP), November 2009. (also to appear in IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications.)
Paul Debevec, Tim Hawkins, Chris Tchou, Haarm-Pieter Duiker, Westley Sarokin, and Mark Sagar. 2000. Acquiring the reflectance field of a human face. In Proceedings of the 27th annual conference on Computer graphics and interactive techniques (SIGGRAPH 2000). ACM Press/Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., New York, NY, USA, 145-156.