A new tech demo featuring sophisticated performance-capture technology made by the game developer Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain, Indigo Prophecy) was inspired by Ray Kurzweil’s book The Singularity is Near.
The clip, which David Cage, the head of Quantic Dream, unveiled on Wednesday at a Game Developers Conference presentation, shows an android named Kara becoming self-aware as she is being assembled, and desperately insisting that her sentience is a feature and not a bug.
“There will come a point where artificial intelligences are smarter than us, it’s inevitable,” Cage said in an interview with Wired prior to the grand unveiling. “This clip is about the moment that happens.”
Quantic Dream’s 2010 game Heavy Rain won critical acclaim for its singularly realistic digital performances, captured from real-life actors and rendered in surprisingly human detail on the PlayStation 3. The “Kara” demo is the first glimpse of the developer’s continuing efforts to create realistic game actors.
The role of Kara was performed by the actress Valorie Curry (Veronica Mars, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2). The character model and performance capture is so sophisticated that you can see muscles moving underneath the skin of Kara’s face, and very subtle shifts and changes in the eyes. The sync between the mouth movements and the sound of the speech is perfect.
“There were 90 markers on her face, and an equivalent amount on her body,” said Cage. “She delivered the performance in one take.”
When Kara appears to be reacting to robot arms that assemble her body, Cage said that Curry was actually reacting to other people on the set who poked and prodded at her.
Cage predicts that the off-putting near-human appearance of CG characters that film and game makers are currently grappling may be surmountable.
“Avatar proved that you could get past the uncanny valley,” said Cage. “A large audience can just forget about the CG and focus on the story. I don’t think Kara is perfect, of course. But step by step, we are leaving the valley.”
The demo is running in real time on a PlayStation 3 console. Cage insists that he’ll be able to show even more impressive examples of performance capture soon, closer to the time that the next Quantic Dream game is unveiled.
“The Kara demo was made a year ago, and we’ve made incredible progress since then,” he said.
She looked so real that is was almost stunning, it is amazing how fast technology is growing. Even though the story of a robot that wants to be alive has been done many times before David Cage did a great job showing it in a new light. Plus I finished Heavy Rain for the first time yesterday, it was so intense and awesome.