Innovations from DisneyResearch|Studios Receive Academy’s Sci-Tech Award

On Saturday, February 9, DisneyResearch|Studios was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with the prestigious Technical Achievement Award for the Medusa performance capture system. Medusa captures facial movements at a high level of accuracy, without the need for markers or makeup. It is currently considered to be the state-of-the-art in facial performance capture, and has been used to capture hundreds of actors for blockbuster movies such as the latest installments of the Star Wars saga and Avengers: Infinity War, where Medusa was instrumental for creating iconic characters such as Hulk and Thanos. Medusa has been developed by a small team at DisneyResearch|Studios and the Academy has honored four individuals for their contributions to the technology: Thabo Beeler, Derek Bradley, Bernd Bickel and Markus Gross.

“Medusa has dramatically improved the creation of believable digital human characters,” said Gross, vice president, Research, for The Walt Disney Studios. “It is the result of years of hard work and demonstrates that continuous investment into research and technology innovation is essential to retain the magic of the stories we tell.”

The Medusa performance capture system does away with the use of traditional motion-capture dots and uses a mobile rig of cameras and lights, along with proprietary software, to reconstruct actors’ faces in full motion. The end results are high-resolution 3-D faces, with the ability to track individual pores and wrinkles over time, enabling filmmakers to create extremely realistic digital doubles for visual effects and computer games. The clip below provides a glimpse into the “super” range of emotions Medusa makes it possible to bring to computer-generated characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in films from Lucasfilm, Disney live-action and more.

During the February 9 ceremony, the Academy also presented Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, Pixar Research Group Lead (emeritus) Tony DeRose and Jos Stam with the Scientific and Engineering Award for the impact their work has had on the way digital artists represent 3-D geometry throughout the motion picture industry.

Earlier in the week, some of the movie magic that was created using the Medusa system was celebrated by the Visual Effects Society at the 17th Annual VES Awards, which recognizes outstanding visual effects artistry and innovation in film, animation, television, commercials, video games and special venues. Avengers: Infinity War received VES Awards for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature, Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature, Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature and Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature.