Just When you Thought it was Safe on the Net, comes Digimask

By: Sandra Prior

Picture this. You’re playing Quake online and from the corner of your eye you spot your friend hiding in a corner. You can’t quite see his face, but you recognize their profile. You sneak up, point your shotgun firmly behind their sneaky little head and…

For a few years it has been possible to map images into the gaming arena. However, the results are strictly 2D, with the characters looking the same as before but wearing cardboard masks – not very convincing. This is all about to change.

Digimask, a UK company, has developed software which, from two photographs of the face (one front, one side), can create a 3D image of a head. This can then be used in virtually any gaming format and on the Internet – the possibilities are endless.

There are talks with a glasses company that will enable you to try on 10 000 different pairs online and look at yourself from any angle – something you can’t even do in real life. 3D chat sites are also a great area to exploit, as are cosmetic sites and hairdressing sites. There is also the ability to incorporate a 3D presenter on a webpage.

Digimask is the brainchild of Gary Bracey and Dr Keith Goss, who were later joined by the co-founder of Psygnosis, Ian Hetherington.

The idea for the product came to Bracey, who has more than 10 years experience in the games industry. Bracey then approached Goss who is an ex lecturer in computational geometry and one hell of a serious brain. The prototype was created in about seven months.

The main applications for Digimask will be on the web and through gaming, but some issues have had to be addressed. The idea of games featuring real faces was recently brought to the fore after worries that scanning the picture of someone you didn’t like into a violent game would somehow make you more likely to attack them in person.

One of the recent controversies was with the game Perfect Dark, where you could take a picture with your Gameboy camera and map it on the face. This caused a bit of controversy because I could surreptitiously take a picture of your face and map it into the game and then blow your brains out. But Digimask needs two good photos, one of your face and one of a side view with your mouth closed. To contrive a shot like that is virtually impossible. Digimask also has password protection in place – security is of paramount importance.

Generating a Digimask of your own is a simple process. First you take a photo of your face and your profile, then you run the Digimask software (which will be available on CDs and via the web). The software asks you to fill in a form containing some personal details before you load in your head and profile picture. Click finish and the data is sent to Digimask, which generates your mask in about 90 seconds. It is then emailed back to you as a piece of data with a password.

You now have the Digimask in its raw form on your computer and Digimask stores it on its servers. So when you go to a Digimask compatible website, you just enter your PIN number. The website then talks to Digimask.com and retrieves your Digimask. All this takes place on the web, so you don’t need a rocket speed connection.

Digimask fully animates with facial expressions and lip sync and it is also interactiveArticle Submission, so you can move the head around while you are talking. Digimasks will soon be able to output voice audio in virtually real time.

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