Nvidia demonstrates potentially revolutionary new face-rendering tech

But is it achievable? And is it better than Quantic Dream's PS4 old man?

Graphics behemoth Nvidia has unveiled new face-rendering technology that could revolutionise characters' facial performances in video games, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang declared.

The technology is called Face Works. What it does is condense previously massive amounts of motion-captured performance data into a size small enough that Nvidia's new 800 Titan graphics card can recall it in real-time. (Check out Digital Foundry's Titan review if you haven't already - the card's a beast.)

That motion-captured performance data comes from 156 cameras, arranged around a spherical space, capturing 30 expressions of a person. The smallest the compiled code of these expressions could get previously was 32GB - more than a Blu-ray's worth (25GB). It was far too big to hope to recreate in real-time.

Face Works squashes that to around 300MB. And hey presto, that motion-captured performance can be recalled in real-time.

Huang demonstrated Face Works in video at Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference this week.

"This is digital Ira," he said. "Ira is not a recording; Ira is being processed in real-time on a GPU called the Titan."

Skip to 8.30 to meet him.

Ira's performance is incredibly exciting. But what does this mean for PC, PlayStation 4 and next Xbox gaming - the obvious implication of all this?

Huang said rendering Ira took around 2 teraflops (2 trillion floating-point operations per second). Nvidia's Titan can handle 4.5 teraflops, but PS4 can only handle 1.84 teraflops and the next Xbox 1.2 teraflops.

As it stands, it's out of reach - but that's running at 60 frames per second in 1080p. At 30 frames per second, the calculations required are halved. With a bit of efficiency-tinkering, it's possible.

Mind you, that's only rendering a face.

Nvidia isn't the only company showing of some dazzling face-rendering tech. Quantic Dream, maker of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, showed an old man's head at the PlayStation 4 reveal last month.

And, more recently, rumours swirled around a Joakim Mogren interview on GameTrailers TV. There was speculation that Mogren wasn't real but a CGI creation made by Hideo Kojima's new Fox Engine. This could be a ludicrous theory, as many of you below have told me. All will apparently be revealed at GDC next week.

Meanwhile, Nvidia's rival graphics maker AMD is doing next-gen hair simulation.

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