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Digital Humans: Traditional 3D Versus AI-Powered Evolutions

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

In the realm of visual effects and interactive media, the line between reality and digital representations is becoming increasingly blurred. Today, we will be exploring the intriguing world of digital humans, contrasting traditional 3D creations against the emerging power of AI-generated virtual beings. As we delve into this topic, we'll unravel the intricate techniques that birth these digital entities, revealing their evolution over the past two decades and what the future holds.

rock as a digtial human
Digtial human render of "Dwayne Johnson" in the early days

For over 20 years, the creation of digital humans followed a defined pathway. Born from raw 3D scans in light stages at renowned institutions such as the University of Southern California, they evolved through various stages before making their way into the world of filmmaking. A mesh was created and high-resolution textures captured, forming the basis of these digital entities. This was followed by a labor-intensive process that involved rigging these models and subsequently animating them.

These meticulously crafted digital humans graced our screens, featuring in numerous popular films and romantic characters. This traditional workflow, now considered a modern standard, continues to evolve, edging towards technologies like the MetaHuman creator from Unreal Engine.

MetaHuman, a transformative development, provides real-time rendering of photorealistic digital humans. It amalgamates technologies from trailblazers like Cubic Motion, 3D Lateral, and Epic Games, making it a game-changer in the realm of digital human technology. As a cloud service, it has made the process of creating high fidelity 3D models not only more accessible but also more affordable, thereby democratizing this once niche field.

However, as we bask in the impressive strides made in 3D digital human technology, a riveting competitor emerges from the shadows: generative AI. We have all witnessed the fascinating evolution of deep fakes, where static images of individuals such as Elon Musk or Donald Trump were animated and made to speak. Now, the capabilities have extended to generating high-quality digital humans using AI platforms like MyHeritage's Deep Nostalgia, DallE, or GANPaint Studio.

These AI-based digital humans are also gaining traction in real-time applications such as AI chatbots, with companies like Synthesia pioneering this shift. Instead of relying on complex rendering engines, these platforms employ image morphing and pixel manipulating technologies, making them ideal for applications requiring lower computational power like smartphones.

digital human render from mid journey by viga et
A digital human render from Mid Journey 5.2

Each approach, 3D and AI, has its unique benefits. The 3D digital humans, for instance, offer precise control over art direction and lighting, although they require significant computational resources. On the other hand, AI-generated humans can efficiently operate in real-time, making them ideal for chatbots, virtual reality avatars, or psychological counseling applications where local, less powerful devices might be used.

In conclusion, the advent of digital humans, whether through traditional 3D or AI technology, signifies an exciting era in visual effects and interactive media. However, the choice between 3D and AI-based digital humans depends largely on specific use cases and required output quality.

While AI is fast closing the quality gap, it is also propelling research into generating high-quality videos from photographs, as seen in the groundbreaking work by Runway Ml and Stable diffusion. In the coming months, we anticipate even more captivating developments in this space, so stay tuned as we continue to explore and adapt these emerging technologies for various interactive media projects.

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