This is really, really, really impressive. The folks at Disney Research Zurich have just unveiled what they call a "new physical face cloning method" that allows them to fabricate an artificial human face (for use with an animatronics model) at mind-blowing levels of detail. The modeling methods are incredibly precise, the fabrication process painstakingly exact. Details as fine as individual wrinkles are modeled from a living, breathing human being and mapped onto unnervingly convincing synthetic skin. The final result is one of the most convincing robotic clones we've ever seen; if advances like this are any indication, the days of uncanny valley-dom could well be nearing their end.

Science, Space & Robots expounds on the team's novel modeling methods:

To deliver realistic performances, animatronic characters, like those in the Hall of Presidents attraction at Walt Disney World, must produce a vast range of facial expressions, each having different deformations and wrinkles. Manually designing the shape and material properties of a single skin that is able to achieve all of these targets is a complex and challenging task. The Zürich researchers have invented a computational method for automatically designing synthetic skin to match real individuals. The process starts by scanning 3D facial expressions from a human subject. Then, a novel optimization scheme determines the shape of the synthetic skin as well as control parameters for the robotic head that provide the best match to the human subject.

"Creating such figures," write the Walt Disney "imagineers" responsible for the novel face cloning method in an article describing their process, "is a difficult and labor-intensive process requiring manual work of skilled animators, material designers, and mechanical engineers." But as the video up top demonstrates, the end result is fantastic.

[Disney Research via Science, Space & Robots]