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Imagine avatars of your favorite actors wandering through 3D virtual worlds with hair that looks almost exactly like it does in real life.

That’s the first line from a press release I received from the University of California, San Diego. Apparently, computer graphics researchers have captured the shape of about 2,500 hairstyles of real people using 16 cameras, 150 light sources and three projectors arranged in a dome shape. Then they created algorithms to generate photo-realistic images of the hairdos from new angles and lighting situations.

Artists needed computer researchers’ help because replicating hairstyles from every angle and getting individual strands of hair to “realistically shine in the sun and blow in the wind would be difficult and time consuming for digital artists to do manually,” according to the release.

Computer scientists were able to find a way to calculate the “hidden geometry” of hair — what each individual hair fiber that lies between the surface and the scalp is doing. Basically, the method produces strands attached to the scalp that enable animation beyond the visible hair layer.

The research collaboration between UCSD, Adobe Systems Inc. and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was presented at SIGGRAPH, an international computer graphics conference held in Los Angeles this month.

“We want to give movie and video game makers the tools necessary to animate actors and have their hair look and behave as it would n the real world,” UCSD computer science professor Matthias Zwicker, a SIGGRAPH paper author, said in the release.

Don’t know what an avatar is? Click here to find out.

DARRYN BENNETT

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