We’ve said before that the last great challenge in computer animation and video games will be to render realistic human faces. As it stands now, it takes a lot of computing power, time, expense and expertise to create faces that don’t really look all that great.

Still, the latest animated movies and games show a lot of progress. And Image Metrics, one of the companies behind progress in facial animation, is announcing today it is making it more affordable and easier to create better faces. If the trend continues, cheap human facial animation could be on the horizon.

Los Angeles-based Image Metrics is racing rival Mova to make a real business out of its imaging technology by selling it to video game and movie makers. Worth noting, this technology was used to make Brad Pitt’s animated aging face in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is also used in video games like Grand Theft Auto IV. Now the company is launching four services for its customers, ranging from a value-priced offering to high-end work.

In the past, facial animation has wound up costing as much as $5,000 for a minute of footage. That’s why Hollywood movie budgets are busting at the seams. Today, Image Metrics is making the technology available for as low as half the cost of standard facial animation, which is often used for secondary characters in games or to help a director roughly visualize a scene. It isn’t actually used in films; rather, pre-visualization helps directors decide how to position live actors (whose time is very costly) for actual shooting.


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Higher service levels include creating faces with subtleties like smirks and winks. The highest level of service lets the customer check out faces from many angles and otherwise seek the highest level of realism. The new service is the work of Michael Starkenberg and a new management team that came aboard last year. To fuel the enterprise, Image Metrics raised $6.5 million from Saffron Hill Ventures in December.

The company was founded in 2000 by Kevin Walker, its chief technology officer and an expert in computer vision. The company first dabbled with experiments like a golf-swing analyzer. In 2006, it spun off a technology for reading X-ray images to track the spread of disease.

Image Metrics has gone through a string of chief executives. Starkenberg joined as chief operating officer in February 2008 and became chief executive in August, replacing Andy Wood. To date, the company has raised $15.1 million. It will be interesting to see if this new business model takes hold.

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