At SIGGRAPH Asia a few weeks ago, Disney’s global network of research labs called Disney Research presented its latest study on how to create more realistic-looking CG eyes. The Disney researchers argue that the current methods of generically modeled eyes are “gross simplifications” and don’t accurately represent the significant variation between real people’s eyes.

The capture system they’ve developed uses multiple cameras and varied lighting to scan all the visible parts of the eye: “the shape and texture of the white sclera, the shape and refraction of the transparent cornea and the shape and coloring of the iris, including how it deforms as the pupil narrows and widens.” The latter dilation is achieved by using an iris dilator deformer so that the eye model responds to changes in lighting.

“Generically modeled eyes may be sufficient for background characters, but it now takes significant effort to manually create realistic eyes for heroes and other leading characters,” said Pascal Bérard, a Ph.D. student in computer graphics at Disney Research Zurich and ETH Zurich. “Our reconstruction technique can greatly reduce the time spent and help increase the realism of the eye.”

The uniqueness of each individual iris is demonstrated with 9 captured irises.
The uniqueness of each individual iris is demonstrated with 9 captured irises.

The scanning process requires an individual to lie on the floor for 20 minutes, with the support of a headrest, and remain as still as possible. The data acquisition focuses on capturing the three different parts of the eye—sclera, cornea and iris—each of which require different scanning techniques. A key benefit of this process is that the eye is no longer represented as a spherical and uniform model, but as an asymmetric form with microscopic surface details and imperfections.

Disney Research believes that its advances in realistic eye modeling could not only aid Disney’s mission to create more convincing digital actors, but may also have potential applications in non-entertainment fields like ophthalmology. Their paper, “High-Quality Capture of Eyes,” can be downloaded on the Disney Research website.

All I can think is, Boy, Disney cartoon eyes sure have come a long way since the days of Frank and Ollie: