Most of the animated characters and animals we've seen in augmented reality are still fairly basic in terms of visual fidelity. And because many are still impressed by simply seeing 3D figures properly scaled and tracked alongside real-world objects, this approach has worked ... so far.
A new demo app is showing us what may be the future of high-resolution character rendering in AR in a way that could truly blur the lines between the virtual and the real. The app, called AR Horse, developed for ARCore/Android by blockbuster film effects studio Weta Digital and Belgian software company Graphine, boasts a cutting-edge approach to rendering hyper-realistic characters in AR.
"Visual fidelity is one of the most important elements of a believable mixed reality application," said Aljosha Demeulemeester, the CEO of Graphine, in a company statement. "As a company, supporting mobile hardware is something we have been aiming to do for quite a while. AR Horse proved to be the perfect opportunity to introduce our story to a wide audience."
In addition to Unity, the app also employed Weta Digital's "Tissue" system, a skin, muscles, and fat simulation tool that has helped the company add realism to characters in films including Avatar and War for the Planet of the Apes (the effects house is also known for its work on the Lord of the Rings film series, the X-Men film series, and the recent Jungle Book live action movie).
"Weta was initially concerned that the fidelity of the blend shapes would not be up to their animation quality standards, but after some tweaking, we ended up with a high-quality blend shape based animation which was only a fraction of the size of the alembic approach," a message on Graphine's website, which goes into detail on how the model was created, states.
Although the AR model has some of the same limitations as most AR figures, the detail work on the horse's hairs, even when you get really close to the virtual animal, is impressive.
"As far as we are aware, there is no other application out there that can display a large virtual object in such detail," said Demeulemeester. "You can only fully come to grips with this 'new reality' by getting really close to the horse in the app."
For now, all you can do with the app is walk around the horse and gawk at its verisimilitude, but for true AR enthusiasts, it will be enough to just get a peek at the cutting edge of AR character rendering. AR Horse is a free app that is designed to work primarily on the Google Pixel or Pixel 2.