Virtual singer – teen idol in Japan is a computer animation

Virtual singer – teen idol in Japan is a computer animation

Maria L. Chang

She sings. She dances. She’s the latest teen idol in Japan. And she’s no even real! Kyoko Date, the 16-year-old singing sensation who debuted this September with her first CD. is a “virtual reality girl.” About 50 computer animators at the Visual Science Laboratories in Tokyo, Japan, worked for more than 18 months to create Kyoko.

First, the animators sketched a live person. Then, they sculpted a clay model and photographed it from several different angles. The animators then scanned these photos and converted them into a figure made of 38,000 polygons, or many-sided geometric shapes, says Hiroshi Hirokawa, one of Kyoko’s creators.

One challenge: The sharp angles of a polygon can make an image look unrealistic. The fewer sides the polygon has, the sharper the angles. Think of the sharp angles of a triangle, a three-sided polygon.

So, to make complex shapes like Kyoko’s head, the animators instructed the computer to use polygons’ with hundreds of sides. The polygons’ sides are so small, your eyes can’t detect them. But the computer can still find the points where two sides of a polygon meet-the comers. For each of these points, the computer assigns a set of coordinates-numbers that pinpoint the location of the point on the computer screen.

To make Kyoko move, the computer changes the coordinates of her body parts. But first, animators had to teach the computer how a real person moves. To do that, they videotaped a live person walking, singing, and dancing. Then they used a 3-D animation program called Prisms to store the videotaped motions, including the timing and coordinates of different body parts. These coordinates were used to program Kyoko’s motion.

Because Kyoko is “made” of computer data, which can be copied over and over, “she can work in several places at the same time, says Kyoko’s managing agent, Yoshitaka Osawa. While some people use her to create a music video, others can feature her in a video game, or record a CD.

The odd thing: Kyoko’s voice is real. For now, the animators won’t say whose voice they recorded to make the teen star. But someday, maybe the real Kyoko Date will take her bows.

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