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MPC Virtually Recreates Famous Faces From WWII

Tiger Aspects documentary for the Discovery Channel, VIRTUAL HISTORY: THE SECRET PLOT TO KILL HITLER, airing Oct. 24 at 8:00 pm throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa, adopted cutting edge CGI from The Moving Picture Co. (MPC) to transform the faces of actors into exact replicas of Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin. The program unfolds on the momentous day of July 20, 1944.

Their mission: based on historical documents and accounts, transform the faces of actors into exact replicas of the leaders and turn contemporary live- action footage into authentic1940s color archive.

The process MPC used to re-create the political leaders involved the following main stages:

First, plaster casts were made of the actors heads. A sculptor then used these as a base upon which to fashion realistic faces of the historical figures. Once the faces resembled the leaders at that time of the war, the busts were laser-scanned in order to create digital copies in the computer. The faces were then extracted from the heads and textured.

During the live-action shoot, the actors wore specially designed rigs with markers, which allowed for the subsequent tracking of their heads in the footage, and the replacement of their faces with the CG versions.

After this, the actors repeated their lines in a facial MoCap session. Their facial movement (dialogue and expressions) was recorded and processed, and then applied to the CG faces, bringing them to life. The fully-textured digital faces were lit to match the on-set lighting conditions, and then composited into the live-action footage.

Once the team was satisfied with the re-created leaders, digital grade and damage effects were added to the shots. In order to emulate authentic archive material, the team researched the properties of different film stocks of that period, and also created a probable life-story of this exposed film, from the 1940s up to the present day. Using this knowledge, American, German and British looks were created, each displaying different color slants and propensity to damage.

London-based MPC ( is currently working on a raft of visual effects projects, including being the sole vfx facility on two stop-motion features, DreamWorks Pictures/Aardman Features 2005 release WALLACE AND GROMIT and Tim Burtons THE CORPSE BRIDE. MPC is also lead effects house for Burton's CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and Ridley Scott's KINGDOM OF HEAVEN along with supplying a number of sequences for BATMAN BEGINS, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE and ALEXANDER, directed by Oliver Stone.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.