Kanye West video made by Edinburgh firm in 5 days

An example of Speech Graphics' computer-generated animations. Picture: Ian Rutherford
An example of Speech Graphics' computer-generated animations. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Edinburgh firm Speech Graphics produced have an animated video for rapper Kanye West’s song Black Skinhead, putting it together in just five days.

The company collaborated with Kanye, 36, and fashion photographer Nick Knight – who has also worked with the likes of chart star Lady Gaga, 27 – for the groundbreaking video, Black Skinhead, which was released this week.

The video, which features strong language and graphic content, features a computer-generated West performing against a black and white backdrop of barking dogs and hooded figures. It features technology used for the first time in a music video, including user interaction and audio-driven animation technology.

Set up by Edinburgh University postgraduates Gregor Hofer and Michael Berger, five-strong firm Speech Graphics worked around the clock to produce the three-minute 3D footage using a method of lip-synching speech to facial animation.

Chief executive Gregor, 34, said: “It just doesn’t get any bigger than this. Someone who worked on Avatar got a phone call from the production company to say they needed facial animation for the video in a really short space of time. He told them if he wanted something like that Speech Graphics was the firm.

“The way we do it is we have an algorithm which knows which muscles in the face should be moving to produce sounds.”

A media firestorm surrounded the video after an unofficial and unfinished version was leaked earlier this month. It prompted a characteristically angry reaction from the rapper – who recently had a baby with American socialite Kim Kardashian, 32 – on social media .

Co-written with Daft Punk, the single has been used on the trailer for the new Martin Scorsese film, Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo 
DiCaprio, 38.

Co-founder and chief technology officer Michael, 42, said: “When we took the call from Hollywood they set us exceptionally tight deadlines.

“But we just could not say no to this amazing job. We knew that bringing the voice to life would be critical to capturing the intense power and energy of Kanye. When we animate speech we actually animate most of the face, because the skin moves, right up to the eyes. We even had his ears moving with the jaw motion.

“But our biggest challenge was to make Kanye’s face move naturally over the famous gold and diamond grill on his teeth.”

The five-strong company, a spin-off from Edinburgh 
University’s School of Informatics and Centre for Speech Technology Research, has gone from strength to strength since it was set up in 2010.

Gregor said: “We’ve worked on high profile jobs before, but we haven’t been allowed to talk about them. For us, it’s really important to say we have worked on this video.”

Based at Edinburgh University’s Appleton Tower, the company recently opened a Californian office and has won several awards, including the 2012 John Logie Baird Award for innovation.