3D facial imaging brings Robert Burns to life as animation

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Fans of the Bard will be given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to judge if “A Man’s a Man for a’ that” today at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – thanks to a real-life animated facial reconstruction.

A collaboration between two universities produced the cutting edge imaging which will see Robert Burns’ face projected onto a screen as he narrates one of his most famous poems.

A new animation brings Robert Burns back to life

A new animation brings Robert Burns back to life

Scottish poet and Burns aficionado Rab Wilson was recorded reciting the Burns poem To a Mouse using a Dimensional Imaging (DI4D) facial motion capture system, at the 3D Visualisation Unit in the University of Dundee.

This enabled a real-life animation to be produced using Burns’ face and Wilson’s voice.

The initial work began in 2010 when Mr Wilson teamed up with Professor Caroline Wilkinson, director of the Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) Face Lab which specialises in Craniofacial 
Identification to depict the living face of Burns.

The Face Lab staff revisited the facial depiction in 2016 and recreated his face using the latest 3D digital technology from a partial cast of his skull, along with Burns documentation, portraits, silhouettes and written descriptions.

Prof Wilkinson said: “This real-life animation of Robert Burns has brought the poetry of this Scots Bard back to life for generations to come. It will help to promote Scottish culture and to visualise his charismatic and creative personality.

“To see Burns reciting his own poetry was a remarkable moment.”

Prof Wilkinson said there is now the potential to animate other high-profile historical depictions including William Shakespeare, King Richard III or Robert the Bruce.

She added: “Face Lab’s facial animation research is important as there is potential to apply facial animation techniques to people from the past produced via facial reconstruction from human remains. In the future you may be able to interact with people from history digitally, listen to them speak, recite literature or guide you around a museum exhibit as a virtual avatar.”

DI4D is a world-leading technology company formed in 2003 and based in Glasgow and Los Angeles – recent projects to have used DI4D include the movies Blade Runner 2049 and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Mr Wilson said: “Originally it was my idea to forensically reconstruct Burns’ head from the cast of his skill. That was back in 2010. I had approached the forensic department at Dundee University – Professor Sue Black’s team. I had managed to get funding with the aid of the Hunter Foundation.

“Professor Caroline Wilkinson was the leading scientist-technologist at the time who took on the task of creating Burns’ head from the skull.

“So that was the first part of the project. We made this 3D model of Burns’ head which now sits in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Ayr.

“I’m currently the Scots scriever at the museum, so I’ve still got that connection there. Back in 2014, the original head was unveiled at the museum.

“We decide to take it up to a different level by reanimating the head using the latest 4D digital capture screen.

“We’ve recreated this almost living, breathing, speaking image of Burns’ head reciting one of his poems.”