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Apple Bought a Company That Makes Animated Characters Look Human

3 minute read

Apple has acquired a startup that works on motion capture technology, TechCrunch first reported. The company, which is called Faceshift and is based in Switzerland, makes technology that allows on-screen avatars and animated characters to generate facial expressions that look human-like.

The report mentions that Faceshift’s motion capture technology has been used in the new Star Wars film launching on Dec. 18, although it doesn’t delve into much detail. It does, however, point to a behind-the-scenes Star Wars reel from Comic Con that reportedly shows Faceshift’s product being used 41 seconds into the video.

Apple provided TIME with the following comment, which is the same response the company usually shares when asked about its acquisitions:

“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

No specific terms regarding the deal have been disclosed, but TechCrunch’s report comes after rumors had suggested Apple planned to acquire Faceshift in September.

What may be even more interesting than Faceshift’s role in the new Star Wars movie is how the technology could potentially be implemented into Apple’s products.

Faceshift’s technology has been exhibited in demonstrations with chipmaker Intel that show how it could be used to make online avatars seem more lifelike. In the demo video, for example, the on-screen character moves its face to mimic that of the person controlling it almost instantly. That level of facial recognition could allow Apple to create a facial verification for its gadgets similar to Microsoft’s Windows Hello.

There have also been rumors and speculation regarding Apple’s interest in the virtual or augmented reality space. For instance, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster wrote in August that he has picked up on a few clues that have lead him to believe Apple could be working on an augmented or virtual reality headset.

One such hint came when Apple poached an audio engineer from Microsoft that worked on its HoloLens headset. If Apple were to work on its own virtual reality product, Faceshift’s platform could enable Apple to create vivid and realistic avatars.

Apple has purchased other startups that suggest the company may be interested in augmented reality. In May 2015 it acquired augmented reality platform Metaio and in 2013 it bought 3D-sensor maker Primesense.

It’s also important to keep in mind that large tech companies such as Apple and Google tend to buy startups fairly often, and those acquisitions don’t always manifest themselves in new products.

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