Earlier this year, unconfirmed rumors suggested that Apple had bought Faceshift, a Swiss startup specializing in real-time motion capture technology that captures a person’s facial expressions to create CGI avatars and other figures. At the time, Apple refused to comment on the alleged acquisition, but now it looks as if the rumors were accurate.
Techcrunch says an Apple spokesperson has confirmed the Cupertino company’s purchase of Faceshift. “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” The site goes on to state that it has also “ dug up further sources and conclusive links between the companies,” and that “several Faceshift employees are now working for Apple now out of Europe.”
Apple isn’t saying what intentions it may have for Faceshift’s technology, which analyzes facial expressions without the need for reference markers and using only commercially available hardware. "Our background is in animation for content production, so we have Hollywood studios that use the technology to make animated characters come alive," says Brian Amberg, the company's CFO, in a promotional video.
One of the high-profile projects that feature Faceshift’s technology is the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie. The facial capture system is used to give the alien characters that populate the Star Wars universe more human-like expressions.
Faceshift isn’t the first company acquired by Apple that specializes in motion capture. In 2010, the iPhone maker bought Swedish facial recognition startup Polar Rose, followed by the 2013 acquisition of Israeli 3D sensor developer PrimeSense - best known as the company that provided its technology, chips and design for the original Microsoft Kinect device.
Speculation as to what plans Apple may have for Faceshift’s tech includes using facial recognition to authorize Apple Pay and, a more likely scenario, creating real-time avatars for chatting in FaceTime.