Omote Real-Time Face Tracking and Projection: Embracing the Past While Stepping Into the Future

By: Antony Hampel

Omote real-time face tracking & projection mapping
3D projections on buildings and other surfaces are not really big news anymore – they‘ve quickly spread around the world and chances are you‘ve already had at least a few performances in your city, regardless of where you live.

But media artist Nobumichi Asai, with the help of makeup artist Hiroto Kuwahara and French digital image engineer Paul LAcroix, have taken it a big step further and developed a stunning system of real-time face tracking & projection mapping, which allows to project 3D images on a person’s face.

Now at first glance, at least for me, the images don’t even look as if they are real – it’s easy to confuse the real-life face with a digitally recreated one. But I guess that only adds an additional “wow” factor to the show. The projections are so vivid and alive that it’s truly hard to believe they are done on an actual person’s face, while adapting to the movements seamlessly and without a hitch.

However, after looking into the project, it became clear that the project authors’ vision went beyond just flashy graphics and impressive technology – his project is trying to reflect on the rich tradition of Japanese culture, embracing the human face for the powerful medium for expression and art that it is.

As Mr Hiroto Kuwahara put it himself, “Face evolved with a sole purpose of conveying emotions, and it is the only body part that effectively communicates and reacts to the most subtle changes and conditions.”

In Japan, where Omote masks are such a big part of Japan’s culture, it’s no surprise that the artists chose to expand on an already rich background, instead of trying to come up with something completely new. Although face-mapping, in general, is not a completely new concept anymore, the creators of the project chose to focus on the expression of beauty, instead of “technological gimmicks”.

It’s not just about innovation, but also sharing with the world Japanese beauty in a new light, which can be appreciated by anyone. As Mr Kuwahara put it, “When I look around nowadays, it is quite rare to see women with traditional Japanese aesthetics. My intention is not to communicate [make-up] as influenced by other cultures, but to express Japan’s unique set of aesthetic ideals that have been passed on through generations.”

So while the Omote project is surely a ground-breaking feat in terms of technological advance in real-time face mapping, perhaps that’s not the main thing that should be taken away from it. At least from the perspective Mr Kuwahara, the project is about embracing a new way to appreciate Japanese beauty and culture using a new medium. Of course, that does not make the technological side any less impressive.

Omote Real-Time Face Tracking and Projection Video


By: Ant Hampel