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June 13, 2017

CamasutraVR: Playing Down the Virtual, Playing Up the Reality

LOS ANGELES—This might be a first for AVN: We were invited to a set, and even after having spent several hours there, we're still not sure exactly what the finished product is going to be—but it was hella interesting! The "set" was the offices of CamasutraVR, where the company's founders, who go by the names "Adam" and "Dr. Schutz" to protect their mainstream Hollywood identities, have set up the most elaborate motion-capture apparatus we've ever heard of, and which may be unique in the entire world: Essentially a dome made up of dozens of plastic "beams," 132 high-res digital cameras, flash units and computers—and this day, in the center of it all was porn star Lily Lane. When we arrived, Lily was sitting on a small ottoman in the center of the dome, naked, with Adam instructing her to move her right hand into three positions over her vagina, in a sort-of simulation of masturbation, while the banks of cameras captured her poses close-up from every direction, which data were then fed to a central computer terminal for manipulation by the company's proprietary software. The question was, though, what were they going to do with all this data? "We've been both working in the field of visual effects and artificial intelligence, and we came together and started talking about what we could do that would be truly innovative for the adult business," Adam stated, referring to himself and Dr. Schutz. "We were going to try to create humans and make photo-realistic people, avatars, and we figured that the adult business was actually a very good learning platform because in entertainment and advertising and visual effects, you don't really work with the naked body so much, so that was an important enough part of it. Also, we wanted to do something that wasn't really out there already, so our goal was to create photo-real virtual humans that are eventually smart and that you can interact with, that live in their own virtual space that you can do certain things with—whatever you desire, really. And we're calling these creatures 'avatars' and we've been fortunate enough to be able to work with some very good girls to actually shape the avatars and try to create a digital persona based on their likeness and their voice and their movements. We're trying to get it as real as possible, basically." Their objective is to get past the phenomenon known in VR circles as the "uncanny valley": the situation where a computer-generated figure, although almost perfectly resembling an actual human being, nonetheless for some reason can be identified by the viewer as "not real," thereby screwing up (or at least diminishing) the illusion. "Capturing a photo-real still is no big deal; you can see how quick it processes; you can see it within a couple of hours," Adam explained. "However, adding motion is where it becomes tricky because there's a lot of things we need to simulate: a little bit of eye contact that gives you the feeling of it being live; a little bit of subsurface scattering that you have in your skin; the hairs that move; the formations, the skin and muscle deformation—that's a really big deal, so we've tried a couple of different things. "We spent quite a bit of time digitizing Anikka Albrite's butt," he continued. "We put the tracking markers on it, we filmed it in slow motion; we simulated it. We do a full-body and hand motion capture that basically gives us the skeletal movement and the finger movement of the models. Then we do multiple exposures to make sure we get the flesh deformations of the geometry right, and on top of that, we capture the facial expressions with a microphone but also with a helmet that has a camera mounted at the front with a fisheye lens which runs at a high frame rate, and that gives us the expressions that we need. It's called 'performance capture,' and we can transfer that to our digital creations that are then being triggered or hooked to various different blend shapes that we capture from the models and that gives us a very accurate facial expression." Indeed; Adam and Dr. Schutz showed us the finished shots of Lily's vagina, and were able to zoom in so closely that we could see the texture and roots of her pubic hair—even the angle at which each hair had been cut! Thanks to their proprietary software, each image can be broken down into myriad tiny triangles, each of which can be manipulated to make the zoomed-out image more realistic. "With the high-quality textures that we have—we're mastering at probably at 8K resolution per image, maybe 16 even—you can put your nose right into it and you will not see any pixelation or any kind of stretching or any kind of weird stuff; even the timing of each movement will seem real." And what did Lily think of all this? "Ohmigod, I love it so much!" she gushed. "It's very time-consuming, it's very long, and there's lots of periods of just sitting in the same spot, but it looks so awesome! It's really neat. I would love to do this again. This is my second day. The first day, I was here—I don't know—about eight or nine hours, and then today, it'll probably be a total of about four hours. Everything is super-cool. I love it so far; it's been really fun." Besides Lily and Anikka, the pair have shot Jynx Maze, Chrissy Lynn and Honey Gold—"We're going to try to launch with ten girls, all slightly different so we can cater to everybody's interests."—but their very first was Casey Calvert, who to this day hasn't a clue just what the pair are planning. "I just don't know," she admitted. "That New York Post article that had Anikka in it, I learned a lot from that article, because when I was there, I kept trying to ask them, 'Like, what are we doing with this?' And they were talking about doing these live cam shows where I sit behind the computer and control my avatar as I chat with someone, and they also seemed to be doing some more standard virtual reality experience where 'you control the avatar' and I'm not really sure what they're doing." A couple of thoughts occur to us, all involving a teledildonics concept. For example, there's Kissenger, the smartphone app and attachment that allows two people who each have the gadget to share lifelike kisses over long distances. And of course, there are now dozens of vibrators and other haptic devices that can be remotely controlled that could add a lot to the realism of CamasutraVR's avatars. But of course, doing it right takes a long time. "I was there like forever! It was a 14-hour day," Casey noted, adding that they paid her pretty well for her time, and even let her go in time to catch her 7 a.m. flight. "The motion-capture thing had sensors on each one of my knuckles, so it could really track finger movements during things like masturbation. The one thing I noted that it wasn't really tracking was like my boobs and my ass, because it wasn't designed for a sex thing, so I think they have some more work to do to figure out what kind of software they need to use to be able to do the realistic boob motion and the realistic butt motion that they are talking about." And when will the public see a commercial application of CamasutraVR's work? At this point, that's anybody's guess—but Adam said he expects that they'll have a working prototype by next winter—so of course we invited them to demo it at AEE 2018!

 
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