Digital humans could be businessman's resurrection

- The 3D projection of Michael Jackson, first unveiled at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards, brought fans and friends of the King of Pop to tears.  Now, after his success in recreating the image and spirit of Jackson, Florida businessman John Textor is planning to bring more 'digital humans' to life. 

Textor's company, Pulse Evolution, is partnering with American Idol creator Simon Fuller to recreate Elvis Presley. But while working to resurrect stars of music, Textor is working on resurrecting himself.

His last company, Digital Domain plunged into bankruptcy. He blames a hedge fund for bailing on his plans to train his artists before billing them out. 

The state of Florida also sued Textor. The complaint accused him of taking $20-million in tax dollars for Digital Domain on the promise of jobs that Digital Domain did not produce.

But Textor denied the accusations, and the state of Florida quietly settled its suit against him.  Textor said there was no finding of wrongdoing in that final settlement, and he is now looking ahead. 

He also said he is determined to keep his commitment to Florida by basing his new company in Port St. Lucie. He is starting in the same corporate offices that launched Digital Domain. He also attempted to purchase the large production studio built for Digital Domain, but he said local officials would not consider it.

"Digital Domain ended up getting characterized as a Solyndra or like some other great failure…. We couldn't even get an audience," he added. "The hardest thing to accept is that it was a good idea. I know that's not a popular topic in the state of Florida."

For now, his digital designers work from offices in Florida and California. They build digital humans with close attention to detail, from facial expressions to skin pores to eyelashes.

"We fuss over the spacing of the eye blinks. It can't be mechanical at all. It has to be just right," said animation supervisor David Andrews.

Animators program the digital humans to speak, sing, dance or move according to plans. Then the character is projected on stage.

"We're at a state with our digital characters where we can put the camera two inches off the bridge of the nose and you cannot tell the difference between an animated human and your best friend," said Textor. "We're the only ones in the world building these characters to a high end."

Textor said Michael Jackson and Elvis are just part of their plan. They plan to produce many other digital humans for use in medical surgical training and other applications.

"When we're in the world of virtual reality, the humans we meet are not going to be made of flesh and blood," he added.  "They'll be digital and they will represent other users. They may represent computers that have artificial intelligence." 

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