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Friday, 3 April, 1998, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Learning zone: Where art and science collide
Virtual neon potting sheds
Virtual neon potting sheds on the wall of powerhouse::uk's learning zone
Five glassless potting sheds occupy the learning zone of powerhouse::uk, to symbolise Britain's role in germinating new technology for creative ends.

Createc, part of the National Film and Television School, shows that in future actors may be no more than bit-part players in their own movies.

It's main research project, Synthespians, closes the gap between animation and live action on film. It allows an actor's face to be quickly modelled onto a computer, by capturing several images on two cameras. The face can then be manipulated into any expression.

Hollywood studios already use a similar technology, but the British version costs a fraction of its American counterpart.

Synthespians
Createc's Synthespians technology
The Head of Production at Createc, Peter Martin, said: "The equipment Hollywood is using runs into millions of dollars, whereas ours is maybe 30,000 which is much better suited to British film budgets.

"Later in the year we will have a full body version which will use about 40 cameras to translate a body image on screen."

Next door at the exhibition is the University of Sussex, home to the world's most advanced artificial evolution laboratory.

The university's Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics has applied the natural process of evolution to developing robot brains.

From this, scientists have made the Octopod, an eight-legged, mauve robot that has an artificial brain composed of 60 neurons, enabling it to move forward, back and change direction without taking any instructions.

Neon blue light
The zone is saturaed in neon blue light
For reasons its creators do not fully understand, the Octopod continues to learn new ways of moving.

"We can re-create the process of natural selection by mimicking evolution," said research fellow Dr Inman Harvey.

"The Octopod is the result of 5,000 generations of artificial evolution. In real life this would take many thousands of years but we can condense it into just two to three hours.

"There are all sorts of applications for an intelligent robot, especially jobs that humans could not do, such as undersea exploration, mine clearance and firefighting."

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