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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
Cyber women test what's real
By Jo Twist
BBC News Online technology reporter

Software cyberbabes, created by powerful computers, sophisticated modelling packages and active imaginations are getting extremely human-like.

Rene Morel's 3D model
Rene Morel's 3D model has a very human face
Virtual cyberbabes are used in advertising campaigns, hit shoot-em-up games, and the pop industry, from Lara Croft to virtual pop idols, T-Babe and Diki or DK-96.

Some of the best 3D models around are currently on show at an exhibition which has just opened in London called Perfectly Real: Women in Bits and Bytes.

But they raise questions about what people might be able to do with the models if they get too realistic and we cannot tell the difference anymore.

Better processing power and 3D graphics programs mean creating your own, virtual human is much easier to do.

Hyper real

While the technology is maturing, many of the women created from the hard drives and fantasies of mostly male designers are not.

The beauty of many of the images in the exhibition is striking. But their impossibly perfect limbs, lips and looks, are still pretty far removed from what a "real" woman looks like.

Rene Morel, who worked on many of the main characters in the sci-fi film Final Fantasy, has created an incredibly beautiful and engaging figure.

Rene Morel's 3D model
What makes her really real?
She has a stunning, highly human-like face, but as soon as you pan down her body, it is obvious she has borrowed a few diet tips from Barbie.

They are the "hyper-reality" of women who only exist in a plastic surgeon's dream.

The exhibition's curator, Niki Gomez, says this is no different to the "hyper-reality" of manufactured pop bands and airbrushed celebrities which are so far removed from normal people anyway.

For years, women learned to deal with images of the "perfect woman", celebrities, super-skinny supermodels and slinky pop kittens.

Nonetheless, four in 10 women still worry about their body shape every day and more than one in three dream of losing at least two stones, says a recent survey.

"It is interesting that women are being made more than men. I think that is partly because it is men who are mainly making them," she says.

Imperfect present

Brazilian creation Kaya has what the artist describes as a large mouth and teeth, far-apart eyes and thick eyebrows, deliberately designed to represent "realistic woman with slight imperfections".

Kaya, created by Alceu Baptistao
Do far apart eyes and visible pores make Kaya more real?
You can even see her pores, and these touches supposedly make her more real.

Her makers intend to give her a strong character and let her live online, "so people can control what she says and her movements through the web," Ms Gomez explains.

She does look more "realistic" than many of the airbrushed creations which grace the pages of both men and women's magazines every day.

But perhaps some might ask why far-apart eyes, thick eyebrows, gaping pores should be seen as "imperfections".

"In this time of real perfection in terms of plastic surgery, when it comes to the digital, we only believe them if they are not 100% perfect and that is where the power lies," says Ms Gomez.

Manipulating reality

Some might argue advances in software and processing power should be used render images that break a few gender stereotypes.

But maybe the bigger issue is about the potential problems of creating women so realistic complete with imperfections, that we cannot tell the difference anymore.

Steven Stahlberg's Webbie Tookay
Webbie Tookay will never miss a modelling shoot
Take Webbie Tookay, who was signed up by modelling agency Elite when she was born, as an example.

"They can control her as much as they want, there are no personality clashes, she will never grow old or fat and can be in more than one place at any time," says Ms Gomez.

Such realistic-looking constructs could be put to use in a variety of "entertainment industries".

The ethical implications of their use when these 3D models finally do make it off the screen and try to pass off as real could be enormous.

"That is not really at this stage a concern because they still can't make a virtual woman seem real in real space and time," says Ms Gomez.

"If that happens, then that will be a problem. But it still quite a way off."

Virtual humans edge closer
27 Jul 03  |  Technology
Cyber babe promotes science
17 May 02  |  Education
A cyberstar is born
08 Jan 01  |  Europe
Creating your cyber-self
15 Nov 00  |  Science/Nature
Ananova makes her debut
19 Apr 00  |  Entertainment

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