Apple buys Star Wars motion-capture firm Faceshift

With the teetering stack of virtual reality headsets coming to market over the next year, eyes in the tech sector are being consistently turned towards facial recognition software. While Facebook has made moves to develop facial mapping technology for the Oculus Rift, news has now emerged of an intriguing buy up by Apple.

The company has announced that it has acquired Faceshift, a Zurich-based startup responsible for developing technology capable of real-time facial-capture and avatar creation. The tech boasts plenty of high-profile use, having even been used in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens to give alien characters an extra semblance of reality.faceshift_apple_2

With offices in London and San Francisco, the company has been involved in an array of high profile games and films. At this year’s Intel Developer Forum, the company showcased a more accessible version of the technology using Intel’s RealSense camera.

The purchase was originally rumoured in September, but has now been confirmed. A spokesperson from Apple gave TechCrunch a rather bland statement about the acquisition, saying “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans”.

The buy up isn’t Apple’s first foray into motion capture. Over the past few years, the Cupertino company has acquired Israeli-based 3D sensor company PrimeSense, Swedish-based facial-recognition developers Polar Rose, and German-based augmented reality firm Metaio. Let’s also not forget that Steve Jobs was at one time a major shareholder of Pixar.


So what does all this point to? Could Apple be taking cues from Microsoft, Facebook, Valve and Sony and claiming a stake in virtual and augmented reality? The focus on animation and facial recognition suggests that the company is at least interested in the potential of the tech from a content perspective. 

There are, of course, also the implications of Faceshift to non-VR film and gaming to consider, as well as aspects such as biometrics for authorising Apple Pay. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting purchase, and in the context of the push to bolster VR and AR credentials, it’s certainly tempting to read the decision to buy a real-time facial capture and animation firm in those terms. 

Images: Disney, Intel, Faceshift

Next: Read about an Oculus Rift project that maps your facial expressions onto an avatar.

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