Researchers at Disney Research in Zurich, Switzerland have been hard at work developing a new process to create ultra-realistic animatronic characters that will entertain visitors at Disney theme parks across the world.

This groundbreaking process, which they call "Physical Face Cloning," works by scanning the head of a human subject and translating the resulting data into a 3D printing program. The program takes into account specific features of the face, including skin elasticity and thickness. The 3D printer then builds a perfect mold of the subject's face, and attaches a layer of synthetic silicon skin. The final product is a lifelike robot head with very human details, including accurate facial expressions and even wrinkles.

Cloning may not be the most accurate way to describe what Disney Research is doing, though the term suggests just how realistic these robot faces really are. "Physical Face Cloning" is yet another example of the endless possibilities for innovation made possible by 3D printing technology.

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"As the key component of our process, we present a novel optimization scheme that determines the shape of the synthetic skin as well as the actuation parameters that provide the best match to the target expressions," reads the Disney Research website. "We demonstrate this computational skin design by physically cloning a real human face onto an animatronics figure."

Disney Research was founded in 2008. It is a loosely connected grouping of research labs that often collaborate with other academic research instructions including the Carnegie Mellon University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

The organization takes pride in honoring Wal Disney's legacy, which includes the creation of the first cartoon with fully synchronized sound (1982), first full-color cartoon (1932), first animated feature film (1937) and fist modern theme park (1955). More recently, the Disney Corporation acquired Pixar, known for their innovative work in computer graphics.

via PSFK