Looking Too Short or Fat on Film? A New Program Can Fix That

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Courtesy of NewScientist

New software developed at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Informatics can change the shape of an actor’s body onscreen, giving him longer legs, a more muscular torso or narrower hips.

The program’s developer says its obvious benefits would be to the movie and advertising industries, since it would allow filmmakers to alter actors bodies to fit a role without having to ask them to gain or lose significant amounts of weight in reality. (More on Time.com: Want Good Health? There Are 10 Apps for That)

How does it work? The software uses 3D scans of more than 100 people of various shapes and sizes; the scans are combined into one model whose body can be digitally manipulated. That computer model can then be mapped onto an actor’s body on film to refine it as necessary. Here’s a video demonstration courtesy of New Scientist.

Chinese and Israeli researchers are working on similar software that can shift the shape of people in still photographs. Although neither program is available yet, their use is bound to raise concern among body dysmorphia experts.

The retouching of models and celebrities on magazine covers and advertisements has long been condemned for contributing to young women’s unrealistic body ideals, exacerbating eating disorders and unhealthy self-image. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that overweight women showed negative responses in self-esteem after viewing models in magazine ads. (More on Time.com: The ‘Other’ Salt: 5 Foods Rich in Potassium)

Legislators in France and the U.K. have moved to put disclaimers on altered advertising images. In June, Australia’s Youth Minister Kate Ellis announced the creation of a stamp of approval for magazines that disclose their use of Photoshop to retouch images and that represent a wide range of body shapes within their pages.

“Body image is an issue that we must take seriously because it is affecting the health and happiness of substantial sections of our community,” Ellis told the Sunday Telegraph. “The symbol is a win for consumers. It will empower consumers to tell the fashion, beauty, media and modeling industries what they want and provide greater choice.”

The most extreme examples of body altering, such as this Ralph Lauren poster from 2009, have gotten the most media attention, but it is the rare image that is not changed in some way before publication. With the introduction of manipulated video, it may well be time to retire that idiom of yesteryear, seeing is believing.

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