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Disney is using facial recognition to test audience responses to their movies

Big Mouse is watching.

The Walt Disney Company’s Disney Research division is using face recognition and AI to find out how audiences feel about movies.

Working in partnership with Caltech and Simon Fraser University, Disney Research developed software that uses a new algorithm called “factorised variational autoencoders (FVAEs).

The FVAEs captures images of people’s faces as they watch movies and breaks them down into a series of numbers that represent different facial expressions.

For example, there is a number for how much the audience is smiling, if they are frowning or how wide their eyes are during a given scene. AI then translates this information into audience sentiment, helping Disney to understand what people want.

Mashable reported on the project, which was presented at IEEE’s Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in Hawaii. The research team applied FVAEs to 150 showings of nine movies, including Big Hero 6, The Jungle Book and the Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Audiences sat in a 400-seat theatre equipped with four infrared cameras that were used to monitor faces in the dark. Using FVAEs, Disney Research was not only able to assess how audience members were reacting to a movie but even predict how they would feel about upcoming moments.

disney research heads

There’s nothing creepy about these disembodied smiling faces.

Yisong Yue, assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences in Caltech’s Division of Engineering and Applied Science said that the research would lead to innovations beyond entertainment.

“Understanding human behaviour is fundamental to developing AI [artificial intelligence] systems that exhibit greater behavioural and social intelligence,” she said. “For example, developing AI systems to assist in monitoring and caring for the elderly relies on being able to pick up cues from their body language. After all, people don’t always explicitly say that they are unhappy or have some problem.”

Disney Research’s efforts are either a logical evolution of test screenings or a creepy overreach, depending on your point of view.

I have a much simpler request for Hollywood: Please stop making redundant sequels and crappy remakes.

Which face do I have to pull for that to happen?

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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