We may still be many years away from creating realistic human robots, but computer-generated people all but indistinguishable from the real thing are already within reach.

A team of researchers from the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, the University of Southern California and Imperial College London demonstrated their latest efforts at simulating facial skin using CGI (computer-generated imagery) at the SIGGRAPH 2015 computer graphics conference this week — and the results are breathtaking.

SIGGRAPH 2015 skin demo

The science is much too complicated to go into here, but it hinges on simulating the way in light scatters when it hits the skin, and the way in which it wrinkles and stretches with facial expression.

Those expressions are created from motion capture of a person's face rather than pure animation in this case, but the technology promises to make characters in games and effects in films appear even more convincing.

Compare the skin effects in the video above to the one below from the same team two years ago, for example, and you’ll see the improvements in ‘fleshiness’ — and yes, these are computer-generated images, not real people.

It takes more than just realistic-looking skin to create a convincing computer-generated person, of course, but advances in recent years have been astonishing.

Take a look at this clip from the 2003 E3 games expo that shows a character from the then eagerly awaited Half Life 2 game. Attendees were taken aback by the realism of the graphics and animation, but it looks very primitive by today’s standards. No doubt we’ll all think the same of the SIGGRAPH 2015 demo in 10 years’ time.