The Movement Coach is used to train a digital actor about the basic aspects of how to walk, move, sways, rhytms, etc. by creating/editing Procedural Movement Assets . In essence, the animator uses this tool to tune the ‘style’ of movement for that digital actor (John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe, not to mention Shrek, have their own unique style of movement). This tool is surprisingly fast and easy to use. With only a relatively small number of tuning parameters, complex and unique movement styles can be obtained.
Unlike with blended animation techniques, it is not necessary to create countless walk-cycles. Actor Machine procedural actors can automatically walk along any path, terrain (even moving terrain), start/stop, stand/sit, walk up/down stairs, etc. without anything more than these procedural movement assets. The Movement Coach is provides the basic movement assets that are used in all of the other Actor Machine products/modules. In it’s simplest form it can be used with our Blocking Machine module to produce complex foot placement and body orientation/sway/movement with only blocking information as input.
The Movement Coach is available as both a Maya Plugin or as a stand alone application. A 3ds Max plugin is also under development.
Walking Machine TM / Blocking Machine TM
With the Walking Machine you no
longer need to think in terms of walk cycles or avoid situations where
you don’t have blended animation assets available. With the Blocking Machine
, all you need to do is set up waypoints for one or more characters in a
scene to hit as they walk. Using their Procedural Movement Assets, the
Path Planner will not only find an appropriate path given the obstacles
in your scene, it will correctly
place the feet, move the head, hips and shoulders, correct for arm
swing, etc., all while maintaining the designated emotional movement
style and cadence of the actor. It can do this on any terrain (even
moving terrain), stand/sit, walk up/down stairs, correctly start/stop,
etc. without anything more than these procedural movement assets.
While doing all of this, it is also able to maintain sight lines based
on the heights of the obstacles and gazing targets.
There are many types of ‘emotional dials’ that can control the emotive movement of the actor. For example you could ‘turn up or down how tired, sad, happy, arrogant, wounded/limping (and in combinations) a character is. These emotional dials can be curves over time changing as the character moves through the scene.
The Blocking Machine is available as
both a Maya Plugin, as a stand alone application, or embedded inside
your game and controlled by your game AI. A 3ds Max plugin is also
The Gesture Coach is used to train a digital actor about the basic hand and facial gestures by creating/editing Procedural Gesture Assets . These gestural assets may represent pointing, hand waving, chin stroking, leers, smirks, etc.
Unlike with blended animation techniques, these gestures can shaded by other aspects of directions. For example, a dismissive hand wave gesture asset can be made sharper or looser, wider or tigher, and in any direction just by adjusting dials/attributes associated with the gesture during blocking. Even more excitingly, these gestures can be used in any combinations, for example a wide arm swing gesture can be used along with a sharp dismissive hand gesture creating a complex hand effect just by moving a few sliders.
The Acting Coach is where emotive training occurs. While Movement and Gesture Assets are lower level assets, defining the vocabulary of movements that are available to a procedural actor, the Acting Couch is used to creating/editing Procedural Emotion Assets.
With the Acting Coach you define emotive styles by combining the lower level gestures. For example “nervous” would entail certain movement styles and certain gesture combinations that are available to the actor for this emotive state. The actor will chose from the vocabulary of gestures to perform either in a somewhat random manner or based on queues and triggers. One way of thinking of Emotional Assets is as weighted chords of notes of Movement/Gestural assets
These powerful high level Emotional Assets allow for truly complex character animation with simple direction rather than animation. The director, either interactively in a desktop application or controlled by a game AI, has access to a many types of ‘emotional dials’ that they might choose to use, for example they could turn up or down how tired, sad, happy or arrogant (or combinations) a character is. Similarly the director can control the level and type of emotional relationships in a scene between the characters such as their respective mutual interested, fear or sexual tension. Of course these emotive moods and relationships will change over time in a scene to reflect the ‘inner thoughts’ of the characters. These directions would affect the body language, glancing, hand gestures, facial expressions or other appropriate ‘natural’ expressions of the direction. How the character expresses these emotions are based on how the digital actor was trained to act. Unlike blended animation, all motion is procedurally generated so you wouldn’t ever get the ‘sameness’ of motion typical in current games and virtual worlds that breaks the audience’s belief that the character is ‘alive’.
These Procedural Emotion Assets are used along with blocking information and character relationships are used by the Actor Machine Core Engine to produce believable characters as they move through a scene expressing the emotional shifting between the characters. Any director is aware of the emotional curve that occurs during a scene. The classic example is in the romantic comedy where one character is in love with the other, who is repulsed by them. During their conversation, their “attraction” or “repulsion” changes and shifts. With the Actor Machine technology, this can be achieved by a director simply by ‘drawing’ the emotional curve that the characters are experiencing.
Actor Machine Core EngineTM
The Actor Machine Core Engine is at the heart of all of our magic. It can be embedded in an authoring tool, such as our Maya Plugin or a custom pre-visualization tool or powerfully inside of a game, simulation or virtual world engine.
If you are interested in using our technology inside of your game or other type of product, please contact us for further information.
The Proceduralizer TM
Many animators and shops have preexisting assets. Others, use Mocap to obtain high-fidelity animation. The Proceduralizer helps turn traditional hand animation and mocap assets into procedural assets that can be used with the Actor Machine technologies. This semi-automatic allows you to capitalize on your existing assets by transforming them into procedural assets.
For example, you can take a single walk cycle of data and then proceduralize it as a Procedural Movement Asset . Just like a manually produced movement asset, this could then be used with our Blocking Machine to generate any walk path using all of its powerful capabilities. The animation produced would retain the fidelity of movement from that single (Mocap/Hand Animated) cycle for arbitrary movement throughout the scene including starting/stopping, turning, walking on uneven terrain, and up/stairs.
We have carefully been developing our technology so that it can be deployed as libraries in XNA/C#, C/C++ (Windows .dll or Mac/Linux .so) , or Java, enabling our technology to easily be integrated into any deployment platform whether to the desktop, gamebox, or even cell phone.
Our products will be available starting Q2/08. If you are interested in being an early evaluator or beta users, please contact us.