March 13, 2006

NaturalMotion goes real-time

I'm excited to see that UK motion synthesis provider NaturalMotion is finally moving their technology into the real-time arena, which I believe is what they always intended to provide.

CEO Torsten Reil did his Master's thesis on this stuff at the University of Sussex's COGS department (now Informatics) nigh-on ten years ago, and I was keeping an eye on his work in Oxford when I took the same course there a couple of years later. It always seemed a great pity that their first product was an offline tool for synthesising canned animations, when the whole point of motion synthesis is that you don't need to be limited to canned animations! :) Thankfully, the 360 and PS3's brute strength makes real-time synthesis a distinct possibility at last.

I wonder what Ken Perlin will make of Euphoria? His work uses hand-crafted stochastic models driven by authorial goals for an 'illusion of life', whereas Torsten's work uses models inspired by evolutionary robotics and related biological research on the dynamical systems which underlie 'real life' motion.

Posted by GardenerOfEden at March 13, 2006 09:28 AM

> Thankfully, the 360 and PS3's brute strength makes
> real-time synthesis a distinct possibility at last.

Nintendo Revolution, too, I'm sure :)

Posted by: Paul T at March 13, 2006 01:03 PM

Ken is still working on procedural animation and looking to have that technology employed in games.

Interestingly, bearing in mind your comment about using canned animations (which I could never quite understand myself), Ken was telling me he has also extended his system to use canned animations blended with procedural. The reason he gave was that without that ability studios were reluctant to use the technology because they had amased so many assets in terms of animations that they were loath to throw those assets out.

So building on top of canned animations makes a product easier to sell into the market as it can more easily fit into the existing production workflow and does not require a wholesale production reconfiguration (however much games need that kick in the pants)!

For that reason I realized that my technology also needed animation blending capabilities so I could sell "what you have but better, cheaper and faster" rather than "a qualititively different level of behavior".

Like you I have been talking to the Natural Motion guys for many years, for me it was asking them when they would have a real time SDK available. It was always something that was possible, if you paid. The problem with real time technologies is not the systems themselves but the question of "how do you drive these real time systems?" If its just using a rigid state machine then it is little different from playing canned animations and all of the possibilities are lost.

I am hoping "Spore" will show the industry the power of procedural and then perhaps products like Natural Motion can offer "Spore without the years of research"?

Posted by: Ian Wilson at March 13, 2006 04:12 PM

And Havok is coming to the party too!
They just announced their real-time procedural animation and FSM behavior stuff:

Posted by: jorkin at March 21, 2006 06:55 AM

Did anyone get a chance to check out Natural Motion at GDC? I wasn't able to make it to GDC this year, so I didn't get the chance.

Posted by: andrew stern at March 29, 2006 01:55 PM