The annual TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference is a place where Big Thinkers gather annually to inspire and be inspired. I’ve been going through their online archive of talks for my own amusement and education, and sharing with you ones I found to be particularly interesting.
This week I’d like to share a talk by Torsten Reil, originally of Oxford University and now of NaturalMotion. He and his team started from the point of view that most animation in computer games that were based on motion capture or manual keyframing were too simplistic, repetitive, and predictable. So rather than try to guess ahead of time what actions would be needed, and creating or capturing those actions, they went about simulating a human nervous system, wired it up to control a skeleton and muscles, and then gave it artificial intelligence. They used a form of simulated genetic evolution and mutation to teach it how to at first walk, and then react to external forces (such as being tripped or shoved). This system is now being used not only in computer games such as Grand Theft Auto IV, but also in movies for virtual stuntmen – or perhaps most famously, in battle sequences in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
This movie from TED – originally recorded five years ago – was the first public demonstration of the technology. Watching how their creations learned and then reacted was initially humorous, then breathtaking, and then actually somewhat disturbing; I highly recommend watching it (if you’re impatient, start around the 3 minute mark or so).
If you want to see where the technology is now, visit the NaturalMotion to learn more about their endorphin Dynamic Motion Synthesis simulator which can bake animations, and their euphoria real-time AI engine, including a good demo movie the gives you an overview of the technology.