Copyright 2001

[ September 10th 2001 ]

New pioneering research into the humanization of digital characters has resulted in a United States patent for a "method and system for scripting interactive animated actions" being awarded to two U.S. professors, the New York Times reports today.

Professor Kenneth Perlin, director of the Media Research Laboratory at New York University and Athomas Goldberg, founder and chief technology officer of Improv Technologies based in Manhattan, are developing new skin technologies aimed at improving the texture quality and realism of human movement within animation based on Perlin's vision of the future which awards video-game heroines the psychological complexity of Emma Bovary, the nuanced physicality of Juliette Boniche and the social cunning of Alice Roosevelt.

Accredited for his part in the 1982 sci-fi movie Tron - which depicts the digital incarceration of a hacker into a computer generated environment - Professor Perlin began to study the physics of computer animated movement within video-games. "You don't need to duplicate the physics of how people move in order to stimulate human movement, Perlin says, "You can use the same visual fake-out for simulating human movement that you use for surface textures - by stimulating the visual patterns that a human brain sees when it perceives movement."

Professor Perlin concluded that computer games needed more realistic actors, branding the worst B-movie actors better performers than their current digital video-game counterparts. Animation was therefore disassembled into smaller fragments in order to capture more fluid motion, an idea that led to an initial patent that "covered the basic notion of an animated character whose actions consisted of discrete, individual movements, each of which could be layered onto another in a large variety of combinations."

By manipulating the textures of movement, Perlin and Goldberg were able to create an intelligent character that would perform on an individual basis within a programmed environment. A series of pre-defined layers applied to a skeleton would therefore award the digital actor a consistent identity that would remain familiar throughout an adventure, irrespective of environment and without the risk of predictability.

"Using traditional techniques, " Goldberg said, "one needs 100 separate animations to have five minutes worth of animation that doesn't repeat itself. Using our techniques, I can create 10 different layers of animation, each of which is three seconds long, and I'll end up with a billion potential animations. Even with a very little bit of work you can create this behavior that is never repetitive and that never recycles."

Using Core Designs adventure Lara Croft as an example, Perlin's technology can apply humanization techniques that would afford the British aristocrat "many discrete choices that are all in keeping with her personality but are nonetheless quirky and unpredictable enough to create the illusion that she is making interesting decisions on her own."

Henry Jenkins, director of media studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says Perlin's and Goldberg's pioneering work "really points to how we can have technical tools to expand the vocabulary of emotions that game designers have to work with."

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