SIGGRAPH 2006 Report
I had a chance to meet with Torsten Riel and Simon Mack of NaturalMotion aboard the Lady Christine, a yacht they anchored in Boston Harbor during the show. Although it was more interesting than the standard hotel suite, I'm thankful I didn't get seasick during the demos.
When first asked if I knew anything about the company, I responded that I thought NaturalMotion did something with motion capture, but I was quickly corrected. NaturalMotion deals with Dynamic Motion Synthesis (DMS). DMS is simulated using behaviors that imitate the human nervous system. A good example of this motion occurs when a character is pushed backwards. Traditional key frame animations have the character simply fall and hit the ground, but a DMS simulation would show the character struggling to maintain their balance and when toppled, the character would reach its hand backwards to break the fall as a human naturally would. If the motion were recorded using an expensive motion capture system, the falling motion would be recorded precisely, but if the environment changed such as adding a block behind the character, another motion capture would be required, but the DMS system could easily simulate the new environment using the given behaviors.
The DMS technology has been integrated into three unique products—Endorphin, a stand-alone application for creating and capturing DMS motions; Euphoria, a runtime version of the technology optimized for next-gen games; and Morpheme, a set of tools for enabling animators to define the realistic motion of characters. With these products, you can add character motions that are more realistic that any other dynamic system I've seen.
The first product developed and released by NaturalMotion was Endorphin. Version 2.6 of this product was released earlier this year at GDC. Endorphin lets you define behaviors and then lets you view the results. The characters use the defined behaviors to accomplish their task whether it is to tackle the other character, remain standing on a moving platform, or fight with another character.
Using blending controls, you can move easily between keyframed animation and simulated motion. You can also constrain certain body parts during the simulation giving you unprecedented control over the motion of your character. The resulting motions can then be converted to key frames and exported to several 3D formats including 3ds Max, Biovision, FBX, Softimage and Vicon. You can also export motions directly to AVI video from Endorphin.
A Learning Version of Endorphin is available that has over 25,000 users. The Learning Edition is limited to exporting video data only. You can download the Learning Edition at www.NaturalMotion.com.
Endorphin was recently used by Giant Killer Robots to create several digital shots for the movie, Poseidon. Rather than using complex keyframing or dangerous motion capture, the studio simulated several stunt shots that occur when the boat capsizes using digital characters and NaturalMotion's Endorphin.
Endorphin has also been used by numerous game studios to create motions for games including Medal of Honor: European Assault and Colin McRae 3.
The technology behind Endorphin has been included in their Euphoria product that enables dynamic motion synthesis for real-time next-gen game consoles including XBOX360, Playstation 3 and PC. This technology enables games to have "unique game moments," by embedding the NaturalMotion technology within the real-time game engine. This enables characters hit with a deadly blow to fall realistically based on the environment surroundings instead of a canned animation that gamers are quick to recognize and grow tired of.
Euphoria includes a simple messaging API that ties it to the console's game engine. It also includes a feedback loop for programming control and behaviors can be overridden as needed. Euphoria will be used by LucasArts in their upcoming Indiana Jones 2007 title.
NaturalMotion's third product was and announced and released during the show. Morpheme is a set of animation tools that gives animators a way to define and work with blend curves and state machines. It is specifically designed to work with next-generation games. By enabling animators a way to define blend curves and animation logic, next-gen characters can be endowed with realistic motions that are unique every time.
Morpheme consists of two components. The morpheme:runtime component is a run-time game engine optimized for the various consoles and the morpheme:connect component is an authoring tool that allows animators to build and edit state machines and view the results in real-time. The components also include hooks to tie into the other 3D animation packages and existing physics engines such as Aegis and Havok.
Morpheme will be available in October for Playstation 3, XBOX360 and PC systems.
More information on each of these products and on NaturalMotion can be found at the company's web site, www.naturalmotion.com.