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PSU Interviews NaturalMotion

20 September 2006

Coming in hot via email, PSU had the chance to interview Torsten Reil, CEO and co-founder of NaturalMotion. If you are not familiar with NaturalMotion or Tortsten then here is some basic information you need to know before we proceed.

 
 

 

In 2001, Tortsten and Colm Massey founded NaturalMotion, "the first company to create 3D character animation software based on Dynamic Motion Synthesis (DMS), a technology that utilizes Adaptive Behaviors and artificial intelligence to simulate the human-nervous system." Two years later, Tortsten was named as one of the world's top 100 innovators by MIT's Technology Review.

Since the company's start, NaturalMotion has been building technology for film and gaming. Some names you may have heard of include The Mill, Capcom, Namco, Konami, and LucasArts.

We had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Reil regarding NaturalMotion, their products, and the next-generation gaming in general. Enjoy!

1. NaturalMotion is located in Oxford England, correct? How was the company created and how long have you guys been around?
 

Yes, NaturalMotion is headquartered in Oxford and has a US office in San Francisco. The company was founded in November 2001 to commercialize our research on Dynamic Motion Synthesis (DMS), a proprietary technology that simulates humans.

2. About how many people make up your company?

 

We have a team of 40 people with backgrounds ranging from artificial intelligence, biology, robotics, math and physics to next-gen console optimization.

3. About how many years has endorphin and euphoria been in the works?

 

Both endorphin and euphoria are based on our Dynamic Motion Synthesis (or DMS) technology which uses the processing power of the CPU to create character movements in real-time. This is achieved by fully simulating the 3D character, specifically its motor control system and physical body. DMS started as research on the body movement of animals and humans, at Oxford University several years ago. We realized that this technology could create a much more interactive type of animation, and decided to commercialize it as endorphin, our first standalone application. endorphin 1.0 was formally launched at SIGGRAPH 2003. We started developing euphoria around that time frame too.

4. Are there any other past, present, or future products we should know about from NaturalMotion?

 

Not at this time.

5. Your website says you supply your engine to film, games, and other parts of media. What movies/films have your products been used in?

 

endorphin has been used in feature films such as Poseidon and Troy; and it is also being used in several feature films that are currently in production (which we are not at liberty to disclose at this time). euphoria is currently being integrated into multiple AAA next-generation titles, including LucasArts¡¦ Star Wars 2007 and Indiana Jones 2007 (working titles).

6. You are currently working with Lucas Arts and a yet to be announced company to bring euphoria to next gen gaming, correct? How is that working for you and how are you implementing the engine into their games?

 

That is correct. The relationship with our partners is great. LucasArts are a great company to work with, as they¡¦re really looking to give people a true next-gen experience. We integrated the core engine some time ago, and are now spending most of our time writing adaptive behaviors (the artificial nervous system that replaces canned animations).

7. I recently interviewed Pixelux Entertainment, the developers behind Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) technology and they are also working with Lucas Arts. Are you guys working with them to utilize their technology to work with yours?

 

Yes, our technologies are fully complementary and interface with each other. For example, LucasArts showed Stormtroopers clinging onto wooden beams (using euphoria), which would then break realistically using Pixelux.

8. In summary what does endorphin do? euphoria?

 

euphoriaand endorphin both use NaturalMotion¡¦s DMS technology (see question #8 for more background on DMS). endorphin uses DMS to create baked animation for later playback in films or games. euphoriaon the other hand uses the CPU power of Xbox 360, PS3 and PCs to simulate the human body and its nervous system at run-time. The result is truly interactive 3D animation while you play the game. This means that something different and unique happens every time you play.

9. Now your endorphin 2.6 engine provides for adaptive behaviors, how does that work? Do you basically give a character certain A.I. and characteristics and then they basically act themselves using what basic knowledge they have to self animate themselves? Wouldn't there be a lot of trial and error involved in this?

 

endorphin is not actually an engine (that would be euphoria), but our standalone 3D application. From the beginning, it has been based on adaptive behaviours. Version 2.6 has added more adaptive behaviours to the already extensive list.
Like you say, the characters essentially act, or animate themselves. They have a knowledge of their body and muscles, and use sensors to get information about the environment. They pretty much work like we do.

10. Will these technologies help in cutting the rising costs in next gen development?

 

Yes, by essentially simulating the brain and body of 3D characters and synthesizing human movements in real time, euphoriacan replace large libraries of mocap data that would usually be required to show variations of a particular action.

11. In the Indiana Jones E3 2006 demo, there was use of the euphoria engine, correct? I noticed the characters were a bit floaty when falling off the train. Was the demo just a basic showing of the use of euphoria or was that the real game engine running a part of the game?

 

Yes, the E3 demo was very early days indeed and represented only a very first integration. ļ

12. On your list of video demos, there is a test demo of Possession running with endorphin in use. Are you also working along side with the developers of Possession or are you just licensing the application?
The Possession demo was done by Volatile Games using endorphin, our stand-alone 3D app.

13. How many companies have you licensed the different engines to?

 

We are currently working with two major publishers on integrating euphoria into multiple titles. endorphin, the stand-alone 3D app, is being used by dozens of developers.

14. What is SIGGRAPH?
SIGGRAPH is an annual international conference and exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques. The 33rd SIGGRAPH was held in early August 2006 in Boston. For more information, visit: http://www.siggraph.org/s2006/

15. Overall how would you rate SIGGRAPH this year in terms of what was shown?

 

SIGGRAPH is always a fun event ¡V and again was in Boston (despite the heat!). However, there weren¡¦t any obvious spectacular innovations on the show floor.

16. What did NaturalMotion show this year at SIGGRAPH?

 

NaturalMotion debuted morpheme?, a powerful animation engine and tool chain for next-gen game development. NaturalMotion also demonstrated euphoria and endorphin 2.6 during SIGGRAPH.

17. What was your favorite technology or other middleware that was shown at SIGGRAPH from another company?

 

 

 

I liked Havok¡¦s graphics accelerated physics demos, but apart from that, there wasn¡¦t much middleware on show. (Then again, I didn¡¦t see much of the show floor!)

18. From what you saw at SIGGRAPH should gamers expect some really spectacular things that have never been seen before for games

 

I don't want to beat our own drum too much, but I genuinely think that our euphoria tech will blow people away next year.

Questions dealing with PS3 and Xbox 360:

19. How is endorphin (3d application) doing when running on PS3 hardware? Any difficulties in the programming?

 

euphoria is performing well on PS3. If utilized correctly, Cell is a very fast processor indeed. Also, we¡¦ve been getting some great support from Sony Europe.

20. Are there any differences in the Xbox 360 and PS3 when running your middleware?

 

More than ever, you need to specifically target the platform to get optimized performance. Cell has a lot of power that but you have to unlock it first, whereas the 360 is probably a little more accessible. However, people should not forget that both platforms have extremely powerful CPUs. This is the first generation that lets us simulate the human motor nervous system in real-time. Sounds like science fiction, but it¡¦s true.

21. What do you find to be the best things about the PS3? Xbox 360?

 

We like both systems a lot, as they give us ample processing power. In addition, Microsoft has done an amazing job with Xbox Live; and Sony is giving consumers an amazingly rich package. Some people have criticized them recently, but let¡¦s not forget that Sony is giving us very innovative technologies in Cell and Blu-ray.

22. Has developing for next generation systems been more challenging than you'd hoped?

 

Not really, but then again I¡¦m not doing the programming! I think we¡¦ve been lucky to have some incredible next-gen console programmers.

23. How do you feel the difference in price between the PS3 and Xbox 360, and the PS3 and Wii, will affect the gaming industry in the years to come?

 

Well, the Wii shoots for the mass market straight away, whereas the PS3 (and to some extent the 360) are going for the classic early adopter market first. Prices will, of course, come down over time, thus blurring the demographic differences. We believe that all three consoles will be successful in this generation.

24. What is NaturalMotion¡¦s goal for the future in gaming?

 

We want to make games more like real life: not canned experiences, but different every time.

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