Wednesday, August 27, 2008

8/26 Ted Talk Tuesday--Torsten Reil "Using biology to make better animation"

Torsten Reil talks about how the study of biology can help make natural-looking animated people -- by building a human from the inside out, with bones, muscles and a nervous system. Note that this talk took place in some of these cool, innovative techniques should now be a reality.

Reil was a neural researcher working on his Masters at Oxford, developing computer simulations of nervous systems based on genetic algorithms- programs that actually used natural selection to evolve their own means of locomotion. It didn't take long until he realized the commercial potential of these lifelike characters. In 2001 he capitalized on this lucrative adjunct to his research, and cofounded NaturalMotion. Since then the company has produced motion simulation programs like Euphoria and Morpheme, state of the art packages designed to drastically cut the time and expense of game development, and create animated worlds as real as the one outside your front door. Animation and special effects created with Endorphin (NaturalMotion's first animation toolkit) have lent explosive action to films such as Troy and Poseidon, and NaturalMotion's software is also being used by LucasArts in video games such as the hotly anticipated Indiana Jones.

But there are serious applications aside from the big screen and the XBox console: NaturalMotion has also worked under a grant from the British government to study the motion of a cerebral palsy patient, in hopes of finding therapies and surgeries that dovetail with the way her nervous system is functioning. The animation of a patient's gait was to be used by surgeons to predict what impact the surgery would have to the final gait and they could make adjustments to the plan before even getting started.

"It might be surprising to find a biologist pushing the frontiers of computer animation. But Torsten Reil is bringing cheaper, lifelike digital characters to video games and films."
Technology Review

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