Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Zombie Line

Tonight's meeting at Electronic Arts sponsored by our local LA Chapter of SIGGRAPH focused on the topic of "digital acting" and the work of the videogame behemoth to create convincing AI applications at a time when the military is no longer sponsoring as much research and development. For a long time the mantra among game developers has had to do with creating "direction" rather than "puppetry," so that 3D characters seem to have an internal logic of their own that replicates character motivation. Several of the presenters reminded audience members about last year's panel discussion on the notion of the "uncanny valley," which I reported about here. In particular, speakers referenced the "zombie line," which indicated where one-to-one correlations of visual fidelity and motion fidelity may lie.

Lots of the discussion also had to do with EA's collaboration with Steven Spielberg. I met a nice, very tatooed member of the team working on the Spielberg's "casual game for the Wii" in the elevator, but I still wonder if he was just messing with me to suggest such a thing would be possible. Also amusing was Iranian-born EA Art Director Habib Zargarpour speculating about what the Justice Department might make of his collection of explosion reference files should they ever fall into their agents' hands.

The weird footage highlight may have been seeing the human actors made to look CG in the Need for Speed franchise with the assistance of glue-permeated clothing and lots of shaving of male body hair. Either that or seeing the test footage of the real human Tiger Woods in preparation for his simulated incarnation for which he was reduced to an eerily proportioned wrap of a 2D light diffusion map of his face. Producer Neville Spiteri and Animation Director Eric Armstrong also showed video characters able to follow actions with their eyes that appeared to be taking place on the other side of the display that contained them.

Personally, I thought the procedural animation probably looked the coolest among the evening's video/demo offerings, since I can never get tired of animations of guys running into things or into each other, which I will happily watch for hours and hours, just enjoying the beauty of its mathematical expression. Much more entertaining than football.



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