He jumps head-first over cliffs. He crashes cars into buildings. He gets shot twice-a-day and he still gets up. He’s virtual stuntman!
Are the days of the Hollywood stunt-man coming to an end? Oxford-based company NaturalMotion has created a radical new way of breathing realism into characters in films and games. They have developed a virtual human.
Their Endorphin software uses characters that actually ‘learn’ how to move their bodies, generating action sequences that usually have to be performed by stuntmen or animated characters.
As NaturalMotion’s Product Director Greg Shaw explains, the software is based on models of the human body that ‘understand’ how real muscles and bones work.
“The unique thing that we do, unlike motion capture techniques, is we build our character inside the computer”, he says. “We understand all the laws of physics and our character has joints, muscles and a proper skeleton”.
“All these things can only be moved in the way that a human would move. Unlike in some games, where if a character puts his arm up to a wall his arm will go through it, our character’s arm will hit the wall. It’s straightforward physics, but we use an awful lot of it!”
Most death-defying stunts in action films are created using motion capture of real people, or by labour-intensive, frame-by-frame animation. But Endorphin’s characters can perform whatever they’re directed to, in exactly the same way that a human being can. And without expensive insurance policies!
The system allows their characters to be blown up, lose limbs, or carry out stunts that would be impossible or too dangerous for real stuntmen, yet behaving exactly as the human body would. But more it’s more than muscles and sinew that drive Endorphin. The character is also given a virtual ‘brain’ which evolves.