Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Film storyboarding with semi-autonomous characters

As an independent producer, HD Thames is interested in a broad spread of uses for virtual humans in television, film and interactive cross-media applications across a wide field: animation, virtual stuntmen, virtual presenters and virtual storytelling. As the focus in film and television has shifted increasingly towards post-production, the door has opened for user-friendly software toolkits that enable creation to take place at the keyboard.

HD Thames' principal interest in the V-Man project has been the area of virtual storyboards, developed during two earlier IST projects, VISIONS and VISTA. Work on these two projects highlighted the need for a new generation of virtual people who could be easily created, customised, clothed and directed. The need here was not for a photorealistic style, but for a credible level of human representation that could evoke emotion and stir the imagination of the viewer.

The V-Man project has delivered the means to create these virtual people, through a Body Authoring Tool (BAT), and a Software Development Kit (SDK). It is now possible, working from a small basic library to create and customise a skeleton, skin it to represent human types, and clothe it. For efficiency, clothes replace the skinning of covered parts of the body, rather than becoming an additional layer. Motion capture can then be applied to the virtual human to make it move or behave. For actions such as walking, footsteps can be determined by path planning, and the behaviour of the body further modified by inverse kinematics and a physics engine. Motion blending enables smooth transitions between different motions captures, while hot spots enable the virtual humans to interact meaningfully with objects such as chairs and doors. Cloning makes it possible to have a number of V-Men working on a virtual set in real time.

Professional workers in film and television have been impressed with the quality of these figures, however they need to be incorporated into a storyboarding shell with substantial libraries and the facility to create sets, add props, direct and "film" the action to make them widely usable in the production community. We intend to pursue the commercial possibilities for this in the coming months.

V-Men have a key role in new fields such as interactive storytelling or cross media content delivery where artificial humans can provide automated interfaces for voice and data exchange. They may come to play an important role in speeding up the creation of conventional linear animation. More extensive use in film and television will require V-Men to develop from symbolic "cartoon" representation" into a fuller realism, both in terms of appearance and behaviour. There are clear needs for V-Men to do difficult or dangerous tasks currently undertaken by stunt-men, as well as for the creation of fantasy creatures, but these are major challenges for the future.

V-Man has shown that it is possible to take a highly complex task, and simplify it so that it becomes more accessible for the non-expert. The creation of virtual people has clear benefits for those working in the audio-visual industries. Further work may extend access further, to the ordinary European citizen.

More information on the Virtual Man project can be found at

Reported by

HD Thames Ltd
199 Piccadilly
W1V 9LE London
United Kingdom
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