|Will Stunt Artists Be Replaced by Virtual
Feb 22, 2002 1:50
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The gangly
skeleton pauses at the top of the staircase and then, fearlessly,
dives headfirst, crumpling in an apparently bone-jarring
Petros Faloutsos chuckles as he replays the clip on his
laptop computer. Again and again, the UCLA scientist commands the
virtual character to dive.
The animation is primitive, the
Beyond the initial command to jump, the
fall is completely unscripted. Physics, not the computer animator's
mouse, controls the action.
Although just a prototype,
Faloutsos believes his animation program will one day allow virtual
stunt artists to replace their flesh-and-blood counterparts in
performing otherwise deadly feats of derring-do.
people will be directing virtual actors, and we'll have to give them
Oscars too," Faloutsos mused.
The brief clip is a glimpse
into the nascent field of physics-based animation. The technique,
whether used for movies or video games, strives to create a virtual
world consistently guided by the same physical laws that give order
to the real world.
"It's the Holy Grail of character
animation. Everybody wants to do it, but there's not a whole lot of
it out there right now," said Damien Neff, senior artificial
intelligence designer for NFL Fever 2002, a Microsoft video game
that makes limited use of the technique.
As the technology
matures, real stunt artists have mixed feelings about the impact on
"There's a positive side and a negative side: To
talk positive, it's made it safer to do a stunt -- you don't have to
lay your neck out on the line as much as you used to. But it's taken
some cash away also," said Ben Scott, a Hollywood stuntman who works
on the HBO series "Six Feet Under."
have relied on their own talents to draw characters that appear to
Movie studios and game developers also bank
increasingly on libraries of hundreds of stunts amassed by filming
the sensor-studded bodies of real performers. Those "captured
motions" can then be matched to virtual characters and inserted into
movies or games.
Animation systems such as that created by
Faloutsos and his former colleagues Michiel van de Panne, Demetri
Terzopoulos and Victor Ng-Thow-Hing attempt to trump both
The key is using mathematical formulas that only
loosely choreograph the movements an animator wants a character to
Command, say, a character's arm to move and the
momentum will force its torso and head to shift as well.
range of motions available to a character ultimately guide how it
behaves, as does its own computer-generated sensitivity to both
gravity and any forces imparted by its virtual
Different environments, for example, will
prompt the same character to move differently -- and unpredictably.
A fall on slick ice won't be the same as one down a steep flight of
In movies, physics-based animation techniques have
been used to render inanimate things like the waves in "The Perfect
Storm" or the shock of blue hair that coats James P. Sullivan in
In video games, they crop up in programming
that simulates such action as racing or flying
With animated characters, attaining of realism
is far more difficult, however. Emotion can influence movement as
much as gravity does.
"You can tell from how someone is
walking if they're effeminate or angry. How would you account for
that in a physics-based system?" said Darren Hendler, technical
director at Digital Domain Inc., a Los Angeles special effects
In the forthcoming film "The Time Machine," Digital
Domain used a physics-based animation technique to render the
collapse of thousands of skeletons of people turned to dust and
Animators still shy away from using physics to model
the movement of people, however. They say the human eye is just too
good at spotting even the slightest hint of fakery.
Faloutsos believes future systems will allow directors to guide
characters as they do live actors. "The ultimate goal is to have a
totally complete human inside the computer that you can direct," he
Until then, officials with the Screen Actor's Guild
know there will be work for the more than 6,600 Hollywood stunt
artists the union represents.
"People, quite honestly, like
to see human beings on the screen," said Ilyanne Kichaven, a guild
spokeswoman. "There's still something an actor can bring to the
screen that a computer-generated person cannot."
(© 2002 The Associated Press.
All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast,
rewritten, or redistributed.)
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