Saturday, July 19, 2008

Artificial Intelligence in Animation

How timely stories found on the mental_floss blog can be! It was only a week ago that I wrote about some of the exciting applications the concept of evolution can have in computing. Around the same time, I found a story about a TED Talk called Simulating Humans.

If you didn't see the movie on that page yet, take a few minutes to watch it in its entirety. It's both amazing and amusing to see how researchers have used evolution to teach a stick man how to react to various stimulus (such as being pushed over).

The first results show the stick man learning to walk, and the first attempts are just plain hilarious. Many face plants ensue. But after several generations, things start to improve, and finally the stick man can walk in a straight line, more or less like you and I.

Next, the stick man was shown to wobble and brace himself for a hard landing after being pushed from the side. It was amazing how natural it looked. I don't think it would be possible to spend enough time animating this behaviour by hand and have it look as real, though perhaps a pricey motion capture system could do the trick.

Finally, on a whim, they decided to see how well their technology would work for a famous stunt that has James Bond jump off a dam and get caught by a bungee on the way down. The animated version performed very well! This means that dangerous and expensive stunts may be replaced by animations that look just as natural.

This kind of technology could be applied to everything from big film productions to video games to medical simulation. That last one piqued my interest. Apparently one of the upcoming projects was to give software to surgeons who could then using the walking stick man to predict the outcome of surgery performed on, say, children with cerebral palsy.


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