DEV DIARY 2: The Virtuals

The first step in the creative process was for us to identify and ascertain the use of Digital Humans as our Digital Cast. This lead us on a research pathway to look at our workflow critically as well as to try out emerging technology pipelines that can expedite our creation workflows.

Traditional workflow relies predominantly upon iterations. Iteration is the act of refining a process over successive attempts to arrive at a desired result. 

Traditional workflow pipelines, still in practice, use a long, arduous iteration process of first creating a character layout from building blocks, sculpting and refining features of the face and body, creating hair, eyes and teeth and furthermore.

These traditional workflows take a number of artists, hundreds of hours to design, test, reiterate and create a character with timelines spanning months of development not to mention the testing and hand animating (puppeteering) of the digital character.

To design, create and deploy a digital human that can be perceived to have an emotional and empathetic expression is a challenge in its own right as the perception of realism can be debatable and argued. 

Every individual, through their own experiences, and mental capabilities, creates their own version of reality in context to the emotional expressions they experience.

Creating real-time digital humans requires not just creative expression, but a need to solve complex problems like replicating and data streaming motions and facial gestures of the performer directly onto the digital human character, rendering the character to ensure it looks realistic and most importantly to ensure that the digital human’s body moves like a real person as well as the facial gestures are replicated to match those of the performer driving the digital humans. All these nuances form parts of delivering a high fidelity digital human that others can relate to and believe to be real.

Digital Humans are a creation of wonder; which, in their hyper-realistic iterations, could be perceived to represent emotions; a quality that is at the core of humanity and sets us apart from mechanical systems. These digital humans, combined with the realistic human movement and gestures and further enhanced by an AI-Machine learning algorithm are currently being used as virtual agents in the retail, banking and entertainment industries. However, realism is not only dependent on the outer shell but more importantly the human interaction and body movements, gestures, etc to add further realism to these digital humans. (Cominelli et al., 2018)

Digital humans are capable of a degree of perceived emotional expression through their movements and gestures and when combined with performance motion capture helps to add to the empathetic reality to the human interactions.

Digital Humans, when combined with gamification have been suggested to be able to  achieve a higher degree of user interaction and engagement. This, combined with the realism of a digital human adds a new layer of emotional, empathetic response from the user towards the digital human, in turn promoting trust and security for mental capacities. (Doug Roble. TedX Talk, n.d.)

The above hypotheses were further confirmed in a recent paper by Dr. Mike Seymour. (Seymour et al., 2019) He suggests in his paper that the affinity of an avatar is not deliberate but that the affinity is driven by a subconscious that is beyond conscious control of the observer. His argument takes into consideration the Uncanny Valley Theory, a digital human with a realistic face is perceived to be more human-like but still visually different.

We adopted Reallusion Character Creator3, iClone 7, MotionLive and Unreal Engine from epic games as the primary basis of our production pipeline built upon tradition workflow pipelines of prototyping and concept blocking with Maya, ZBrush, and more.

Meet the Virtuals

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