I attended this latest Vancouver ACM Siggraph event last night at the Vancouver International Film Centre.

Henry LaBounta and Eric Armstrong from EA Games gave a presentation called "Athletic Performance: Intelligent Believable Characters" which basically covered some new procedural animation technology that they have developed in house. This new tech handles blending character animation clips in games to give you a more believable and responsive on-screen performance.

As you all know, animation in games is generally different motion clips (walk/run/idle cycles) that are blended together as you tell your character to move around. Due the the fact that we want the characters to be responsive to the controls, the animation clips are often violently cut together as a character switches direction or action (run to slam dunk. etc.) which creates fairly obvious popping and feet sliding on screen. For the most part, you can't do much about this. Having a character instantly turn or stop when you give the command is needed for the gameplay to feel right.

However, with these new tools, blending these motion clips through procedural animation is getting quite a bit more efficient. They gave us a demo of their proprietary animation toolset to show us how animators could now tweak their cycles and actions while viewing the results in realtime. Their software essentially breaks the clips up into smaller chunks that are procedurally blended together.

This allows animators to slip in those actions involving characters planting their feet and pulling back on their center of gravity to slowdown and turn instead of jarring to a stop and returning to a fullspeed run cycle in another direction.

The results were quite impressive and definately added a lot more weight and believability to the characters on screen. While I don't see much of this being put to use outside of their sports titles at the moment, I can definately see it's implementation in other genres in the future.

Hopefully soon the days of floating characters sliding around the ground and popping between animation cycles will be gone from FPS and Fantasy titles as well.

Overall, good show. I belieeve that they will also be giving this presentation at GDC next week in San Francisco.