NaturalMotion Will Revolutionise Computer Animation
5th May 2003
NaturalMotion Ltd, which combines biology with computer science to create realistic and interactive character animation for games, films and simulations, has been launched as Oxford University's newest spin-out company.
Based on research on the neural basis of animal and human locomotion, carried out at Oxford’s Department of Zoology, Torsten Reil, Colm Massey and Dr David Raubenheimer have founded NaturalMotion as a means to commercialise their results.
NaturalMotion’s technology employs virtual brains (neural networks) to control physical simulations of real humans. The system works by artificially evolving the parameters of the neural network to make it perform particular tasks, such as walking or swimming. ‘Basically, we start out with a rag doll’ explains Torsten Reil, co-founder and Executive Director. ‘We then add muscles and a brain to the thing. That’s where it becomes interesting.’
Mr Reil explained the advantages that NaturalMotion has over traditional methods of animation. ‘Existing technology, such as key framing and motion capture, is limited by time and expense and results in characters which move in predictable and stereotypical ways.
The advantage of NaturalMotion’s approach is that we can produce realistic animations in a more cost effective way. In addition, NaturalMotion’s animations are completely interactive because they are simulations of the “real thing”. What you see on the screen is not just a hollow computer drawing of a character, it is the character. This gives the user complete freedom.’
NaturalMotion has secured funding from Business Angels, a venture capitalist and from senior figures from the computer games and movie industry, reflecting the potential applications in these areas. Russ Campey, UK Investment manager for GorillaPark, said: ‘Investing in Natural Motion allows us to demonstrate our commitment to early stage technology start-ups emerging from UK universities and increases our exposure to the world class talent & ideas at Oxford. We believe that Natural Motion is well placed to capitalise on the growing use of digital characters in movies and games.’
Nick Alexander, former head of Virgin Games and Sega Europe, has joined NaturalMotion as the company’s chairman. He said: ‘I am excited to be involved with NaturalMotion. The company has an excellent and rapidly developing team, and the technology really is very impressive. The commercial opportunities are huge.’
Tom Hockaday, a Director of Oxford University Innovation, Oxford University’s technology transfer company, said: ‘This is fascinating technology with a wealth of possible applications. Raising this first round of finance in the current market situation shows NaturalMotion has strong technology and a good team behind it.’Press release sign up