An electric partnership advances animation
New joint industry and academic research increases number of on-screen characters without compromising visual quality.
Electronic Arts (EA), the world's leading interactive entertainment software company, and London's top graphics researchers, University College London (UCL) are working in collaboration to research futuristic visualisation techniques.
The close partnership investigates how industry and academia can work together to develop computer games. Ian Shaw, CTO at EA, and Anthony Steed, a senior lecturer in computer graphics at UCL, have joined forces to develop animation techniques that will dramatically improve the visual quality of computer games.
The partnership has also resulted in EA co-funding Simon Pilgrim, a student on UCL's Engineering Doctorate in Virtual Environments, Imaging and Visualisation (VEIV EngD) course, to work as a researcher in the company.
As computer games become increasingly realistic, many new and interesting development problems arise. Pilgrim is working within EA to research and apply a method known as 'progressive character skinning' to improve the quality of multi character animation in commercial computer games.
EA's partnership with UCL enables the company to benefit from academic advances and theoretical know-how. Having a researcher working on a game team helps developers leverage academic research that can work to improve game graphics in real time, and can advance certain areas of production. With a new generation of consoles launching, the production cycles of games could be drastically shortened to just one or two years.
The structure of UCL's engineering doctorate has proved extremely successful for EA, allowing Pilgrim to spend the majority of his time in the company researching and developing animation and visualisation techniques.
Pilgrim's research focuses on the quality of animations in games. He aims to increase the number of animated characters that can be seen on screen at any one time, without impacting the speed. This is vital as the computer games industry moves to deliver the scale and complexity of computer graphics and epic scenes that are seen in hit films such as Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Pilgrim's 'progressive character skinning' technique prioritises the animation of characters in order to obtain the maximum number of characters on screen at once, whilst all moving separately with minimal error.
Ian Shaw CTO at EA comments: "EA has had a working relationship with UCL for the last six years and the university's academic research correlates with our development of computer games. As an organisation we wanted to form a closer relationship between the theoretical know-how and practical application for developing computer game animation.
"Our partnership with UCL is proving extremely beneficial and enabling us to find ways that academia and industry can work together to help keep us at the forefront of animation technology."
Anthony Steed, senior lecturer at UCL, believes applying academic expertise to digital media has many mutual benefits: "It's fantastic to see the direct impact UCL's work is having in a growing commercial market. Both EA and UCL continue to learn how academia and industry can produce market leading results together."