Industry Leaders Discuss Virtual Beings at ETC Town Square

Five industry experts were invited to give 25-minute presentations over Zoom to the ETC@USC membership last week on the theme of virtual beings. Discussions addressed creating a more emotive and relatable personality and improving the image, sound and body language of virtual characters. The presenters were chosen because of their efforts to bring a new dimension to related discussions taking place within ETC’s member companies. The talks were recorded and posted on ETCentric in support of ETC’s mission of sharing information and educating the industry.

Two-time Sci-Tech Oscar winner Mark Sagar discussed his work on the interactive virtual BabyX (pictured below). He and his co-workers at Soul Machines are working to make a truly autonomous digital human. They are building a virtual being as a presence that learns and evolves by experiencing the world around it with sensory input and real world feedback. They are, in effect and by design, simulating the neurological development of a human baby.

Lauren Kunze, CEO of Pandorabots, introduced us to Kuki, her company’s virtual being with 25 million human fans, and discussed the challenges of implementing a virtual being today. She spent the bulk of her time describing her vision of what a day would be like interacting with virtual beings in the year 2032.

Guy Gadney, CEO of Charisma, covered how to create an emotive engine to power and manage digital characters, how to map character and narrative design to create characters that are more relatable, and the importance of having a cast of multiple virtual characters in immersive narratives. (The digital humans below are featured on Charisma’s homepage.)

Gadney is part of the team working with ETC’s George Gerba and the Autonomous Character Working Group. The group’s goal is to chart a path to a weighted character model that can be utilized across multiple tools and platforms.

Raphaël Millière, the Robert A. Burt Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience at Columbia University, discussed how mimicry can seem like intelligence. He expanded on the ideas he articulated in his article Moving Beyond Mimicry in Artificial Intelligence.

Matthias Wittmann, VFX supervisor at Digital Domain, covered a number of topics in rapid succession. They included how to approach the design of a virtual being, how to capture the essence of a character in a way that will map onto an autonomous character, and what are the challenges involved in transitioning a virtual being from a 2D screen to a 3D world.

Presentation videos and speaker bios are available on ETCentric. I had the pleasure of producing this event with input and advice from many executives of ETC member companies.

Our next event will be a USC Student Challenge: “The Future of Themed Entertainment and Experience.” Leveraging the tools, techniques and resources of today and those that could emerge in the next few years, we will ask students to come up with unique ideas for an experience in the multiverse that: 1) have specific location-based experiences as an anchor, and 2) extend the experiences into the real and virtual worlds before and after the person has the location-based experience.