From Avatar to King Kong, advanced computer-generated imagery (CGI) and motion capture technology created hyper-realistic, high quality, animated experiences for movies, television, games and augmented reality.
Technology now makes it possible for these same characters to interact, learn and express themselves in human ways – and in 1:1 interactions – to varying degrees. But adding artificial intelligence (AI) to CGI – and suggesting this creates Digital Humans – is far from what’s real or even possible.
Different approaches to creating Digital Humans will result in different outcomes – both for the user and for the brands and businesses investing in them. A fully autonomous Digital Human is radically different in experience and functions than a Digital Puppet. Seeing through the smoke and mirrors of high-tech marketing requires a clear definition and taxonomy for understanding the new generation of Digital Humans that will soon surround us.
Some are either 2D video recordings or relatively low-quality CGI characters with plastic-looking skin and non-life-like muscle structures. These are presented as so-called “interactive” performances with poor and disjointed animation. What is presented is a mash up of decidedly non-AI animation techniques – largely discarded by Hollywood and the Games Industry.
A new generation of Digital Heroes, pioneered by Soul Machines, represent the next evolutionary advance in combining the quality of hyper-realistic CGI with a fully autonomous, fully animated CGI or digital character.
Fundamental Building Blocks
CGI and Animation are two foundational elements used to create Digital Humans.
CGI has given us digital characters like the amazing Pandoran creatures from Avatar, Kong and a raft of cartoon characters and superheroes. Building high quality characters that we as humans can relate to and engage with comes down to CGI expertise, time and cost.
Animation in its earliest versions was the illusion of creating movement, but as techniques became more sophisticated and high quality animation became possible you could describe it as the art of creating life-like emotional connections. Think of the difference between the hand drawn cartoon sequences that Walt Disney used to make Mickey Mouse move for the first time compared to the actor driven, motion capture recording that became the basis of animating James Cameron’s Avatar movie.
Then there is bringing the CGI and the Animation together to create the performance and the interaction.
Low quality CGI and poor animation equals a terrible experience and represents failure in the movie and games industry. So why should we, and why would we, accept it as the right way to create a world where we are imbuing the machines we are creating with more human-like Artificial Intelligence?
Different Approaches Result in Different Outcomes
Differing approaches to animation result in different outcomes for both those creating them, and the user experiencing them.
- High Quality Movie Animation using actors and motion capture suits and cameras – and based on pre-recorded story lines and a linear content flow – are high cost and time intensive. Hero animation per a character per minute is typically 20-30k for photoreal film, 30-40k for Pixar quality hand-animation, and 10-15k for AAA game titles.
The result is high quality animation that takes significant time to create, but does not have the ability to be modified without re-recording, nor will it be interactive or deliver dynamic nonlinear content and experiences. The technique works well for movies and games but isn’t affordable or scaleable to meet the constantly changing interactive content of businesses and their brands, products and service experiences.
- Blended or Procedural Animation is borrowed from the lower-cost end of the games industry. Here, lips and eyes move in a static image of a person or character. Procedural Animation is generated from simple rules-based systems and algorithms. Blended Animation takes pre-existing animation cycles and blends them together to make a performance.
These approaches combine motion capture and imbedded lip animation with pre-recorded head movement and an emotional expression like a smile on some form of loop playback. When the character needs to speak the video is interrupted, the face freezes and the lips start to move . This creates more of a Digital Puppet where the lips move speaking words from scripts but the character’s face is rigid and unnaturally still and devoid of emotional expression.
Again, the result is poor animation delivering a poor-quality customer experience. It can’t cross the uncanny valley and there is no emotional engagement which is the ultimate objective. It’s an experience that a customer is hardly likely to look forward to again – and an approach that degrades brands rather than enhances them.
- Synthesized (Deep Fake) Video is highly dependent on pre-recorded video content resequenced by AI algorithms to generate new video content which can be played back on demand. As seen in Samsung’s recent demonstration of Neon, it suffers from many of the same issues that Blended Animation does.
While increasingly of a high quality, Synthesized Video is still pre-recorded content and not dynamic, responsive or interactive in the experience. The ethical use of Deep Fake technology has created a very high-profile debate which is a major inhibitor of its use and adoption by business.
- Autonomous Animation combines the quality of hyper-realistic CGI with a fully autonomous, fully animated CGI or digital character. Our human brain enables us to be autonomously animated in everything that we do. Soul Machines’ Digital Brain™ – driven by deep research into neuroscience, psychology and cognitive science – is the only explainable way to autonomously animate digital characters. It’s a scaleable, cost effective way to animate for customer experience (CX) where face-to-face interactions need to be personalized, dynamic and unique in the same way each and every human interaction is.
Today, only Soul Machines’ Digital Heroes harness the power of Autonomous Animation to create economics that meet the scale, quality, and interaction needs of users, businesses and brands.
Understanding the Five Levels of Autonomous Animation.
The intersection of AI and CGI (and eventually AR/VR) requires a new approach to animation – one based on the presence of a Digital Brain to autonomously animate Digital Humans in real-time. Digital Humans express responses and information based on both the context created by the user and the content being delivered.
In the same way there is a taxonomy for the different levels of Autonomous Vehicle technology, Soul Machines believes our industry needs a clear taxonomy for Autonomous Animation to clearly differentiate between the real and the fake. As a result, we have come up with five levels of Autonomous Animation in an effort to create a standard for measuring innovation in this field.
Actor driven, pre-recorded video or motion capture.
Motion Capture Cameras
Movie and Games Characters
Actor driven, pre-authored animation delivers pre-recorded movement based on simple triggers.
FAQ text driven conversational database with pre-recorded voice content responses.
Video manipulation, and/or voice/text based partial face animation with encoded triggers.
NLP – scripted conversational content Mirroring and simple emotion analytics.
Ability to learn from each interaction. Full human-like emotional responsiveness in facial animation including a conversational driven personality.
Soul Machines™ Digital Brain V 1.0
NLP – scripted conversational content.
NLG – dynamically created conversational content combined with synthetic voice creation.
Digital Employees, Digital Companions, Digital Influencers and Digital Celebrities
Full body motion control provides the ability to interact with digital environment. Creative behaviors based on learned experiences and agency to discover and set new intentions, plans, and goals. Ability to train through interaction.
Soul Machines™ Digital Brain V 2.0
Interactive 3D AR/VR characters
Independent Digital Heroes with strong semantic and contextual understanding of self’s actions.
Soul Machines™ Digital Brain V 3.0
Virtual people for virtual worlds, non linear story telling
Future of Customer Experience
CGI and animation’s new frontier is being redefined by a range of AI applications and the way this is relevant to the future of customer experience.
Digital Heroes – such as those created by Soul Machines – will fully integrate with Enterprise systems for data, conversational AI and other AI based applications, democratizing and enabling businesses and brands to achieve never-seen-before scale. Furthermore, they will embrace diversity and choice, ranging from hyper-realistic humans to cartoon characters.
Five Questions Every Investor, Business and Brand Should Ask
- How long will it take to create a diverse digital workforce, and how much will it cost?
Hyper-realistic digital characters capable of being animated at the highest quality level are expensive, take time and require the best CGI artists in the world.
- What does “powered by AI” even mean?
Today, every software company is using AI in some form. But few are combining the latest research in cognitive science, neuroscience and developmental psychology to create a new form of biologically inspired AI.
- What is the quality of the experience?
Is it really just a Digital Puppet with low quality CGI and poor animation? Or is the experience offering something more?
Is the Digital Human and its animation platform scaleable and dynamic?
Even if you think it’s a starting point to learn and experiment – will it actually scale across your organization meeting the diverse needs of your internal staff and your clients?
Will it scale and improve exponentially as AI applications like voice, content creation and image recognition get exponentially better and 5G networks provide the latency and bandwidth for super high quality delivery
- Is it a 3D Digital Character?
Does it have a full body?
Will the experience continue to grow and adapt as digital worlds and AR/VR become more accessible?
- Does it have a personality?
Creating a face and attaching a conversational corpus and a TTS Voice gives you a talking head – a chatbot with a face – but unless you have the ability to define a personality that matches your brand values, in the role you need, in a way that appeals to your target client base, you won’t create a Digital Human!
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