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Developing Realistic Character Animations Using the Digital Acting System

Since our inception in 2013, Archiact has been dedicated to pushing the limits of VR. From otherworldly journeys to epic superhero battles, our work is known for its adventurous spirit, innovative interaction mechanics, unforgettable stories, and AAA feel.


In our pursuit of building immersive worlds, we’ve developed proprietary tools to enhance our asset creation process. During development of Journey to Foundation, the Digital Acting System (DAS) was born and battle-tested in a full production environment.


What is DAS?

DAS - or Digital Acting System - is an in-house facial animation and gesture system that we created to bolster the character animation process.


It saves significant time by creating procedurally generated character performances, which consist of facial animation, lip sync, and gestures (body language). Animators and Narrative Designers can work off of these to make them more realistic and improve their visual quality.


DAS is made up of three proprietary tools:

  1. Asimov (narrative writing/design tool)

  2. DOPE (procedural facial animation system)

  3. Saga (procedural full-body gesture system)


Asimov

Our in-house narrative/writing design tool was developed specifically for our ambitious narrative-driven adventure, Journey to Foundation (aptly named after what inspired it - the Foundation novels by Isaac Asimov).


Asimov integrates with Unreal Engine to create and track: branching conversations (while writing) and in-game dialogue selections (while playing). It stores all conversation ‘nodes’ and assets in a database.


It also integrates with another of our tools, DOPE, to generate text-to-speech audio files that can be triggered in-game, allowing Narrative Writers to review conversation flow and correct speaker identification.


Video demonstrates the Asimov tool in use, with branching narrative nodes and written text to show in-game dialogue progression.


DOPE & Saga

The Dialogue-Only Performance Estimation (DOPE) tool is an animation and lip-sync system. Its counterpart, Saga, is a full-body gesture system for conversations.


Both of these tools create procedurally generated animations using audio recordings.


Video demonstrates the use of DOPE and Saga in Unreal Engine 5 to generate character performance.


Using audio recordings to generate an initial character performance ensures consistency in character renders and saves significant time in the animation process.


It also allows us to avoid motion capturing each line of dialogue (which, in a story-driven game like Journey to Foundation, is a lot!).


Facial animations

Video demonstrates facial animations, including eyebrow movements, cheekbones, and mouth shape.


Lip sync

Lip sync, along with facial expressions (e.g. smiling, frowning, neutral) and emotions (e.g. surprise, happiness, anger), are applied to the facial animations to be more realistic.


This gives us a clear idea of what an NPC is thinking or feeling, just like in real-life interactions.


Idle animations

Our Digital Acting System currently has a library of 37 different idle sets, which dictate the idle animations of a character (e.g. standing upright with feet planted, on alert; leaning up against a wall more casually).


These idle sets also have an accompanying set of gestures that range from small to large, which can act as a queue for a character’s emotion.


For example, a character making large gestures may be excited or riled up, while a character making small gestures could be playing their cards close to their chest, so to speak.


Video demonstrates 4 different idle animations assigned to different characters.


All That to Say…

We leverage our unique understanding of VR and MR design, gestural control, and artistry to deliver unmatched experiences across the industry’s leading platforms.


Alongside the recently released Journey to Foundation self-published by the studio, our portfolio includes the critically acclaimed DOOM 3: VR Edition, as well as original IPs such as Evasion and FREEDIVER: Triton Down.


We’re applying these tools to future projects to continue bringing you exciting, immersive games that allow you to explore new worlds. With a team of talented people and a passion for innovation, Archiact is at the forefront of the VR gaming industry.


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