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Get Motivated

by Ben de Leeuw

Motion Factory announced the 2.0 version of their behavior-driven animation package Motivate, which will be shipping in March 2000. With the new version, Motivate is being positioned as a tool for web 3D development. Though a bit circumspect about the dates, Motion Factory CEO David Pritchard said a full-featured plug-in for Navigator and Explorer 4.x on both Windows and Mac was on its way. The lightweight browser plug-in will give users access to any content created with Motivate. The biggest limiting factor, according to Pritchard, will be the pipeline into the user's computer.

Motivate is one of a new breed of web 3D engines that focus on behavior-driven characters and environments. Motivate allows deep interactivity because it does not rely on long, canned pieces of animation, but rather constructs the animation on the fly based on user input. Characters have multiple behaviors or skills that can be combined in any order. For instance, the user can direct the character to pick up something on the other side of a room, and the character will combine walking, grabbing, and obstacle avoidance behaviors to navigate across the room and grab the object. Behavior engines like this, based on a hierarchical finite state machine, have surfaced in many video games recently, notably Prince of Persia created with Motivate 1.x. With the 2.0 release, Motion Factory has created the architecture to bring all that functionality to web 3D. Along with their own player solution, Motivate will be available as components, allowing developers to combine pieces of Motivate's technology with proprietary or third-party components.

Facts & Features

Motivate 2.0 includes a motion engine, developed by graduates of the Stanford robotics lab, that allows characters to learn motion and locomotion skills and combine them to intelligently navigate any environment. Other features include a behavior engine, designed for the hierarchical finite state machines used in real-time processes, that allows the developer to imbue characters with goals to govern how they interact with the environment and other characters; scripting in either Piccolo (Motion Factory's scripting language) or Javascript; seamless character models; skeletal animation, that allows only the bone transforms to be streamed, with model deformation accomplished on the client machine; and fully articulated body dynamics, allowing characters to not only collide with other objects but to react to those collisions with full skeletal articulation. For instance, a character punched in the stomach would not have a canned stomach hit animation but would react to the punch based on the force, point of impact, and the IK constraints of the skeleton.

Motion Factory's approach is specifically geared towards interactive behaviors and environments. This is reflected in what their player will and won't do. While streaming is the watchword for the new web millennium (which should last through about 2002), Motion Factory takes a slightly different tack on this subject. They are prepared to stream geometry, textures, behaviors, and scripts in discreet chunks, but do not have a continuous data stream for things like sound and video. Worlds and characters will appear quickly to the user and stream in additional geometry and behaviors while you play. A character might initially download with just a walk and an idle behavior, so the user can immediately begin exploring the environment. As the user explores, the character continues to download behaviors behind the scenes, adding more and more skills. Concurrently the world streams in geometry and textures becoming larger and richer. For the moment, however, a character will not be able to stream in long pieces of dialogue. Small pieces can be streamed in with chunks of data, and strung together as behaviors, allowing sound effects or minimal character dialogue, but that long Shakespearean monologue is right out for now.

As with any unreleased product, the proof will be in the pudding, but Motivate promises to help open up some new territory in the world of web 3D.

Ben de Leeuw is creative director at infoplasm (www.infoplasm.com), a San Francisco-based animation studio. He teaches at several Bay Area animation colleges and is the author of Digital Cinematography (Morgan Kaufmann, 1997).