Based in Singapore, Hiverlab is an immersive technology company that specializes in the creation of augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality experiences. The studio uses the incredible creative freedom of these virtual technologies to craft both entertainment and educational content for a broad range of industries. Recently, Hiverlab designed and animated a 360 degree, immersive animation called VR Stories for the Singaporean charity, TOUCH Community Services – the animation was designed to help members of the public experience, first-hand, the everyday life of people with severe anxiety.
To create an experience with animated characters, Hiverlab used Xsens MVN Animate to capture the full-body movement of actors and drive the intricate details of each character’s animation. We spoke with Christopher William, Creative Team Lead at Hiverlab, to find out more about how the studio built VR Stories and how motion capture data from Xsens helped drive authentic, animated performance.
Spreading awareness using VR
Mental health awareness has become a leading global issue, inspiring a growing number of social activism campaigns that challenge societal stigmas and find new ways to provide individuals with help. When discussing mental health in education, it can be difficult for one person to understand the feelings and perceptions of another. TOUCH Community Services wanted to create an experience that could break down this barrier, positioning individuals in an immersive, interactive virtual world.
Using the creative power of Hiverlab, this experience became a reality, allowing social workers from TOUCH to conduct multi-user, classroom sessions, guiding participants through the virtual world and studying mental health issues affecting young people. The final animation required 14 minutes of content, containing two main characters and four background characters. Hiverlab animated all six characters in Unity using motion data from Xsens MVN Animate.
“We had three months to complete the 360, animated film, including all of the character animation and environment design. We wanted the character animation to be fluid, realistic and not rushed, which made Xsens the ideal choice. Xsens provides off the shelf technology – I can basically plug and play and not worry about any animation cleanup,” said Christopher.
Mocap in an office
Like many start-up companies, Hiverlab studio didn't have a big stage that matched the production capabilities of Hollywood, making use of the available space to complete motion capture sessions – such as corridors, outdoor play areas and the shared co-working space. Hiverlab’s team used the Xsens portable recording feature to map the Virtual living room of Jane to the environment around her, allowing the actors to act freely around the area. Xsens suits are designed to work in any environment without the need for an optical camera setup, making them perfect for Hiverlab’s requirements. Using precise, wireless motion sensors, an actor is able to freely move through any space.
“We used the basic layout of our office to map my virtual environment onto. We made use of the entire building, including the corridors and restrooms. With all of these points mapped, I could walk in and out of the different spaces and the animation would correspond exactly with the virtual environment, building an animated scene instantly,” explained Christopher.
Hiverlab used the full MVN Animate software, utilizing the live-capture function wirelessly with a laptop connected to Wifi. By capturing data and streaming it live, Christopher could see himself and direct actors live in the space, viewing the virtual environment in real-time. This was possible using a virtual camera alongside Xsens, streaming and rendering the 360 animation data directly into the Unity engine. This improved the efficiency and quality of the animation, allowing Christopher to meet the three-month deadline successfully.
The project was first shown live at Singapore Mental Health Conference 2019 held at Marina Bay Sands and received positive feedback from the preview audience. The event had multiple headsets, allowing more than one person to simultaneously enter the virtual world and experience the animation. The story is interactive, and the decisions made by the audience could lead to a series of eight different endings, all focusing on mental health and solutions to help.
The audience could directly find out how someone with anxiety experiences day-to-day life. This was depicted in the animation using lights and sound, portraying the protagonist’s parents quarrelling and relating the effect by blurring the vision and dampening other senses. The VR Stories project exemplifies how effective immersive storytelling can be in VR, and with realistic animation driven directly using Xsens motion capture, the authenticity of the story was greatly improved.
Christopher now sees Xsens as a central part of Hiverlab’s expansive workflow and is already looking to use Xsens’ precise, motion capture technology to create further realistic digital human experiences, tapping into the many other benefits of Xsens’ MotionCloud for extra processing power. With innovation at the heart of Hiverlab’s mission, we’re excited to see how the studio uses our motion capture technology in the future.
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