Whilst our team of artists have been adding detail to roadways for our client Highways England, we have other projects demanding our time and also a need to consider what we as a business require to deliver what our clients don’t know they need yet. This is our week in brief.

Josh – Programme Manager

I kicked off my week with the planning of a project involving a geolocation-based AR app and a VR experience, with the aim of better communicating to the public, the inner workings of complex infrastructure projects. Imagine how much easier HS2 would be to understand if you as a commuter could get a real sense of its stations, the trains, the journey, etc.

Human animation or, rather, the realistic animation of humans in immersive environments is key to many of our current projects and we increasingly need enhanced realism. So, we’ve decided to invest in a state-of-the-art Motion Capture (MoCap) suit to speed up our animation work, which is currently hugely time-consuming to achieve the best results.

I also spent time compiling an eye tracking study, designed to understand the best methods of communicating safety information to people, like what features make information retention more likely. We have to consider what format is most acceptable from a user experience perspective, given the time constraints for training people.

My week rounded off with a ‘thematic analysis’ (identifying, analysing and interpreting patterns of meaning within qualitative data) of an H&S Hazard Awareness VR Prototype, on-site trial. We’ve been doing user testing to work out what works and what doesn’t, which as it happens proves VR is pretty cool and people like it. They like one of our UI interfaces less so, but we’re sorting it.

Cat – Lead Programmer

This week I have been mostly working on a shader for our ‘Eyes & Ears’ experience, which involves the user driving down a simulated motorway spotting potential hazards.

Designing large worlds is tricky, because computers only have so much space to load things into and we also want to have cars and other scenery, not just a big road. Also, a very long and straight road would not only be boring, but unrealistic too. So, we wanted a way to split our road into sections – to load in sequence – and also to have the ability to curve some sections to make the journey more interesting.

One possible approach we considered was to create a set of motorway sections ahead of time, some with curves, which we would then stitch together while the solution is running. However, this would have had knock-on effects for other parts of the solution, which would need to account for curvature in the road, whilst creating work for our artists.

Instead we decided to go for a shader approach, which harnesses the power of modern graphics hardware to arbitrarily deform models depending on their position in the world. This allows us to lay out the same straight motorway section over and over again, but have it curve differently each time. Additionally, our traffic system can just drive in a straight line and have the world curve around it!

There is still more work to do to curve an actual motorway section, as well as laying them end-to-end, but for now it’s coming along nicely.

Sergio – Programmer

Following my work last week researching user interface (UI) in VR, we spent time this week implementing it and evaluating the approach. With enough feedback gathered to move on to the next iteration, I am looking forward to seeing how we can tackle the difficulty of simplifying the user navigation and minimising the information displayed at a single time.

For our current solution, we would require a design that is easy to understand, but in less than 10 seconds. One of the possible approaches could be the use of familiar navigation controls such as interactive buttons with arrows that trigger other interfaces or piece of information.

The focus here is to detach the users from the conventional idea of 2D interactions and leave them to become immersed in the fun and intuitive virtual environment with their own body.

Slava – Lead 3D Artist

This week I was working on further improvements to the appearance of the motorway we are constructing for Highways England, to help train Traffic Officers.

After adding new vegetation to the scene, it became obvious that the whole environment needs to be enlarged to add more perspective. I made the motorway longer in both direction and at the same time made the shape of the road more even, which also helped the traffic to move smoothly and realistically.

These small changes ensured a lot of time spent changing all the associated objects, such as guardrails, barriers, lampposts and road markings, that bring the user closer to reality in an immersive environment.

Stefano – 3D Artist

This week I’ve finished designing the green areas of the current ongoing motorway project. I chose to plant trees, bushes and props carefully one by one, to allow us full control of the optimisation and make it look right. Although time-consuming, it ensures no polygons are wasted and helps achieve a good balance between realism and high real-time performance.

I also created different characters in Fuse, a standalone 3D character creator, to explore it’s potential of reproducing the exact physiognomies we need for our project. I discovered the presence of blend shapes and other useful things could help us save time, and using the same source for everything, we can also maintain a degree of coherence.

However, in our drive for quality, we recognise the textures that Fuse creates are very poor, so would need some tweaks or at worst a complete reworking.  The exploration continues…

Then I began learning the pipeline from Adobe Fuse to Unity, passing through Mixamo and Maya, to add ‘traditional’ 3D animations by hand or through motion capture data.

Frustratingly, I also learned that our security software sometimes places Maya files into quarantine, which messes everything up – it also fails to notify me.

Travelling to-and-fro

I spent a lot of time travelling between various meetings with clients and prospective clients, as news of our capabilities reaches interested ears, or should that be eyes?

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the ethical concerns with regards to the principle of using Immersive Technology so began laying out my thoughts, thinking I would run out of steam after a few paragraphs. Many pages later, I decided to break it into manageable chunks, so expect soon, the first of my blogs considering whether the capability to do something necessarily means that we should.

Finally I also started reviewing job applications to fill the roles we’re recruiting for as growth of our services is accelerating, given the growing interest in our world of immersive solutions and the real-world problems we can tackle with them.