The world’s first virtual stuntmen, born out of an Oxford University zoologist’s research into human motion, will make their debut next year in the film “Troy,” according to a press release issued this week by the university.

Special effects experts believe the software behind the stuntmen, called endorphin, could revolutionize filmmaking and video and computer games. Endorphin’s virtual actors learn how to move and react independently, unlike most computerized characters now that depend on fixed databases containing animated clips.

Torsten Reil, who developed the program at Oxford and is now CEO of NaturalMotion, explained that endorphin’s technology relies upon models of the human brain, body and nervous system. The virtual stuntmen learn how to move and react using neural networks and artificial evolution, which is like an extended form of artificial intelligence whereby characters build their knowledge base over time.

Muscle models within each character duplicate properties found in actual human muscles, such as the muscle stretch reflex. The process behind the artificial stuntmen’s ability to move and think, called active character technology, is controlled by an artificial intelligence simulation of the human nervous system.

Reil said information programmed into the AI nervous system, like center of mass and muscle data, send various impulses to the body’s muscles in order to achieve a given movement, such as maintaining balance or jumping. Because the characters react on their own once programmed, Reil believes they will add a live interactive component to video games that has never been seen before.

“Instead of playing back pre-produced animations, which is currently the case, characters in games would react to the user and the environment in real time. For example, every tackle in a football game would look different,” Reil told Discovery News. “This will dramatically increase the realism and immersiveness of games.”

Virtual stuntmen in films will reduce production time and costs, according to Reil.

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