Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Return To Dino Island

I thought it would be a good to record some new videos of our dinosaur work and let you understand the roadmap we are on toward the full release of Earthsim 2 next year.

The original dinosaur videos were of prototype technology work on our early planet technology. They also showed the testing we did with various animations systems and the herding behavioural systems of the dinosaurs. All this was done so that I could a) prove to myself that what I wanted to achieve in the final Earthsim 2 dinosaur world was actually possible b) come up with any new innovative ideas for how to present the sort of material you would see in a living Earthsim ecosystem.

I re-recorded some new dinosaur videos at higher resolution so you can watch them in HD.

Dinosaur Animation Systems

To really see some of the cool features of the animation technology watch the Acrocanthosaurus video below. Goto 2:50 and you can see him turning around and roaring near the end of the video.

The movements here are made out of complex composite animations spliced and blended together live in real-time. This animation system allows the creature to turn its body to many different angles while continuing to play the walk cycle animation (the walking and the turning are different artist authored animations), it can roar at many different angles too (see 3:30).

To finish this guy off we need to add blinking, eye movements to possible target prey, and the bite actions in all directions. This is now easy to add because the technology allows animators to layer as many composite blends together as they can come up with. So to bite in any direction we simply add three bites in 3 extreme directions and blend between them all to get any bite (its a form of destination IK system but its driven by authored animations), then this is blended onto all the other motion. This technology also for example allows for walking over bumpy surfaces.

We have not quite finalised the technology for four legged creatures (they are the hardest). Blending the Gastonia from a walking animation to a run still has some work left for us to do. If you look carefully at the herd from 2:40 you can see that the change of gait from walking to running can be noticed as a visual artefact. But its already not bad.

Once we finish the mechanics of animation blending for two and four legged creatures as described above, the animators will return to do another final pass on the source animations. This will take the quality of movement up to even higher level (looking at the live blended creature gives them lots of ideas for how they can improve the source segments of animation that they create to feed the tech). This will deliver the final movement for each creature we have in Earthsim 2.

Development Timeline

After the early dinosaur prototype work was done, we moved back onto completing the Earthsim 2 Universe browser that would let us zoom consistently, interactively and at high graphical quality from these dinosaurs to the nearby planets and stars.

The three remaining steps to finalise Earthsim 2 are:

1. Exoplanets
2. 600MY Paleo Timeline
3. Release Early Cretaceous Dino Earth

We will release each of these as a beta auto update as soon as it is complete. Here they are in a bit more detail:

1. Exoplanets: Climate Models and Procedural Planets

Complete our planetary climate model and procedural planet system. We will test this out putting it through its paces by delivering a number of planets from our near neighbours. Systems we are including are Epsilon Eridani and the Gliese 581 system, but as things are going well, we may be able to automate the whole process and cover all exoplanets discovered so far.

The climate model we are using is an extension of a simple heat transfer model, it includes greenhouse gas calculations as well as managing tidally locked planets (planets that always face the body they are rotating about). It can handle creating habitable zones at the borders of the day/night zone on a planet. Check out the 'higher dimensional models' section here. For more detail on tec spec you can goto the tec section of the Earthsim website where I will keep the spec for the system documented as it is finalised.

The temperatures calculated from the climate model feed into the procedural planet generator.

The procedural planet generator uses similar technology to the off-line rendering programs such as Terragen but it works in real time as you zoom into a planet.

Both the climate model and the procedural planet deserve their own posts, each contains a lot of great work. Once I get good videos of them done I will write them up.

2. 600MY Paleo Timeline

Once we have proven the planet generator on exoplanets we can set about completing the rework of the Earthsim 1 paleo timeline. We will use what we tuned for exoplanets to recreate the ancient Earth. As have a working climate model we can now use this for placing the appropriate vegetation.

3. Release: Early Cretaceous Dino Earth

Once the time-line is complete we start dropping dinosaurs onto the early Cretaceous planet. This is the 120 million year old slice of the time-line.


  1. Just curious, how far are you pushing the technology? When this Mesozoic ecosystem is completed, will the dinosaurs & creatures have complex behaviors along the line of pack-hunting, courtship & mating, migrations, laying eggs & having them hatch and grow?
    This is an incredible work you all are creating!

  2. Thanks for the comment. We are starting with a simple model of herbivore movement in herds. The herds will find food and water holes as well as having 'memories'. Using the memories they can do a sort of migration when food gets scarce. Predators will hunt them for food and again they will be in packs of a few from one to about ten. The first version of the ecosystem we call 'ecosym1' will not support creature growth and the longest time span for its life we are going for is one year (after which point it will repeat). Once we have really got ecosym1 going, we will move onto a more complex 'ecosym2' which does have growth and can 'live' over a longer time span and will include more behaviours as you describe. I'l post an article about ecosym1 in the coming months.

  3. Will the dinosaur ecosystem be available for free?
    If so, when?

  4. Another thing, the in-development pictures depict the Deinonychus without feathers. Will you be adding these to the animals? From what I've seen, this the only one of it's type; there are no other well made ecosystem simulations available on the web, and it looks extraordinary!