Tuesday, 27 July 2010

PhD thesis successfully defended at City University London

Today I successfully defended my PhD thesis which I submitted almost a couple of months ago at City University London. It is the culmination of a five year effort which started in October 2005 and this blog has been, to an extent, part of this endeavour. The thesis, titled "Evaluating Non-Photorealistic Rendering for 3D Urban Models in the Context of Mobile Navigation" (full abstract on a prior post) received a lot of positive comments from the examination panel as well as a no-corrections recommendation to the School.

Amongst other people, I'd like to thank my supervisor for her guidance plus also my family and various colleagues at both City and Bournemouth University (where I am currently employed as a lecturer) for their support. I see the considerable efforts I put in this PhD not as the end to a journey but more the firing pistol shot to, hopefully, a fully-realised research career!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Grand Theft Auto urban timelapse

City timelapses are a very effective and impressive piece of visual imagery, often used in movies to highlight urban or city locations. It's not often that I see city timelapses for 3D urban models however, particularly real-time ones, and one of the best ones I've ever come across is in the following video.

Created by Rockstar themselves, the company behind the Grand Theft Auto game series, the impressive vid displays timelapses of Liberty City at a variety of locations and is well worth checking out. Maybe this will spur more game companies to create in-engine timelapses of their own 3D city models?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Guest editor at the IJIW journal for a special issue on non-photorealism

Along with a colleague from Bournemouth University, I will be the guest editor for an upcoming special issue of the IBIMA International Journal of Interactive Worlds (IJIW), titled Non-Photorealistic Graphics in Games and Animation.

After many years of computer graphics research striving for results which cannot be distinguished from reality, there is now, in parallel, an increasing amount of work focusing not on the approximation of the real world, but on the simulated depiction of more traditional human artwork styles. These styles come with a variety of implications such communicative, emotive and perceptual processing aspects that these approaches can convey, via the inherent abstractive forms and stylization they are associated with.

The research field itself is called non-photorealistic rendering (or NPR in short) and can today be observed in a number of application areas, including real-time computer and video games plus also animated feature films. Contemporary hardware has made possible recent mainstream gaming titles such as Sega’s MadWorld (for Nintendo’s Wii) and Ubisoft’s Prince Of Persia (for a variety of platforms), employing comic-book/sketched and cel-shaded rendering styles respectively. Equally, Disney’s upcoming feature length film Tangled simulates oil-painting techniques. Titles such as these demonstrate that there is considerable interest from developers, film-makers and public alike to explore the possibilities for alternative graphical representations that modern NPR techniques, because of their flexibility in different stylizations, can offer in the area of computer entertainment.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

Evaluation methods for NPR algorithms and techniques
Interactivity studies for NPR in games
Algorithm design techniques and methodologies for real-time NPR
Expressive character animation and physics for games
GPU hardware acceleration for NPR
Composition, layout and visual balance for NPR games approaches
Real-time temporal and spatial coherence of non-photorealistic techniques
Simulation and style transfer of natural media human artistic styles to games and animation
Adaption of effects such as motion blur, lighting and depth of field
State-of-the-art, survey and position papers on the approaches of non-photorealism in games and animation

Only original research papers will be considered. Authors should limit initial submissions to no more than 30 double-spaced pages in 12-point font with appropriate margins, inclusive of all materials (i.e., references, figures, tables and appendices).

A double-blind review will be conducted and papers will be returned to the authors, with explanatory notes for further action. Submissions will be screened to ensure coherence with the theme of the special volume.

Submissions will be accepted for this theme throughout year 2010.

More information about the journal and the special issue itself can be found at http://www.ibimapublishing.com/journals/CFP/ijiw2.html.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Arc GIS and CityEngine interoperability

I have used Arc GIS in the past to generate 3D urban areas from GIS .shp data and while the cartographic strengths of this leading package were apparent, it left a lot to be desired in terms of 3D modelling and manipulation, particularly when compared to a specialist package like 3D Studio Max.

An interesting new development however sees Procedural (the CityEngine developer), ESRI (the Arc GIS developer) and NVIDIA teaming upto set up a pipeline for the creation, analysis and visualization of 3D cities from 2D Arc GIS data. The video above demonstrates CityEngine usage for a model of the city of Rotterdam. This is a fairly important piece of news for researchers recreating 3D virtual cities from accurate geographical data, as the potential of putting together a pipeline with the leading packages in the field could be incredible.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Tobii eye-tracking glasses

An exciting new piece of equipment is are Tobii eye-tracking glasses which enable accurate, low-cost, mobile eye tracking studies in environments such as, for example, real-world shopping. Using these researchers can measure actual consumer responses during, say, a shopping run.

Focus can now be places on points of purchase where decisions are made. This of course is accompanied with the appropriate software for analysing this data and presenting it to audiences, academic or otherwise.

While I do not conduct research in shopping behaviour, it would be fascinating to see this equipment used in navigational experiments to collect information on decision-making. Moreover, new devices such as the iPad could also be eye-tracked using the Mobii glasses which creates further possibilities. Evidence of this exist on YouTube (see video above) plus also for other "mobile" conditions such as driving etc.


Sunday, 11 July 2010

Elsevier Computers And Graphics Special Issue in Non-Photorealistic Rendering

A special issue for the Elsevier journal Computers And Graphics with a deadline of the 16th of August brings together extended versions of research papers accepted to the ACM 8th Symposium on Non-Photorealistic Animation and Rendering (NPAR), held between the 7th and 10th June 2010 in Annecy, France. NPAR researchers develop expressive rendering and visualization techniques to enhance aesthetics or visually communicate ideas and information.

Topics include:

• Style and colour transfer
• Novel vector graphics constructs
• Abstraction and Stylization of images and video
• Media simulation
• Interactive brush and canvas models
• Stippling and sampling
• Painterly rendering

While unfortunately this call is open only to authors of accepted research papers at NPAR 2010, it should still be of great interest to all researchers in the area when published in early spring 2011.


iPad and gaming survey

While I am still pondering on whether I should acquire an iPad in September, a recent survey of iPad owners, as conducted by Resolve Market Research (and found in full here) appears to suggest that the device is emerging as a force to be reckoned with in handheld gaming. Appartently a reported 28% of the survey participants claim that one of their main uses for the iPad is gaming. Additionally, 23% preferred, between the iPad, smartphones and portable gaming devices, the former as the "the most enjoyable for playing games."

Most important however is the answer to the question regarding what mobile device respondents had no interest in purchasing after purchasing an iPad. A very impressive 38% percent answered portable gaming device. The survey is definitely worth a read as despite some iffy initial reviews, the iPad appears to be taking off in many entertainment-related application areas.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

CityEngine used for Toyota Prius ad

While not a very big fan of the car itself, it is very impressive to watch a recent ad of Toyota Prius as the 3D urban models in it have been created with CityEngine, the popular urban modelling application (with a bit of side help from Autodesk's Softimage XSI too).

What's more, the urban model is rendered in a semi-stylised form rather than a photorealistic one which makes this ad all the more interesting if you're into non-photorealistically rendered graphics. Created by a production company called Capture MM, the street network of the city was the first part of the model to be created. Placed in the center of this, a part of the street network formed the slogan of the clip (watch the end of the video clip above to see this). All of streets seen were created using CityEngine, in that way defining the building blocks for the buildings and subsequent 3D geometry.

Using Google Earth to emulate Iron Man

Did you fancy emulating Iron Man flying through the skies after watching the recent Marvel movie at the cinema? Well, while a full-blown emulation would probably require a hefty sum of funds there is an alternative. People at the recent 2010 Kinnernet camp (check it out here) presented a very nifty Iron Man flying simulator with Google Earth as the basis of it.

The components included a small crane, a hang glider harness, UAV wings, a large propeller, Virtual Reality goggles, a FPV Ground Station, a WiiMote, a GlovePIE, the Google Earth Flight Simulator and of course a participant. It should be noted that the Wii Remote was used to control the Google Earth Flight Simulator, which of course was being shown to subject via the VR goggles. As you can see from the video above the emulation is very impressive indeed and with Google Earth at the heart of it it can provide for a fairly realistic experience.


Outsourcing a Google Earth 3D model?

If you want to get your business building or even home residence in 3D on Google Earth there are currently a number of options. Obviously one is using SketchUp yourself (too complex for some people), doing it in a more image-based modelling way (Building Maker, the quality can suffer however compared to the SketchUp approach) or using a third-party company such as CyberCity3D or Concept 3D. The last option at the moment is good value for money if you want to spend a few hundred US dollars on it.

What happens however if you want a more budget option for this? A new company called Estate3D offers a service of 3D-modelling in KMZ file format (and also submitting to Google) the building of your choice for only $99. They do have some guidelines such as the fact that it needs to be a single building which comprises of of 50 faces or less and of course you have to take the photos of the facades yourself. Check them out here, the picture above is representative of their work.

IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence in Games special issue

Jim Whitehead, Julian Togelius and Rafael Bidarra have created a special issue for the journal IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence in Games (IEEE TCIAIG). Deadline for submissions is November 1, with publication aimed for June, 2011.

The issue focuses on procedural content generation for games with topics including but not limited to:

•Procedural game level, scenario and quest generation
•In-game procedural creation of game objects
•Procedural creation of urban and natural environments
•Automatic layout techniques and generation of interiors
•Procedurally-assisted generation of art assets
•Adaptive game balancing and dynamic content generation
•Automatic generation of game rules and game variants
•Deployment of procedural generation within game design
•Case studies of industrial application of procedural generation
•Systematic evaluation of procedural content generation
•Combining manual editing with procedural generation of content

Well worth considering or checking out for people with interest in the field at http://www.ieee-cis.org/pubs/tciaig/

New statistics on iPhone's gaming popularity

According to a recent SmartPhone Intelligence survey from Compete, a Kantar Media company, a very impressive 51% of iPhone owners have five or more games installed on their device or devices. This statistic is a great example of the popularity of gaming on Apple's device, particularly when coupled with a reported 37% user base stating that they play games at least every day.

The most popular genre in the research is reported to be the puzzle genre, an interesting finding, which perhaps corroborates the recent re-release of many classic point and click adventure gaming titles on the device. Nonetheless, it is evident that gaming is a hugely strong driving force on the Apple platform and when contrasted to a statistic of 46% of BlackBerry owners having no games whatsoever on their device, it becomes obvious how far more preferable the iPhone has become for gaming use.

For more info on the survey visit Compete's website here.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Iconic shooter coming to the iPhone

EA Mobile is set to bring classic 2D shoot 'em up R-Type to the iPhone, a game that remains one of my personal favourites from the now neglected genre. While no date or price has been mentioned for the title's release as of yet, it should be on iTunes within the next weeks according to rumours.

According to EA, the title will be very true to the iconic original but will also offer tilt, touch and virtual d-pad control options along with several difficulty options. Looking forward to it! Maybe at some point we'll see even more classic shoot 'em ups converted for the iPhone platform, such as for example my all-time personal favourite Xenon II (which I am playing again for the first time in many years on my MegaDrive console)!

House price AR app

Picking up from where the last blog post left off and on some more Layar news, a couple of new AR apps of interest to prospective property buyers are the 'Sold House Price Data 2010' and 'Average Sold Price Data 2010' property information services AR apps.

Using these two applications users can see actual sold property price data overlaid on a street scene, all viewed through the camera of their mobile phone. Additionally, users can also switch to a Google Map view to access 'Take Me There' directions or even use a feature called 'List View' for easier overview of multiple properties. On top of this, filtering can be applied on a search radius up to 5km and include property types (such as detached, semi-detached, terraced, flats etc.).

The second app is free while there is a cost incurred for the first one as it provides data for individual properties rather than averages. Another great example of how mobile AR is being put to good use.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Rolling Stones' Layar marketing campaign

The very popular mobile augmented reality app Layar (for which I have blogged before several times) has got its possibly most high-profile layer yet, a marketing campaign for the classic Exile on Main Street album by the Rolling Stones, which has just been re-released.

Using the Layar mobile app users can get the aptly named 'Exile on Your Street' layer for free and then use it to place virtual posters promoting the classic album on existing, real-world locations. In addition to this, messages and music clips from the album can also be attached.

Quite an imaginative way to promote an album or band using a mobile device! It should be also noted that Exile on Your Street is just one of more than 1,000 layers currently on Layar. In fact, recently the company announced it now has a very impressive active user base of more than 716,000 people plus an even more impressive 4,000 developers generating content. Layar seems to be forging ahead and exploring opportunities such as the Stones one via AR will open doors for greater things. Could Layar really be the app that will bring mobile AR to the masses?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Crytek keynote presentation on the future of game graphics

I've just come across a very interesting keynote presentation from two Crytek people on the future of gaming graphics. This took place at the recent High Performance Graphics 2010 conference at Saarbrucken, Germany a few days ago. The focus on this was for the Crytek experts to share their ten-year expertise of making a generalized and balanced real-time rendering pipeline on consoles. Different algorithms for image synthesis are also discussed as well as different architectures for different workloads. The problems of the current rendering pipeline and the current generation of consoles is also another featured topic, as is new possible applications for real-time graphics such as movie industry and server-side rendering.

Of particular interest to me where the perception-driven graphics concepts described in the presentation which I have yet to see discussed in a photorealistic context (there are efforts of "driving" non-photorealistic graphics from human data already).

The full Powerpoint presentation can be downloaded from here and makes for very exciting reading.

New version of CityEngine

A couple of weeks back a new version of the popular CityEngine urban modelling tool was released, called CityEngine 2010. I have blogged about this excellent piece of software many times, the new features in the 2010 version are;

-Dynamic City Layouts
-Advanced Block Subdivision
-Node-based Rule Editing
-Facade Wizard
-Rule-based Asset Search and Instancing
-Improved Data Interoperability
-New Resources
(tutorials etc.)

Well worth checking out if you're into 3D urban modelling, particularly as a trial/student/academia version, as the software package comes with very sensible pricing options.


Torchlight going MMO

I've blogged before about the excellent Torchlight game by Runic Games which has been set up by the ex-Diablo creators and closely resembles in feel the Blizzard game. There are now plans to turn this single-player game to a grander-scale MMO. Runic boss Travis Baldree confirmed that the game's creators are out to make "an MMO that plays as close to single player as we can get it".

"It will have the same focus on relatively fast action: carving your way through hordes of monsters with a large number of hugely devastating skills." Baldree also stated that"We don't want our monetisation stuff to offer ways to skip the game because the game is boring", an interesting point inferring to not being able to unlock the game by paying. Lookign forward to this as Diablo is much missed (with the third installment of the game still far away in the horizon) and an MMO version of Torchlight could indeed fill this position very nicely.

South African World Cup stadiums modelled in 3D

As with everybody else, I am enjoying watching the World Cup games at the moment. It's interesting to point out that Google has created 3D models of all ten stadiums and nine cities hosting the event in South Africa.

This includes, via Google Earth, the Green Point Stadium, the Moses Mabhida Stadium the Soccer City Stadium and many others and are well worth checking out as virtual flythroughts/walkthroughs, surrounded by their corresponding urban areas.