BBC developing a visuals engine for storylines

Interesting developments in automatic storyline visualisations. The experimental Mythology Engine was…

“a [BBC] prototype exploring new ways of telling stories on the web. It began as an experiment to bring storylines from Doctor Who to the web. Rather than create a basic page for each episode and character in Doctor Who, the Engine allow[ed] the storyline to be described using an ontology. This storyline can then be presented either in a linear way, mapped to the traditional TV structure of episodes and series, or [extracted] to let you examine a single story arc within a complex narrative, for example. This is particularly interesting when considering the time-travelling escapades of the Doctor. His stories can be viewed at in linear time, or as they are presented in an episode, for example. […] The team demonstrated this as a proof-of-concept by modelling some EastEnders stories and loading them into the Engine with a different visual treatment. There are many remaining challenges: how do you present cliff-hangers or uncompleted storylines without giving away the ending before broadcast, for example? Our colleague, Paul Rissen, investigated this in a follow up project called StoryBox [“which was essentially the next iteration of the Mythology Engine”, says Rissen].

Although someone must be pretty dumb not to be able to follow the plot of Doctor Who — and isn’t one of the pleasures of Doctor Who working out all those extra little fan-bits of who-what-where backstory, afterwards? But as a generative comic-strip software, it sounds interesting.

Another such early automatic story visualisation engine is StoryVisualizer from France.

3DXchange 5.4

Reallusion has announced the nearly-ready 3DXchange 5.4, which will include rigging for facial animation with lip-sync — and also support for animatable DAZ face morphs(!). Sounds fab, and although it’s still “in the testing phase” it should be available in the first quarter of 2013…

“With this new release, not only will we support facial bone animation from any head rig, but we will also support morph-based facial animations made in DAZ, ZBrush and other 3D sculpting tools. In addition, you will be able to create sophisticated morph + bone rig animations with great results.”

It’s my understanding that this was always going to be a free upgrade for existing 3DXchange 5 users?

Also, accompanying the announcement are previews of some fabulous looking new characters, from what seems to be a forthcoming “Big Game Hunter” set…



The Boy Who Shuddered, from the Brothers Grimm – free audio book

My 22 minute reading of the short tale “The Boy Who Shuddered” (aka “The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear”), from the famous 1812 book of folk tales transcribed by the Brothers Grimm. My abridged and adapted audio book version is now on, under a Creative Commons licence. Feel free to use for animation etc. The downloadable MP3 has none of the slight crackle that the audio in’s Flash preview player has.

Elite: Safe

I must say that I’ve rather gone off videogames in the last 12 months, other than the occasional bout of UT2004 and theHunter. A couple of games I might have wanted to play in 2012 were delayed (X: Rebirth, Grim Dawn). Perhaps it was the behemoth Skyrim which spoiled my taste for lesser games in 2012. I’ve tried a number of new titles, but I couldn’t even get into Risen 2 having been a rave fan of the excellent first Risen on the PC. And looking through the 2013 release schedule this week, nothing really grabs me.

But now… there’s awesome news for PC gaming, and something to very much look forward to in 2014. There’s going to be a modern Windows 7 version of Elite. Yup, with just 45 hours to go, the Kickstarter campaign for a remake of the famous Elite space-trading videogame has reached its crowd-funding target. The well-known British game designer David Braben has raised a whopping £1,277,927 (about $2m). He and his Cambridge based development team will now create a modern Windows version of Elite (effectively, the fabled Elite 4). Elite: Dangerous will be faithful to the original game, and be made free of the publisher interference and demands which crippled previous versions of Elite such as Elite: Frontier. Sadly, planetary landings are something that will be added only after release of the new version — but hopefully players of the first release will at least get seamless planetfall from orbit, even if they won’t be able to do more than skim the surface.

This fundraising success is also an early vindication of the choice to launch Kickstarter to the UK, which I understand was quietly helped along by top-level interest from the British government.


There should a deal of opportunities for iClone Elite fan machinima, too, to tell the back-stories in the run-up to release and beyond. If you have £4,500, there are even two Kickstarter slots left to write and publish a royalties-free novel set in the Elite universe.

iClone 4 Pro for free

The UK’s 3D World magazine has a free download and licence for iClone 4 Pro, with its latest issue (Feb 2013), plus a tutorial pitching it as a pre-vis tool…



As usual, their picture-editor seems to have chosen the most unimpressive shots possible to illustrate the software.

Favorite movies of 2012

My favorite animated features of 2012…

1. Rise of the Guardians (Disney)

2. Frankenweenie (Tim Burton/Disney)

3. Secret World of Arrietty (British dub) (Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli)

4. From Up on Poppy Hill (Miyazaki Jr./Studio Ghibli)

5. Zambezia (Triggerfish)

6. The Pirates! (Aardman)

7. Brave (Disney)

2012 genre movies I’d watch again…

1. Cloud Atlas (You’ll probably be confused as hell the first time, but keep at it. Ideally three viewings are needed to even start to ‘get’ it).

2. Skyfall.

3. Prometheus (But you need the extended ‘fan edit’, and ideally two viewings, to ‘get’ it)

4. The Avengers (But it works best after you’ve seen the super-extended chronological ‘fan edit’ of all the Marvel movies that led up to it).

5. Solomon Kane (Choppy in several places – director’s cut or fan-edit needed with new voiceover links – but deliciously and darkly faithful to R.E. Howard’s fiction)

6. Expendables 2 (2012’s best dose of Politically Incorrect Big Dumb Exploding Fun)

Honorable mentions: Looper; Paranorman; Tad, the Lost Explorer. Enjoyed ’em, wouldn’t watch them again.

Can’t even remember now: Amazing Spiderman; Dark Knight Rises; Total Recall; Battleship.

Genre movies not yet seen: Dredd; The Hobbit; Moonrise Kingdom; Atlas Shrugged 2; Life of Pi.

Survey of animated and FX-heavy movies due for 2013

So what cool and worth-mentioning movies do we have to look forward to in 2013? Movies that are either animated or FX-heavy fantasy/sci-fi?

February 2013: The Croods. Fun caveman comedy animation, originally an Aardman project but now in 3D from Dreamworks. Sounds like just what you need to liven up a dull February.

The Croods - Image 2

March 2013: Jack the Giant Slayer. Fairytale filmed on location in England which, together with a strong cast, sounds encouraging. But it’s been delayed a couple of times, and trawling the screenshots suddenly discourages much hope for it.


March 2013: Oz the Great and Powerful. $200m prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Has “worthy” and “over-stuffed” written all over it.


April 2013: Oblivion. Sadly not a movie of the famous Bethesda videogame. The bare sci-fi plot sounds like cliched “last-man-on-Earth” stuff, with a dose of demographics-friendly “last-girl-on-Earth” romance. But it’s also apparently based on an acclaimed sci-fi graphic novel, and it’s by the Tron: Legacy director — so there’s some hope for it.

Oblivion movie HD Wallpaper

May 2013: Star Trek: Into Darkness, aka Star Trek 12. I loved the original Shatner-era movies, and enjoyed the Picard-era Trek movies. But the recent teen-friendly reboot hasn’t lingered in my memory at all. Still, it’s sort-of Kirk-era Star Trek so I’m looking forward to it.


May 2013: Epic. Whimsical animated magical-forest adventure by the makers of the abysmal Rio. A preview image of the heroine riding on a humming bird, going to meet some cute mice, suggests the target audience will be 10 year old girls. Well good for them, they deserve a big-budget movie made just for girls (that isn’t Tinker Bell).


July 2013: Pacific Rim. Give Guillermo del Toro $200m worth of Transformers-like giant robots and giant monsters to play with, and the result is highly likely to be at least a little fun. For boys of all ages.


Summer 2013?: Gravity. George Clooney vehicle, a realistic near-future space disaster drama, in the Apollo 13 human drama tradition.


August 2013: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Dark fantasy creatures invade the real world. Based on a mother-daughter “young adult” novel. Doesn’t sound very promising.


September 2013: Riddick, aka Riddick 3. Third in the sort-of series. The first two movies were OK, as gory b-grade low-budget sci-fi movies go. But Riddick is a very interesting character, so it might be an enjoyable lads’ movie.


October 2013: The Seventh Son. Sounds like a standard-issue ‘young adult’ dark fantasy, intended for young teen males.


November 2013: Ender’s Game. Major sci-fi movie based on the famous novel, which it’s a fair certainty the scriptwriters will have gutted and re-shaped beyond recognition. Concept art by Darien E. Robbins…


November 2013: Thor: the Dark World. The first Thor was pretty well constructed and was mildly enjoyable, so… who knows?


November 2013: Singularity. Roland Emmerich’s (2012) disaster-movie(?) about nano-technology. Probably Emmerich’s usual highly enjoyable “no brain required” stuff, given the nature of his previous movies. Let’s hope he moves on to start Asimov’s Foundation trilogy after this, at last, along with a scriptwriter who can infuse them with Asimov’s intelligence.


Undated 2013: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo. Disney tells Nemo’s back-story. Cancelled in 2009, but now it’s said to be back, with the director of the superb The Social Network at the helm. So there’s hope.


Undated 2013: Imaginary Enemies. Interesting concept, and a live-action/animation mix. Young children’s ‘imaginary friends’ come back in the future to wreak havok, in the grown-up world.


Late 2013? The Europa Report. Apparently a serious low-budget sci-fi about the exploration of Europa, Jupiter’s frozen (but quite possibly life-bearing) moon.


December 2013: Beyond Apollo. The tagline “director of Cloverfield” turned me off immediately, since I found that movie unwatchable.


December 2013: Frozen. Disney’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. There’s singing in it. Now I’m all for a good old-fashioned 1950s song and dance movie, but I suspect this won’t be it.


December 2013: The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug. The theatrical release of the first movie had mostly tepid or hostile reviews, so we can only hope that the trilogy takes a leap with the second installment. No doubt everything will smooth out once we finally get the trilogy in full as an extended-cut DVD set.


And over in the “Big Dumb Hollywood” dept.: Iron Man 3 (it can’t be worse than the tedious Iron Man 2); Man of Steel (a Superman reboot); After Earth (yet another post-apocalyptic gloom-fest, yawn); World War Z (more post-apocalyptic gloom-fest, this time with zombies for added boredom, snooze…); Monsters University (sequel); Despicable Me 2 (sequel to an inventive but forgettable movie); The Smurfs 2 (sequel); Yogi Bear 2 (sequel); Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (sequel); Turbo (Cars rip-off, but with racing snails…); Elysium (politically-correct “evil sci-fi megacorp” Jodie Foster vehicle); Mighty Mouse (desperate reboot of an old character); Lone Ranger (desperate reboot of an old character); Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (sequel to a very poorly reviewed first film. Why bother?).

Also vague rumours about movie adaptations of the classic SF novels Rendezvous with Rama, Neuromancer, Snow Crash. The latter would be especially awesome, if they get it right.