Ninja Theory’s New Senua Studio Offers Real-Time Performance Capture For VR And More

by Jamie Feltham • September 5th, 2016

Back at SIGGRAPH in July, we told you about some amazing real-time performance capture software that could mean big things for VR. Now the company behind the tech is offering its services to others.

This month, Hellblade developer, Ninja Theory, announced a brand new division named Senua Studio, which is open for business in Cambridge, UK. Rather than making more games, this new division will offer a range of services to clients, including live capture of performances that are instantly rendered into a digital world with impressive accuracy and detail. This allows for studios to massively reduce the time it takes to assemble CG scenes, while also opening the door for live interactions with digital characters and other possibilities.

This work can also be used with VR. Speaking with Upload, Ninja Theory Co-Founder, Tameem Antoniades, explained that this tech would allow it to create “realistic digital character-led experiences” for interactive VR experiences as well as other media. He gave an example of a live VR experience in which a musician could be performing on-stage, also transmitting that experience to VR and allowing you to explore the stage in real-time. That data is captured too, so you would be able to rewatch these scenes from any angle.

His second example is also pretty intriguing; imagine a theme park attraction where you put on a headset and interact with a digital performer as part of a ride. It could mean the end of pre-recorded video which people can’t interact with.

When I asked Antoniades if the new studio currently had any VR projects in the mix, he stated that it was mostly internal but the group was certainly interested in creating these types of projects for clients. “VR is incredibly exciting to Ninja Theory and like almost everyone out there, we are tinkering away in the background,” he said.

Senua’s tech allows for accurate replication of facial expressions too, which was previously suggested could be very important to the future of social VR. I asked Antoniades if this was an area that the studio was looking into. He said it would take time for the tech to reach a point of affordability, but that it “can be done in the future”.

“For example, it should be possible to infer realistic body motion from head position and gestures,” the developer said. “It should also be possible to infer believable facial expressions from speech. And there are examples of lo-fi facial capture systems using phone cameras. Once these techniques cook for a little longer, and with additional targeted R&D, amazing things will no doubt be possible in this space for social experiences, games and more.”

In other words, this is all a glimpse of a potential future for social VR. Senua Studio has impressive tech that it can bring to professional clients right now, but it’ll be a long time before it could become consumer-grade. It’s going to be very interesting to see if other developers seek out Senua for VR experiences.

Antoniades also pointed to Ninja Theory’s recent work putting a scene from its upcoming action game, Hellblade, into VR. He wouldn’t confirm if the studio was working either on full VR support for that game or another, however. For now, we can hope.

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