The CDE was granted £20 million by the EPSRC, the main British Research Council funding research in the engineering and physical sciences in the UK. Its raison-dé-être was - and is - to marry academic research from Bath and Bournemouth universities with the Creative Sectors need for innovation.
Computer games, VFX, computer animation, and digital film companies are driven by highly skilled researchers at the cutting edge of computer science. Crucially, the research must be implemented, used, and evaluated within industrial contexts. With world leading skills in Visual Computing, Animation, HCI and AI, the CDE has partnered with companies, small and large, across the UK.
By embedding doctoral level students in companies, we have collaborated to produce the tools needed to help industry step into the future, underpinned by the highest quality research.
Past successes range from detailed models of animated plasticine appearance to characters sword fighting in realistic ways. Right now we are working with industrial researchers in Ubisoft Reflections to help level developers identify how to make levels more fun, with Cubic Motion (Epic Games) to animate digital humans with more nuance, and with Ninja Theory to help games artists produce more beautiful, emotive environments.
These are just a few of our contributions to the Creative Economy. And we do not limit ourselves; on-going projects include working with medical research staff in the Royal United Hospital in Bath to help clinicians 'stand in the shoes' of those with dementia in order to improve patient outcomes.
Our Research Engineers (REs) spend their first year at either the University of Bath or Bournemouth University, developing their research interest followed by up to three years on an embedded placement within industry working on real R&D projects.
71% of CDE alumni continue to work in industry, a quarter of whom are working within games companies. Nearly a third of our graduates stay with their original host company. Others develop their research interests within academia, developing the next generation supporting a continuation of knowledge and transferrable skills for generations to come.
The CDE has funded over 100 Research Engineers (REs). During their doctoral training programme they gain exceptional industry experience. This experience dramatically improves their career options, as well as making a significant contribution to the pool of talent available to the creative sector. CDE REs also benefit from the workshops, showcases and hackathons organised in collaboration with our industrial partners. Our most recent event was a ResJam which brought students and immersive technology to the cardiac theatre of the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital.
Tom Dolby, Head of Simulations with CDE industrial partner AISolve and mentor at the ResJam : "Partnering with subject experts like the doctors was fantastic. Working with real ‘clients’ is such a vital part of getting industry experience. The majority of students I hire or otherwise work with lack this type of exposure."
The CDE welcomes enquiries about potential future collaboration.
This multi award winning creative video games studio, takes pride in their high production values. Ninja Theory constantly pushes the boundaries of technology to create the most exciting games experiences.
CDE is proud to have partnered with Ninja Theory since 2012, when Research Engineer (RE) Dhana Frerichs secured a three year industrial placement. Dhana’s research focused on Computer Graphics Simulation of Organic and Inorganic Optical and Morphological Appearance Changes. Creating realistic looking scenes is an important goal in computer graphics.
Dhana explains, “in the real-time games industry, one can observe an increasing trend towards realism. Despite this, ageing effects, such as rusting and rotting, are often neglected. This is particularly noticeable in the way corpses are depicted in game worlds, which show no signs of decay and tend to simply disappear from the world after a while. We concentrate on simulating some of these post mortem appearance changes”.
Due to the success of Dhana’s placement and subsequent EngD completion, Dr Frerichs now continues to work at Ninja Theory as a research engineer.
Dhana Frerichs: This figure is taken from the Su et al.  fracture simulation paper and is demonstrating their prescoring approach used to shatter objects.
The partnership between CDE and Ninja Theory continues to go from strength to strength, with three more research engineers having the pleasure of gaining their industrial knowledge and experience in the studio. Tom Smith is focusing his research on Procedural content generation for computer games.
Tom notes “Procedural content generation (PCG) is increasingly used in games to produce varied and interesting content. However PCG systems are becoming increasingly complex and tailored to specific game environments, making them difficult to reuse, and so we investigate ways to make the PCG code reusable and allow simpler, usable descriptions of the desired output.”
Javier Dehesa joined CDE in 2015, his research with Ninja Theory is more VR related, Modelling human-character interaction in VR, addressing the problem of reali-time human-character interaction in virtual reality proposing a general framework that interprets the intentions of the user in order to guide the animation of the character.
Javier Dehesa: Character Interaction in Virtual Reality
One of our more recent RE’s, Sameh Hussain, is working together with Ninja Theory to research the development of style transfer techniques that will take into account the contextual details with the ultimate aim of creating post-processing effects that can be used in the digital entertainment industry.
Ninja Theory's mission statement is "To Craft Life-changing Art with Game-changing Tech". People connect through shared emotions, for a person to connect with a game it must portray itself in an emotive manner. Sameh's research will help Ninja Theory craft emotive experiences within their games so they can have a greater impact on the lives of their fans.
All of the CDE RE’s work closely with their industrial supervisor, Andrew Vidler - Technical Director at Ninja Theory. As Andrew explains, the RE’s “are constantly challenging you to keep up with them and you have the opportunity to share their experiences as they investigate areas you would never have had time to research on your own”.
Not only does the industrial placement provide the RE with skills / knowledge and additional training, but it also proves to be mutually beneficial for the company and industry as a whole, increasing the talent pool within the UK, whilst providing the company with the opportunity to work on additional R&D in a cost effective way.
Ubisoft is a creator of worlds, committed to enriching player’s lives with original and memorable gaming experiences.
Ubisoft champion raising awareness through education about the STEM skills that will be required in industry in the future. They also focus on accelerating R&D results by collaborating with academia. The Ubisoft Reflections studio in Newcastle, currently plays host to two CDE RE’s.
Lewis Ball joined CDE in 2016 having successfully completed a BSc Physics and MSc Scientific Computing. His research on material based vehicle deformation and fracturing, compliments the work of Ubisoft Reflections, as they are an industry leader in creating vehicles & driving technology for video games.
As Lewis explains, “damage and deformation of vehicles in video games is essential for delivering an exciting and immersive experience to the player…..my research focuses on augmenting real-time physics simulations with data-driven methods. Data from offline high-quality, physically-based simulations are used to augment real-time simulations in order to allow them to adhere to physically correct material properties while also remaining fast and stable enough to use in production-quality video games”.
Lewis Ball: Material based vehicle deformation and fracturing
Azeem Khan also joined CDE in 2016. He also came from a physics background, successfully completing MSci Physics with Theoretical Physics. Azeem’s research focuses more on procedural gameplay flow using constraints. “This project involves using machine learning to identify what players find exciting or entertaining as they progress through a level”. Azeem also notes that “this will be used to procedurally generate an unlimited number of levels, tailored to a user’s playing style. Ultimately we are investigating if machine learning can help level designers by evaluating what they've created?"
Azeem Khan: Procedural Gameplay flow using constraints
Playfusion is one of our more recently developed partnerships. The company specialises in pioneering artificial intelligence and IoT technologies to power the future of mixed reality entertainment, education and commerce.
CDE Research Engineer (RE) Valentin Miu, was successfully awarded an EngD studentship with CDE in 2017, following the completion of his MSci Physics. His research interest lies in ‘Realtime Scene Understanding with Machine Learning on Low-Powered Devices’. Valentin is working with Playfusion combining machine learning and other methods to track the position and pose of a hair curler, with the purpose of developing an app to educate regular users in the usage of professional hairdressing equipment.
Valentin Miu: Realtime Scene Understanding with Machine Learning on Low-Powered Devices
NaturalMotion was established in 2001 building on research at Oxford University into controlling bipedal characters using neural networks and evolutionary methods. The company was initially focused on producing sophisticated animation tools for the video game and film industries. They began producing games in 2007 and formed a separate NaturalMotion Games division in 2010, developing ground breaking innovative social games to redefine mobile gaming.
Dr David Greer successfully defended his thesis ‘Physics-based character locomotion control with large simulation time steps’ following a fully rewarding placement with NaturalMotion. David explains that his industrial placement gave him the “opportunity to experience collaborative software development which may not have been experienced as much within a solely academic environment”.
David believes that having a research engineer as part of the industrial R&D team, strengthened the research culture at the company whilst they also benefit from the IP and software developed by the RE. Indeed in the early stages of the partnership with CDE, NaturalMotion confirmed that they shared the CDE vision of “taking on employees who will benefit the company, and work on industry timescales, while at the same time working towards a doctoral qualification”, bridging the gap between academia and industry, working together to create a highly skilled, knowledge sharing, workforce.
Cubic Motion is a world leader in real-time model-based computer vision and digital animation, and is renowned for achievements in performance-driven facial capture. With technology and processes developed by a large team of award-winning PhD scientists, animation specialists and producers, the company licenses products and series for real-time visual tracking and animation in video games, films and virtual and augmented reality.
Kyle Reed joined CDE in 2016, after completing the BSc (Hons) Computer Science. Cubic motion is a facial tracking and animation studio, most famous for their real-time live performance capture.
Kyle Reed: Improving Facial Performance Animation using Non-Linear Motion
Kyle's research ‘Improving Facial Performance Animation using Non-Linear Motion’ aims at improving the quality of facial motion capture and animation through the development of new methods for capture and animation. This compliments the much sought after skills of Cubic Motion, a company that works tirelessly to produce solutions to some of the most complex facial animation problems, using fast evolving facial technologies.
Thud Media is an award winning development studio making games, apps and experiences for various platforms. They specialise in Unity and have several game releases to their name. They pride themselves on developing standout interactive content and experiences and animated games.
When CDE Research Engineer (RE) Simone Barbieri, joined CDE in 2015, his research interests in 3D Content Creation Exploiting 2D Character Animation, were a natural fit with the animation R&D work of Thud Media. As Simone outlines “this research project investigates the automatic generation of 3D content by using existing 2D character animations”.
Simone Barbieri: 3D Content Creation Exploiting 2D Character Animation
Simone is currently focusing on combining traditional computer graphics techniques with virtual reality. Simone represented ThudMedia at Siggraph 2018, helping to raise the profile of both the company and the research.
Electronic Arts Inc. is a leading global interactive entertainment software company. EA delivers games, content and online services for Internet-connected consoles, personal computers, mobile phones and tablets.
Dr Mike Bassett highlights the benefits of the CDE EngD programme “the EngD-programme gives Electronic Arts a great opportunity to collaboratively pursue research topics with academia that can bring competitive advantage to our games. We are very happy to be part of this scheme to develop high calibre candidates for the future of the industry”. Mike notes that the ‘energy’ and ‘broader interests in research’ contributed by CDE RE’s has a positive impact on EA Games and boosts team motivation.
Dr Chris Lewin joined CDE in 2010 in our second round of recruitment and successfully defended his thesis ‘constraint based simulation of soft and rigid bodies’ in 2014. The success of Chris Lewin’s placement is evident in his continued work for EA Games as a Software Engineer for a further 5 years!
EA Games currently hosts CDE RE Ieva Kazlauskaite. Ieva’s research focuses on ‘Machine Learning for Character Animation and Motion Style Synthesis’. As Ieva explains “the project investigates the use of machine learning techniques to improve the interactive animation of game characters based on motion capture data”.
Ieva Kazlauskaite: Machine Learning for Character Animation and Motion Style Synthesis
The partnership between CDE and Sony began in 2013, when Research Engineer (RE) Rahul (Ray) Dey, already working with Sony, was successfully offered a place on the CDE EngD.
Ray Dey’s research focuses on using real time voxelization algorithms and procedurally creating content in voxel spaces. As Ray explains “this research intends to provide novel methods for real time voxelization and subsequently editing them using procedural generation techniques”. Ray originally came to CDE having already worked in industry; however this partnership has assisted with developing his academic profile. Ray has attended notable conferences including, International GI Dagstuhl, Siggraph Asia and Revision (2015), Ray has also published a paper in Entertainment Computing (2018) alongside his academic and industrial supervisors.
Since completing the placement element of the EngD, Ray has increased his industrial skills as a Senior C++ Engineer at Cortexica Vision Systems and has recently accepted a position with Jagex as a Senior Graphics Engineer. Ray continues to remain active within the academic field, as a visiting lecturer for MSc Computer Games Technology course at City, University of London.
Sony has been bringing incredible adventures into the homes of gamers worldwide since 1995. The key focus is to move people emotionally and ‘get closer to people’, through its continued and innovative R&D. This is reflected in the work of CDE RE Lazaros Michailidis.
Lazaros Michailidis - Uncovering the physiological correlates of flow experience in virtual reality games
Lazaros joined CDE in 2015 after successfully passing both CDE and Sony recruitment specifications. His research focuses on the physiological correlates of flow experience in virtual reality games. Detecting and predicting flow in either real-time or offline settings can facilitate our understanding of design and usability parameters that will allow for an engaging and enjoyable experience in digital media use.
“through this project, we aim to help experts create better and more engaging digital games that will benefit both sides: the player base and the industry” (Michailidis, L. 2019)
The final year of the EngD for Lazaros, has certainly been a busy one academically. With papers accepted at Euro VR (2018), Neuroadaptive Technology (NAT) Conference (2019) (where his work will also be published by Elsevier) and HCI International USA (2019).
Zoe Leonard, 19 May 2021Find out more
Becca Knight, 28 Apr 2021
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