I first encountered Anything World at the Game Developers Conference in March, and had never seen anything like it. With the company’s software hooked up to the Unity game engine, I could tell it what I wanted to see and it would do its best to make it happen. I told him to make me a donkey, and a donkey appeared on the screen and started trotting.
My donkey trotted a little more like a horse than a donkey, but this small detail did not prevent the software from making an impression. The animations had been created on the fly: Anything World’s software algorithmically decided where the creature’s bones should go and how it should behave. I later saw a similar demo from Meta (opens in a new tab) it wasn’t as good: Mark Zuckerberg spoke and made still clouds appear, whereas Anything World’s software makes dolphins swim like dolphins, which is much cooler.
Earlier this week, Anything World launched its machine learning-based animation software to the public, with a free tier for educational and personal use. (opens in a new tab). The company also announced that Unreal Engine support is coming in December — it currently offers the Unity integration I’ve seen — and it just raised $7.5 million in new funding.
On Tuesday, I spoke to Anything World CEO Gordon Midwood about what gamers can expect from the software in the future. One obvious use for on-the-fly algorithmic animation is to simply put it in the hands of gamers, allowing them to grab 3D models from a giant library – the company uses sources like Google Sketchfab for free models – immerse them in a world, and see them come alive in a natural way. (Or, at least, as naturally as the system can make it. The first time they gave it a pineapple, the software knocked it over and made it quiver on its leaves like a spider. improved since.)
Anything World software is also promoted as a professional game development tool. Ubisoft already uses it for prototyping, and Midwood says it’s also useful for quickly rigging 3D models (defining their bones and joints) and generating animations that can then be edited by hand.
The just-released version of Anything World can rig and animate vehicles and quadrupeds, but Midwood says the company will soon start adding new categories: humans and other bipeds, swimmers, insects, and more. Another existing tool that automates rigging for human characters is Mixamo. (opens in a new tab), and Midwood wants Anything World to be competing in this area by the middle of next year. Also next year, he says the company will introduce a download tool that will allow users to run their own 3D models through the automated rigging and animation algorithm, not just those from Anything’s database. World.
Creating clumsy donkeys seems very benign (kinda reminds me of that old Nintendo DS game, Scribblenauts (opens in a new tab)), and that cuteness perhaps belies Anything World’s place among some of the most controversial trends in gaming and tech right now. Some of the company’s recent investment comes from blockchain and “metaverse” interests: companies that believe this type of easy-to-use 3D world-building tool will be important for virtual worlds of the future. The tool is also being developed alongside AI image-generating tools like Dall-E, which have been called unethical by some reviewers (see Kotaku in August, for example). Dubbing AI is another challenging area of machine learning research going on right now.
When it comes to its use of machine learning, Midwood doesn’t expect Anything World to be lumped in with image generators, mostly because animation automation in games isn’t as new than AI illustration. It’s already normal for game animation to be created with code, mixing poses algorithmically and using physics to create behaviors. In a GDC 2017 conference (opens in a new tab)for example, indie developer David Rosen explained how he used algorithmic animation in Overgrowth.
“Companies like Ubisoft, Activision use AI to generate some of the animation for their main characters, their human characters, and then they polish that by hand,” Midwood said. “So this combination of AI and human power, I think, is good. I don’t think people are going to be replaced. I think it lowers the barrier [to creating 3D worlds].”
Another reason Midwood thinks Anything World will be well received as game development middleware is that model rigging isn’t the average 3D animator’s favorite part of the job, it’s the boring part. And regarding the controversies surrounding the “metaverse,” Midwood says the company “sees potential for web3 in games,” but has no plans to start creating NFTs itself.
“We’re not in the business of speculation, or NFT generation, or commerce, or pay-to-play, or anything else,” Midwood said, “but we do not really discriminating, so if you want to do that stuff with [our software] you can.”
In addition to supporting other developers as middleware, Anything World wants to use its software for its own consumer products, including a Twitch extension. If you ask me, Microsoft should commission the company to make a new version of 3D Movie Maker, except it has to be just as weird as the original in some way.