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This Virtual Reality Startup Wants to Make Characters Talk Back

Seattle-based virtual reality startup Limitless is building a new technology to bring responsiveness to animated characters in virtual worlds and experiences. Founded by former Pixar character lead Tom Sanocki, Limitless is looking to give virtual-reality content producers the tools to make their characters respond to their viewers.

“We fulfill the promise of real life in VR,” Sanocki told Variety during a recent interview. VR is already offering viewers an unprecedented sense of presence. But in many cases, the illusion of being there is destroyed by the fact that other characters seem oblivious to the viewer. Limitless aims to change that by responding to a number of feedback mechanisms, including voice, to make characters feel more real.

The company is getting ready to show off a first demo of its technology at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco next week, where fellow Pixar alum and Motional founder Mark Walsh will show off his VR short film “Gary the Gull,” which features a seagull overeager to make friends with a human on the beach.

In the piece, which was built with Limitless technology, Gary responds to both voice input and position — leaning forward gets the seagull to retreat. “My currency as an animator is characters,” Walsh told Variety, adding that he’d been missing character development and emotion in many existing VR experiences.

In addition to making characters more responsive, Limitless also wants to help developers to make it easier to integrate ready-made  characters into their own creations, taking away to reinvent the wheel for every new piece of content. This could be used in animated VR pieces like “Gary the Gull,” but Sanocki said that it could  also power other applications in VR.

Eventually, consumers will want to use a virtual assistant like Siri in VR, where it will have to behave like a human being, he argued. “We are gonna be using the interfaces that we have in real life, which is people.”

 

 

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