Develop speaks to NaturalMotion about the ongoing evolution of its animation tool

Morpheme: The next step

Following on from the release of its latest animation solution in Morpheme 3, we speak to NaturalMotion’s CEO and CTO on what the ongoing evolution of its tool will mean for animators working in the field.

What is it about your approach that defines the improvements to this latest version of Morpheme?

Torsten Reil, CEO: Our approach for Morpheme has always been to simplify and streamline the workflow for animators using it. For Morpheme 3 we made many improvements based on feedback from our customers’ use of the software in production.

I think people will see straight away that there has been a clear focus on cutting out any unnecessary processes so that animators can concentrate on the creative element of their craft.

Simon Mack, CTO: We also wanted to better account for the variety of people using Morpheme in their day-to-day production work. As a core element of a game engine, Morpheme Runtime is used and extended by programmers who have always had to use Visual Studio as their debugging and analysis environment.

With Morpheme 3, we’ve developed a range of tools specifically designed to give programmers the best insight into animation runtime directly from the Morpheme Connect editor.

What is the significance of the new previewing and prototyping functionality?
Morpheme has always had an on-target preview system that allows you to view exactly in the app what you will see in the runtime. With Morpheme 3 we’ve made it even easier again to attach Morpheme Connect directly to the game and make use of the debugging features whilst viewing your animation network’s results as it is running live inside your game engine.

This gives you a greater visibility into how everything is holding together from an art, environment and gameplay perspective. This is a great example of how Morpheme 3 is beneficial to the whole development team.

Of course, you also want to be able to test as much as possible of your animation system without the complexity of the rest of the game engine around it.

To address that issue, in Morpheme 3 it’s now possible to preview and prototype the interactions between multiple characters directly in the authoring environment.

And what does the new asset management system mean for Morpheme 3 users?
Our development of the asset management system was driven by customer experience. We understand that studios organise their animation data in many ways. Whether they sort by type or character, our new system imposes no restrictions or requirements on their organisation and also allows people to rapidly locate and preview their animations.

What other features stand out as highlights of Morpheme 3?
We’re especially pleased with our runtime debugging. This feature enables you to see, frame by frame, what exactly is being executed in the runtime. It helps programmers – when they are customising the system and creating their own nodes and extensions – to see just how they are affecting the operation of the system and how data flows through the animation network.

It’s going to prove especially useful in the final stages of optimisation when trying to squeeze that last bit of performance out of the hardware. In addition, debugging sessions can be saved and reloaded even without a connection to the game, helping teams work together to review issues with networks simply and efficiently.

We’ve also made changes to the state machines and rules of node connections. This is one of those cases where something hugely important isn’t necessarily something you want to shout about as a ‘key feature’, but it will certainly dramatically improve the user experience.

Animators will be able to create networks that are much simpler in structure than before, but provide the same high quality effects. This provides a huge boost to productivity and clarity.

What inspired the move to make Morpheme more customisable?
Mack: Morpheme has always been customisable and that is a core driver behind the design of the product. Our policy is to supply source code for the runtime so clients can build custom nodes to implement special blending techniques or IK algorithms, for example.

For Morpheme 3 we made this process more accessible with the addition of the Node Wizard, which auto-generates much of the code required and allows programmers to focus on solving their particular problem.

In a fundamental way, how will Morpheme 3 improve the animation of its users?
Reil: Essentially, Morpheme helps people work better and lets them get to the level of animation quality they see in their mind’s eye far quicker than before.
In our experience, many very good animators get bogged down with the complexities of authoring what they’re trying to achieve. Morpheme 3 solves that.

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