Student's stuntmen join march into Troy

July 25, 2003

For his latest role as Achilles in the war epic Troy , Hollywood hunk Brad Pitt has had help not only from a body double with muscular legs, but also from PhD student Torsten Reil.

The Oxford University student is chief executive of a spin-off company that has created the virtual stuntmen that have been used in the movie.

The company, NaturalMotion, announced this week that it had won the contract - its first - for the Moving Picture Company, makers of Troy .

The zoology student developed the software, called endorphin , when he was studying the neurobiology of human motion. The software uses neuromuscular and biochemical information to create three-dimensional representations of the human body.

The virtual figures react the same way real humans would do to forces such as those produced by explosions, falls, punches or anything else that an action scene may require.

The characters evolve through a genetic algorithm that selects the best example from each generation of characters for a particular trait. The blueprint is then passed to the next generation, with slight variations, to enable the best of the next generation to be selected and so on, until the characters move and react as a human being would.

The potential application of the research was picked up by the university technology transfer office, Isis Innovation, which in 2000 paid for computer-games developer and artificial intelligence expert Colm Massey to work with Mr Reil to develop a prototype.

By 2001, they began to contact local business angels and have raised a total of £1.2 million to date. Mr Massey, now chief technical officer of NaturalMotion, said: "It shows it still is possible if you have a good idea and a good business plan."

Moving Picture Company developer Julian Mann said: " Endorphin stuntmen never sleep, they never need an ambulance, and they happily work after being decapitated."

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