Movement in the Metaverse
Issue: July-August-September 2022

Movement in the Metaverse

The key to authentic self-expression in a virtual environment.

Movement in the Metaverse is what will differentiate this virtual world from game-play environments or other virtual environments already in existence. The use of motion-tracking technology to embody and drive avatars in the Metaverse is fundamental to self-expression, community-building, and even the preservation of our unique identities — or ‘motion-print’. What role do NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have in preserving our digital identity as motion capture is increasingly used to replicate our natural movement in a digital environment? From digital art to NFT dinosaurs, bringing meaning to movement is key to realizing the potential of the Metaverse.

The way we move around the world is unique to every individual. Likewise, movement in the Metaverse will be key to building virtual identities. Universal geometry connects all living organisms; it’s why yogis aim to align with ‘cosmic geometry’. AI motion-tracking technology has even been developed to track the lines of these shapes as yogis practice to find the geometric patterns in the asanas they practice. But this, as the name suggests, is a practice. In our day-to-day lives, the way we move is a reflection of the history we embody, from stresses to injury and even our personality. Our expressions and our physical gestures are all unique to us. Like our fingerprints, the way we move is a ‘motion-print’, identifying our unique selves beyond our vocal, written, or aesthetic expression. 

The way we move around the Metaverse is as important as the way we move in the real world

It’s a human instinct to be unique and to express that individualism even within a community. We saw this already with the rising popularity of skins in Fortnite, and fashion brands were fast to respond and see the opportunity with brands like Balenciaga creating one of the first outfits to have skin in the game. 

Brands are building on this with opportunities to ‘dress’ people in the Metaverse, combined with the added exclusivity of NFTs — perhaps the ultimate blend of trend-setting and custom styling. For example, the NFT fashion collectible startup RTFKT Studios, which was bought by Nike back in December 2021, has just revealed a collection of co-branded digital sneakers called Nike Cryptokicks. The sneakers are available to people who own RTFKT MNLTHs, an NFT that was airdropped to those who own a CloneX (RTFKT's profile picture collection). Users will be able to customize the sneakers with various looks and designs, and the company also plans to open the skin creation to creators and partners. 

The virtual world is a playground for creativity. Naturally, fashion brands have been quick to realize the potential of designing new creations for the Metaverse. It’s not just the fashion industry that is pushing boundaries, of course, but the models themselves are getting a simultaneously futuristic and prehistoric makeover of sorts. Enter Meta Labs’ Jurassic Punks (also known as Jpunks): cyberpunk-esque dinosaurs who’ve learned how to catwalk. More accurately, Meta Labs’ co-founder James Spillman has learned how to walk the virtual catwalk with gravitas, using motion capture tech to create lifelike movements for their radical tyrannosauruses. 

Watch the Jurassic Punks brand launch video:

There’s playful artistry inherent in how people use motion capture technology. Like artists use paint, digital creatives, motion graphics artists, film directors, mocap actors, and more, all use motion-tracking technology to connect the way they move to the digital expression of those movements. Creativity expressed in the Metaverse is an extension of real-world identity. This distinction between the extension of self-expression, rather than replacement of self, an alternate identity, is intrinsic to authenticity. Since the Metaverse is a community-based and community-built world, we need to be able to trust and recognize those we ‘know’ in the same way that we do in the real world. Another artist exploring the connection between movement and the expression of our virtual selves is Veronica Lynn Harper, who started working with motion capture two years ago. Harper finds motion capture to be a way of amplifying the intrinsic connection between herself as an artist and the work she is creating. 

Motion-print moving through the Metaverses

The role of motion capture also plays a part in the accessibility and community within the Metaverse. The JPunks team describes their ambitions to explore motion-print technology to develop personalized movements in the Metaverse: “You buy the PFP [picture for proof]. We want to build our microverse in modules, so for example, with the fashion show, we want to make it possible for the JPunks to choose a door and walk out to a live stage afterward or into another Metaverse. We can build on the JPunks Metaverse with the community already using it. We want to add onto it; we do not want to be a closed shop.“

The Metaverse can only grow to its potential when assets and avatars can move freely from one platform to another. Even though there is no Metaverse yet, there are many platforms around that could be part of this Metaverse; ultimately, it's about interoperability. Currently, you cannot use your Fortnite avatar in Roblox, but many platforms are now built within Unity 3D, Unreal Engine, or, for instance, Nvidia’s Omniverse. 

Moving the narrative forwards

The ability to drive our avatars to move in the way we move in the real world is helping people to understand the potential of the Metaverse. While online interactive communities exist already in the virtual world, for instance in gaming, those avatars are still a borrowed identity of sorts, digital characters with their own precoded movements.

The Meta Labs team shared how adding movement to their JPunks helped the NFT community to see their JPunk ‘existing’ in the Metaverse as an avatar and how they might want to develop their NFTs. Kevin Docherty, founder and managing director of Jpunks, commented, “We used motion capture for our JPunks catwalk, a snippet of which was shared in the 'mint release' social media post. It would be great to capture individuals' movements and match them to their avatar in the future.” 

When people are able to steer their own character, they feel more connected to the avatar — and there’s a tangibility to the virtual impact of how that character moves around in the Metaverse. In SINS, the new NFT project by Sombra, a sister company of Bonfire, the world’s first blockchain-based VFX and content creation studio, founder Brendan O’Brien looks to use movement to change the way communities interact with video games and television storytelling. The show will see users being able to engage with the narrative in an unprecedented way. For O’Brien, this means looking to give SINS owners opportunities to work with motion capture gear and further embed themselves in the world of the story: “Once a user has a 3D NFT avatar, we have opportunities where people can learn how to do motion capture with their character.”

Remco Sikkema is the Senior MarCom Manager at Movella.

Images courtesy of Jurassic Punks

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