Motion in the Metaverse
Issue: January-February-March 2023

Motion in the Metaverse

How you move makes you unique.

The way you move is defining. People can recognize one another just by the way they walk. Like fingerprints, your ‘motion print’ makes you unique. We’re already seeing this idea being explored by researchers, visual effects artists, and celebrities across new technologies such as artificial intelligence and in the metaverse. As in real life, this idea can make you stand out in the metaverse.

A recent study by Imperial College London showed AI algorithms can analyze human movement to discover degenerative diseases. Their approach was aimed at Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Friedreich’s Ataxia disorders, using motion capture (mocap) technology to identify changes in subjects’ movements. The AI could then build a digital twin of the patient, enabling scientists to make precise predictions of how the disease would progress. 

In these instances, it was the digital capture of the individual’s unique movement that highlighted the irregularities which lead to the discoveries by the AI. This shows there are common signs that machine learning can be trained to recognize in movement. While the application in this instance was for medical purposes, the same theory can be applied to the new digital frontier: the metaverse. 

Mocap technology is key to the idea of individual movement in the metaverse. VFX artist Jonathan Winbush realized this while collaborating with hip-hop star Method Man (“MEF”) while creating his virtual comic book superhero alter ego. Winbush, whose credits include Marvel films like Iron Man and Fantastic Four, used Xsens technology to transform the Grammy Award-winning rapper into a superhero avatar in the first metaverse comic book: the MEFaverse. The MEFaverse blends art forms – hip-hop culture, gaming, art, and technology – to create innovative ways of entertaining, understanding, and expression. 

Key to this expression is digital depiction. For example, Winbush and Method Man helped transport a wheelchair-bound veteran into the MEFaverse through an avatar, giving voice to a sorely under-represented community in video games. The authenticity of the digital doubles is what people responded to. If Method Man the superhero doesn’t move and interact as Method Man the man does in real life, there'd be a sense of dishonesty or cheating. The technology captures behavior, enabling movement to be accurately expressed on screen. 

Motion print isn’t just about how the subject moves and acts, but also how they interact with virtual environments. In the digital world of Roblox, pop duo 21 Pilots demonstrated the value of individuality in a virtual space in their virtual concert. During the recording process, technical advisors Actor Capture noted the value in attributing the movements of 21 Pilots to their avatars. It was essential the way the band moved in Roblox – from the strum of their guitars to the beat of the drums – matched the band’s style on stage in real life. Xsens Metagloves by Manus were used to record incredibly accurate data of the band playing their set, which enabled their avatars to interact with the surrounding 3D environment in the same way, maintaining the essence of what keeps 21 Pilots recognizable. 

Looking beyond the theory, we need to think about how this idea could be practically applied. Once software interoperability is commonplace, it will be possible to apply the unique assets associated with movement to an avatar within the metaverse. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will be crucial to this development. The rising popularity of skins in Fortnite and Roblox has led brands like Nike and Burberry to adopt virtual fashion. Nike Cryptokicks, co-branded digital sneakers, are a fantastic showcase of this Web3 leap forward. In the same way that you can customize your avatar’s look, the data can be used to define its unique motion. Users can apply this to their avatar via the application of an NFT. The result: a unique user experience where the player can interact with the space and others in their own distinctive way. 

Ultimately, research in the fields of science, technology, and entertainment makes this idea possible. Looking forwards, the development of avatars' individualism – the way they look, speak, and act – is what will help define our identity in the metaverse. Motion print will be an essential tool to establish how we exist in this new digital age. 

Remco Sikkema is the Senior MarCom Manager at Movella.

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