June 9, 2016

Exploring Emotional Engagement in VR with EVR Studio's 'Project M'

By Dong Joon Min

EVR Studio, a South Korean VR content development company with ambitions to lead the next generation of VR focused media, has released a teaser video of “Project M”, EVR Studio’s Emotional Engagement VR project currently being developed with Unreal Engine 4.
EVR Studio is a VR content development company with veterans from various professional fields including game development, visual graphics, engineering, fashion, writing and photography. To create a virtual world where various real life experiences meet endless imagination, EVR Studio brought together a wide spectrum of professionals with extensive experience from each of their respective fields.

Project M will offer various episodes in VR with more attractive and realistic digital characters coupled with an engaging cinema-like storytelling user experience inside a virtual world. While we live in an age where a considerable amount of communication is done through silent text exchanges and emoticons without having to see or hear others, Project M hopes to provide a sense of emotional comfort to users by designing virtual characters that will remember not only dialogues that took place with the user but the state of emotion during the dialogues as well.

These dialogues will be key in unfolding how the next content progresses, and a character that a user helped at one point will develop interest in caring about how the user is doing in the future.
The teaser shown was captured with Matinee from Unreal Engine in 2D, which doesn’t represent VR, but when the VR version is viewed through the lens of Oculus Rift, users can easily empathize with the digital character’s emotions which creates a sensational excitement not commonly experienced before with digital characters.

The teaser took six weeks to produce from auditioning to production. Out of 90 auditioners, one final actress was selected, whose face was 3D scanned for realistic texture and various facial expressions using Blend Shapes.

To achieve lifelike emotional facial expressions, show subtle changes in skin tone and display details of bloodshed eyes, Unreal Engine’s eye shader, hair shader, and skin shader were used along with Martinee and Blueprint which helped EVR Studio produce results within in a shorter amount of time.

While developing real-time VR, Unreal Engine’s GPU Visualizer not only made things more intuitive in identifying issues causing system loads, it also helped increase work efficiency as it allowed issues identified to be addressed on the artist level.

This teaser is EVR Studio’s first test involving a technical approach using Unreal Engine’s powerful features to successfully get passed the Uncanny Valley, and also to learn how much of the real-time digital character’s emotion needs to be expressed in order for users to emotionally engage with the subject. Once the teaser was done, multiple tests were conducted on as many people as possible using VR HMDs to verify the degree of engagement that the teaser can deliver, which is part of valuable data collecting process that should be later reflected in development.
In addition, EVR Studio is working on an AI system that reflects emotion in the voice of AIs which will be available in their prototype.
For additional upcoming news and company info please visit EVR Studio’s Facebook page and www.evrstudio.com.