Google Patent | Virtual Reality Content Development Environment

Patent: Virtual Reality Content Development Environment

Publication Number: 10551993

Publication Date: 20200204

Applicants: Google

Abstract

A computer-implemented content development environment enables creation of interactive characters and other digital assets for use in various types of 3D content. In this context, 3D content generally may refer to any type of content (e.g., short films, video games, educational content, simulations, etc.), including VR content that can be consumed by viewers using one or more types of VR devices. In many instances, 3D content may be generated using visualization and/or input mechanisms that rely on VR equipment, including one or more three dimensional, computer-generated environments (either real or fantastical) that a viewer can explore using VR devices in similar fashion to how the viewer might explore the real world. For example, a viewer may use a head-mounted display (HMD) device, various motion detecting devices, and/or other devices to simulate the experience of exploring a landscape. One or more different types of VR devices may be used to simulate various sensory experiences including sight, motion, touch, hearing, smell, etc.

TECHNICAL FIELD

Embodiments relate generally to computer-implemented development environments for creating three-dimensional content, such as for interactive virtual reality experiences and other applications.

BACKGROUND

The approaches described in this section are approaches that could be pursued, but not necessarily approaches that have been previously conceived or pursued. Therefore, unless otherwise indicated, it should not be assumed that any of the approaches described in this section qualify as prior art merely by virtue of their inclusion in this section.

Most types of multimedia content today are displayed and viewed on stationary two-dimensional displays. For example, movies, television shows, video games, etc., typically are consumed by viewers on a stationary display such as a television screen, computer display, or mobile device display. However, the recent popularization of powerful virtual reality (VR) devices has ushered in the creation of new types of immersive media where rather than viewing content on a simple two-dimensional display, viewers can experience various types of multimedia content in simulated three-dimensional environments, as if they were within the environment directly.

One popular type of device for consuming VR content is a head mounted display (HMD) device, where an HMD provides with a view of a three-dimensional VR environment. To simulate the experience of looking around a three-dimensional environment, an HMD typically includes displays embedded in a wearable visor that enable a user to “see” the environment, and head tracking components that enable and look around at different parts of the environment. Other types of VR devices that can be used with or in place of an HMD include hand tracking devices, body tracking devices, and other devices which enable viewers to interact with VR environments in a variety of ways. For example, a viewer wearing an HMD may rotate his or head to dynamically view different parts of an environment, hand tracking devices may be used to move simulated arms and to “touch” objects within a VR environment, and so forth, thereby simulating the experience of interacting with a real world environment.

The process of creating multimedia content for consumption by such VR devices presents a number of challenges, such as arranging and controlling objects within a three-dimensional space. Other challenges include defining and manipulating interactive characters. For example, a VR content creator may desire to create an environment that includes one or more human characters, fantastical characters, anthropomorphic characters, and/or other types of characters to make the environment more engaging. One way to make such characters feel convincing to the viewer is to make the characters look as lifelike as possible. However, the illusion of reality in the VR environment may be lessened if the characters appear oblivious to the viewer’s presence in the environment (e.g., when the viewer approaches a character, touches a character, speaks to a character, etc.).

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The present inventive subject matter is illustrated by way of example, and not by way of limitation, in the figures of the accompanying drawings and in which like reference numerals refer to similar elements and in which:

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of an example system for implementing a VR content creation environment, in accordance with one or more embodiments;

FIG. 2 is an example of a VR character interaction graph, in accordance with one or more embodiments;

FIG. 3 is an example of a VR character interaction graph designer interface, in accordance with one or more embodiments;

FIG. 4 is another example of a VR character interaction graph designer interface, in accordance with one or more embodiments;

FIG. 5 is an example screenshot of a scene including a VR character to which a VR character interaction graph may be applied, in accordance with one or more embodiments;

FIG. 6 is a flow diagram illustrating a process for creating VR character interaction graphs, and for applying an interaction graph to one or more VR characters, in accordance with one or more embodiments;

FIG. 7 is block diagram of a computer system upon which embodiments of the invention may be implemented;

FIG. 8 illustrates, among other aspects, visual representations of a number of different objects and corresponding object paths positioned within a 3D space;

FIG. 9 illustrates, among other aspects, the use of navigational controls affixed to the arm of the user’s avatar;

FIG. 10 illustrates, among other aspects, a zoomed-in view of a path of an object;

FIG. 11 illustrates, among other aspects, a VR-assisted input mechanism for manipulating existing control points in a path of an object;

FIG. 12 illustrates, among other aspects, a VR-assisted input mechanism for defining a path of an object;

FIG. 13 illustrates, among other aspects, the use of a turntable wheel to select options in a VR environment;

FIG. 14 illustrates, among other aspects, a VR-assisted input mechanism for adding an animation to a path of an object;

FIG. 15 illustrates, among other aspects, a path with a number of additional animations;

FIG. 16 illustrates, among other aspects, deletion of a portion of a path for an object;* and*

FIG. 17 depicts an example flow diagram of a flow for creating a character interaction graph.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

In the following description, for the purposes of explanation, numerous specific details are set forth in order to provide a thorough understanding of the present invention. It will be apparent, however, that the present invention may be practiced without these specific details. In other instances, well-known structures and devices are shown in block diagram form in order to avoid unnecessarily obscuring the present invention.

Embodiments are described herein according to the following outline:

1.0.* General Overview*

2.0.* Structural Overview*

3.0. Functional Overview 3.1. Input Detection 3.2. Object Selection Techniques 3.3. Option/Command Selection Techniques 3.4. Navigation Techniques 3.5. Adding Items to a Scene 3.6. Movement Path Creation Techniques 3.7. Path Manipulation Techniques 3.8. Animating Moving objects 3.9. Integrating Movement with Interactivity 3.10. VR Training Techniques 3.11. Data Storage and Retrieval Techniques 3.12. Character Interaction Graphs 3.13. Standard Character APIs 3.14. Cloud-Based Content Creation 3.15.* Other Development Environment Features*

4.0. Example Implementations 4.1. Illustrations of Example Development Environment 4.2. Example VR-Assisted Content Development Walkthrough 4.3. Example Character Interaction Graph Creation Flow 4.4.* Example Path Creation Flow*

5.0.* Example Embodiments*

6.0.* Implementation Mechanism–Hardware Overview*

7.0.* Extensions and Alternatives*

1.0.* General Overview*

Approaches, techniques, and mechanisms are disclosed that enable computer-aided creation of three-dimensional content. The created content may be any type of content (e.g., films, video games, educational content, simulations, etc.). In some embodiments, the content may be consumed by viewers using one or more types of VR devices, and is thus considered VR content. In many instances, the created content may be created using interfaces comprising visualizations generated by VR equipment and/or input mechanisms enabled via VR equipment. For example, a user may develop content in one or more three dimensional, computer-generated environments (either real or fantastical) that a viewer can explore using VR devices in similar fashion to how the viewer might explore a real world environment. For instance, a viewer may use a head-mounted display (HMD) device, various motion detecting devices, and/or other devices to simulate the experience of exploring a landscape. One or more different types of VR devices may be used to simulate various sensory experiences, including sight, motion, touch, hearing, smell, etc. In other embodiments, the created three-dimensional content may also or instead be played back using more conventional playback mechanisms, such as projecting the three-dimensional content into a two-dimensional space or stereoscopic three-dimensional space on a standard television, computer monitor, or another screen.

According to an embodiment, content is created at least partially using VR-assisted interfaces. A VR-assisted content development environment may include, for example, one or more avatar-based interfaces for generating and manipulating movements and animations of characters and other objects. The avatar is a visual representation of the user within a three-dimensional (3D) space simulated by the VR-assisted content development environment. The avatar generally has a torso, limbs, and/or other body parts whose positions and/or orientations within the 3D space are controlled by corresponding motions of the user (as detected by motion-detection equipment). The VR-assisted content development environment provides an intuitive mechanism for a user to define a path over which an object moves over time in the 3D space. For instance, the user may define the path, and optionally the speed of the object along the path, simply by moving the avatar within the 3D space using motions detected by motion detection equipment. Additionally, or instead, a user may manipulate control points for the path by reaching for, grabbing, and moving manifestations of those control points in the 3D space. Similar techniques may allow a user to associate animations with path control points. The VR-assisted content development environment may include yet other interface mechanisms for generating and manipulating movements and animations.

According to an embodiment, a VR-assisted content development environment may include one or more interfaces for generating and manipulating a scene of three-dimensional content. Using interface techniques described herein, a user may place characters or other objects at specific positions within the simulated 3D space of the VR-assisted content development environment. Further using interface techniques described herein, the user may define movement paths and/or animations of the objects over a period of time corresponding to a timeline of the scene. The objects may move or be animated concurrently with each other. The user may further define interactions using interface techniques described herein. The user may instruct the VR-assisted content development environment to store data describing the defined objects, positions, movements, animations, and/or interactions. The user may share the data with other users, who may view and potentially interact with the scene in a content playback environment, which may be presented in a VR environment using VR equipment as described herein, in a 3D space rendered in two dimensions on a conventional computer monitor (e.g. as part of an interactive video game, non-interactive movie, etc.), or using any other suitable technique for rendering three-dimensional content.

Some types of three-dimensional content may include one or more characters in the content environments. For example, a VR video game may include one or more human characters (e.g., friendly characters, enemy characters, etc.) as part of the gaming experience. As another example, a VR movie may include a variety of characters as part of a story, including human characters, animal characters, fantastical characters, anthropomorphic characters, etc. Depending on the embodiment, a user may or may not be able to interact with the created content.

To increase a sense of realism and immersion in created content, a creator of VR content may desire to create and configure characters which respond to viewer actions in ways that approximate how a viewer might expect a similar character to respond in real life. For example, if a person approaches another person on the street in real life, the other person might typically make eye contact and possibly perform other actions (e.g., say “hello,” wave his or her hand, move out of the approaching person’s path, etc.). As another example, the other person may typically perform certain actions if the approaching person reaches out to the person (e.g., to shake hands, give a high five, etc.), if one person speaks to the other person, if one person moves in close proximity to the other person, etc. In real life, each of these actions and others typically evoke a set of reactions from one or both persons that make sense in the context of the encounter.

According to certain embodiments described herein, a computer-implemented content development environment is described that enables users to easily create, configure, and integrate interactive characters into content. As used herein, an interactive character may refer to any type of entity present within content with which a viewer may interact as the viewer consumes the content. For example, a VR short film may include an interactive animal character (e.g., a bird on a beach), a VR video game may include one or more interactive human characters, and so forth, each of which may be configured to interact with the viewer in various ways.

In an embodiment, a content development environment may include one or more interfaces for creating character interaction graphs. An interaction graph includes a set of nodes that collectively define how a character behaves in response to various types of input. In some embodiments, in addition to or instead of conventional inputs (such as from a game controller, mouse, or keypad), such inputs may be captured from VR devices. In contrast to traditional media content viewing experiences, as a viewer consumes VR content using one or more VR devices, a wealth of information may be available that describes the viewer’s current state within the VR environment. For example, information may be available from various VR devices worn by the viewer that indicate a direction the viewer is facing, movement of the viewer’s head and/or other body parts, voice and/or other sound created by the viewer, etc. As described in more detail hereinafter, in one embodiment, each of these types of input, character conditions, environment conditions, and other variables may be used to define character interaction graphs and apply the graphs to characters to define how the characters interact as viewers consumes VR content containing the characters.

According to an embodiment, a VR-assisted content development environment includes various improved interface mechanisms. For example, an interface mechanism for selecting an object with which to perform an editing operation comprises detecting that an avatar’s hand controlled by the user is approximately co-located with a visual representation of that object in a 3D space, and further detecting input indicating a grabbing motion. As another example, an interface mechanism for selecting between multiple options in a menu comprises presenting visual representations of certain options on a wheel, disc, globe, or other rotatable shape in the 3D space, detecting that an avatar’s hand controlled by the user is approximately co-located with the rotatable shape, detecting input indicating a spinning or scrolling motion, and rotating the shape such that the visual representations are in different positions relative to the avatar. As another example, an interface mechanism for selecting an option comprises showing control buttons corresponding to options on a visual representation of an avatar’s limb (e.g. on an arm, palm, or wrist), moving the visual representation in correspondence to detected motion of a corresponding limb of the user, and detecting that the user has moved a finger of the avatar within the 3D space to an approximate position of the button.

As another example, help or assistance may be provided by interactive characters or other objects encountered by the user’s avatar within a VR-assisted content development environment. Responsive to spoken questions or other promptings from a user, these characters or other objects visually demonstrate physical movements of a user’s body by which the user may instruct the VR-assisted content development environment to take certain actions, such as movements of the user’s hands and/or limbs to provide inputs such as described herein.

In other aspects, the invention encompasses a computer apparatus and a computer-readable medium configured to carry out the foregoing techniques.

2.0.* Structural Overview*

System 100 illustrates an example system for implementing a content development environment. In one embodiment, system 100 includes a content development environment 106, VR content development framework(s) 108, VR content design device(s) 104, and VR device(s) 102. Although a specific system is described, other embodiments are applicable to any system that can be used to perform the functionality described herein. Components of the system 100 may be connected by, for example, a Local Area Network (LAN), Wide Area Network (WAN), wireless network, the Internet, Intranet, Extranet, etc. In an embodiment, links between components of system 100 may each comprise a network link or cable. Alternatively or additionally, any number of components within the system 100 may be directly connected to each other through wired or wireless communication segments.

In an embodiment, VR devices 102 generally represent any type of device or set of devices that enable viewers to consume one or more types of VR content. Examples of VR devices 102 include, but are not limited to, head mounted displays (HMDs) (e.g., Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, etc.), holographic projection devices, simulator devices, multimodal devices (e.g., wired gloves, omnidirectional treadmills, etc.), cameras or other optical sensors configured to detect motion, personal computers, mobile devices, etc., or any combination thereof.

In an embodiment, VR content design device(s) 104 represent any type of one or more computing devices which enable users (e.g., VR content creators, character designers, etc.) to create content using the described techniques. Examples of VR content design devices 104 include, but are not limited to, personal computers, laptops, workstations, cloud computing systems, embedded devices, computer graphics devices, gaming devices and consoles, etc. The VR content design devices 104 may be used at various stages of a VR content creation process to produce VR content using a content development environment 106 and/or one or more VR content development framework(s) 108 via various tools and/or interfaces.

In one embodiment, the VR content design devices 104 may include one or more VR devices (e.g., one or more VR devices 102), and a content development environment 106 may include one or more graphical interfaces with which a content creator can interact in a VR environment. For example, a content creator may create a character interaction graph in a VR environment by dragging and connecting graph nodes with hand controllers. As described in more detail hereinafter, a character interaction graph includes a set of nodes representing various points of an interaction with a particular character. If a particular VR character has been associated with an interaction graph under construction, a visual representation of the character may be displayed in the same VR environment and the character may play automatically in response to changes to the interaction graph.

As another example, character dialog and/or animations may be configured in a VR environment (e.g., a user may speak into an input device and the user’s voice may be automatically recorded as a dialog clip for a VR character under development). As yet another example, a user may use one or more VR devices 102 to create character animations. For example, a user may use one or more VR devices to manipulate a character under development using motion controllers or hand tracking, similar to how the user may pose an action figure or marionette in real life. A user may be able to pick up a character with the motion controller and/or hand tracking and manipulate the character directly, such as moving the character in a curve by tracing out the curve with the user’s hand. As yet another example, animations for a VR character under development can be recorded by a user moving motion controllers around in a particular pattern within a VR environment. The user may be able to scale the entire VR development view up and down (e.g., so that the user can do detail work in small sections, or see a big picture view of an environment).

In an embodiment, a content development environment 106 may include one or more VR-assisted interfaces where a user can view a character under development on a turntable in VR. For example, the user may be able to grab turntable (via motion controllers, hand tracking, etc.) and rotate the view of the character. As another example, a content creator may use one or more VR devices to adjust a virtual lamp to control lighting on the character.

In an embodiment, one or more flat screen interfaces may be available to enable VR content creators to use more traditional VR content design devices 104 (e.g., a personal computer) to create interaction graphs, characters, character animations, etc.

In an embodiment, content development environment 106 represents any set of hardware and/or software configured to enable the creation of three-dimensional scenes, characters, character interaction graphs, and other digital content. In one embodiment, content development environment 106 may be configured as a plug-in, extension, add-on, or other type of application configured to work with one or more VR content development frameworks 108. In other examples, content development environment 106 may include a set of APIs accessible to a VR content development framework 108, and/or a VR content development framework 108 may be an integrated component of the VR-assisted content development environment 106. A content development environment 106 may include various modules including, but not limited to, a character interactivity module 110, a standard character API module 112, and a cloud computing module 114. Functionality related to each of these modules is described in separate sections hereinafter.

In one embodiment, a content development environment 106 may include a cloud computing module 114. In general, a cloud computing module 114 may include any set of cloud computing services with which VR content design devices 104 and/or VR devices 102 may interface to facilitate character creation, character interaction graph creation, character playback, etc. In this context, cloud computing services generally refer to one or more computing services hosted by one or more cloud computing service providers and that are accessible to end users over a network. Examples of cloud computing service providers include, but are not limited to, Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. As one example, a content creator may use a client application at a VR content design device 104 which communicates with cloud computing module 114 to facilitate creating, customizing, and storing scenes of content, characters or other objects, animations, interaction graphs, etc., on the cloud. In one embodiment, an application may communicate with a cloud computing module 114 via one or more APIs.

In an embodiment, VR content running on VR devices 102 may also communicate with a cloud computing module 114 to provide real time streaming of certain VR assets and other features. For example, a cloud computing module 114 may be configured to receive raw input data from VR devices 102 (e.g., gaze data, voice input data, motion data, etc.) while viewers are consuming VR content, and cloud computing module 114 may include one or more resources for processing the input and determining character actions. The result of such processing may be sent back to the VR devices for use in playback of content and/or in rendering a VR-assisted content development environment, thereby offloading certain types of character processing to the cloud.

In one embodiment, a cloud computing module 114 may include computing resources which may be dedicated to each of hundreds or thousands of characters inhabiting a space. The ability to handle the processing for large numbers of characters may be challenging for local VR devices, and may be more efficiently handled by greater computing resources available in the cloud. This ability to offload certain types of character processing may be highly beneficial as VR devices typically attempt to maintain a refresh rate of 90 frames per second (fps) to maintain a clear image for the viewer.

In an embodiment, storage of character data and/or other scene data by a cloud computing module 114 may enable streaming of character data and/or other scene data on demand to content design devices 104 and/or VR devices 102. For example, characters, character animations, character accessories, etc., may be sent to VR devices 102 dynamically as the devices execute VR content. For example, if a viewer is consuming VR content where the viewer walks down a busy street filled with various characters, the viewer’s VR device may wait to load the characters, character animations, interaction data, etc., from the cloud until the viewer is walking down the busy street and the characters are in view. In other examples, cloud storage of character data enables content creators to build character content (e.g., entire characters, character animations, textures, accessories, etc.) and host the content on the cloud for streaming to client VR devices 102 on demand.

In an embodiment, VR content development framework(s) 108 represent any set of hardware and/or software configured to enable creating various types of digital media content, including VR media content. Examples of VR content development frameworks 108 may include one or more game engines (e.g., Unity, Unreal, RenderWare, etc.) or any other framework and/or tools for assisting in the creation of VR content. As indicated above, a VR content development framework 108 may interface with a content development environment 106 via one or more APIs, plug-ins, extensions, graphical interfaces, etc. In other examples, a content development environment 106 may include one or more integrated VR content development frameworks 108, or vice versa.

System 100 illustrates only one of many possible arrangements of components configured to provide the functionality described herein. Other arrangements may include fewer, additional, or different components, and the division of work between the components may vary depending on the arrangement. For example, in certain embodiments, rather than utilizing VR devices 102 for playback of content, the content may be played by other devices, such as conventional computer devices or other media equipment in a two-dimensional environment. In any event, each component of system 100 may feature an open port, API, or other suitable communication interface by which the component may become communicatively coupled to other components of system 100 as needed to accomplish any of the functions of system 100 described herein.

3.0.* Functional Overview*

The arrangement of FIG. 1 may, in an embodiment, implement a VR-assisted content development environment which enables content creators to create scenes of potentially interactive 3D content, and/or elements thereof. For example, a VR-assisted content development environment may provide interfaces for defining positions of characters and/or other objects in a 3D space, movements of the objects over time, animations of the objects, and so forth. These interfaces may further have applications beyond the VR-assisted content development environment, such as in VR-based games or other applications where a user may provide input to select commands, navigate a three-dimensional space, position objects within a three-dimensional space, or manipulate objects.

In an embodiment, a content development environment may provide interfaces for users to create interactive characters and other digital assets for use in various types of content. For example, a content development environment 106 may provide various interfaces, possibly in conjunction with one or more VR content development frameworks 108, which enable users to create, customize, and configure interactivity for characters to be used in VR content. Among other functionality, these interfaces may enable users to create character “interaction graphs,” where an interaction graph defines how a character interacts with a viewer based on various types of input from a viewer’s VR devices and/or other conditions of a VR environment. By applying these customized interaction graphs to characters, content creators are able to create characters that interact with viewers in ways that were not previously possible or were cumbersome to produce.

In an embodiment, each of the processes described in this section may be implemented using one or more computer programs, other software elements, and/or digital logic in any combination of general-purpose computing devices or a special-purpose computing devices, while performing data retrieval, transformation, and storage operations that involve interacting with and transforming the physical state of memory of the computing devices(s). In some embodiments, the processes are implemented in a system comprising VR development devices, cloud computing services, and VR devices. In other embodiments, the processes are implemented exclusively by one or more servers or by a single client computing device. Examples of such systems are described in reference to FIG. 1.

3.1.* Input Detection*

A variety of types of input may be utilized for controlling the various functionalities described herein. Beyond conventional inputs, such as from a game controller, keyboard, touchscreen, or mouse, the inputs may include certain types of inputs optimized for use with VR equipment, such as movements of the human body detected by motion detection equipment, or neural inputs detected by a brain control interface.

In one embodiment, one type of input that may be integrated into the system is voice input from the viewer. For example, a content development environment may include one or more APIs to integrate off-the-shelf or cloud-based voice recognition software, such as, for example, PocketSphinx, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Bing voice recognition, IBM Watson voice recognition.

As another example, another type of viewer input that may be detected includes various types of movement of a viewer’s body. For example, such movements may roughly correspond to the viewer nodding or shaking his or her head, waving a hand, pointing in a particular direction with a hand, walking in a particular direction, crouching, etc. In one embodiment, detecting movement of a viewer’s body may include detecting positioning and/or rotation of a head mounted display (HMD), detecting hand position and/or rotation of hand-held motion controllers, detecting body part positioning based on wearable sensors, camera-based finger or body part tracking technology, etc.

In one embodiment, a direction of a user’s gaze may be detected as input. For example, if the viewer is wearing a HMD, the HMD may be used to track position and rotation of the viewer’s head to deduce a direction the viewer is looking in an environment. In other examples, eye tracking technology may be used to more accurately determine where a viewer is looking.

In one embodiment, a distance between two or more objects in a VR environment may be determined. For example, distances to a virtual character may be tracked by comparing a world space position of an avatar controlled by VR equipment with a world space position of the virtual character. As another example, VR devices may include built-in face cameras to allow recording and interpreting facial expressions (e.g., smiling, frowning, smirking), and that information may be used to change viewer avatar and/or character facial expressions. In one embodiment, VR devices may track biometric signals such as pulse, heart rate, perspiration, which may be interpreted as different emotions (e.g., nervous, scared, surprised, etc.), and that information similarly may be used to modify avatar and/or character expressions, and/or to trigger actions on digital characters in a VR-assisted content development environment or content playback environment.

3.2.* Object Selection Techniques*

In an embodiment, a user may wish to select an item to edit or to otherwise manipulate, such as a character or other object, control point, animation, etc. The content development environment (also referred to herein as a VR environment) depicts a visual representation of the item at a specific position associated with the item in the 3D space of the environment. The specific position, and in fact the item itself, may be described by data objects within data stored locally and/or in the cloud for the scene.

For example, an editable data object representing a bird in a scene may be depicted using a visual representation of the bird. The visual representation may be presented using a certain effect to indicate that selection of the representation allows a user to manipulate the object corresponding to the representation. For example, editable objects may be presented with highlighting, glowing, or color effects, or surrounded by certain indicia such as arrows, bubbles, labels, and so forth. Optionally, in some embodiments, the effect is only presented when the user’s avatar is within a certain distance of the visual representation.

A user may select the item to edit by moving (e.g. walking, teleporting, etc.) the user’s avatar within a certain distance of the visual representation of the item. Optionally, the user may be required to provide certain additional input such as clicking a button or selecting an interface control. In an embodiment, selecting the item may comprise extending a hand out of the avatar towards the visual representation and providing the additional input. Further examples of such additional input may comprise, for example, completing a pointing or grabbing motion with the user’s fingers, or pressing or pulling a physical button or trigger on a handheld controller.

Once an item is selected, a user may perform various actions with the item by selecting commands using other described techniques. For example, in an embodiment, the user may edit a position of the item by moving the avatar (or at least the hand of the avatar) to a different position and providing some other input, such as ceasing a grabbing or pointing motion, or pressing or releasing a certain button. Or a user may change an attribute of the item (e.g. color, associated animation, size, etc.), or even erase an item, using various command inputs.

3.3. Option/Command Selection Techniques

In an embodiment, menus of options or commands may be presented to a user visually within the VR environment. For example, in an embodiment, various options in a menu of options may be presented as textual labels or corresponding visual representations within a visual container, such as a wheel, globe, box, backpack, chest, and so forth. Such a container is also described herein as a menu container. The textual label or visual representation of an option or command within such a container is referred to herein as a menu icon. Each menu icon may be presented as a selectable item within the container that is selected using techniques such as described above and/or conventional navigational input. Visual representations of options may optionally be 3D representations, and even include animations intended to illustrate some feature or aspect of the option. In an embodiment, each icon is a 3D bubble surrounding some animated object representative of the corresponding option.

A container may be completely or partially transparent, such that a user may reach for and select icons within the container directly. Or, a container may be completely or partially opaque. In some embodiments, to render items in the container visible, the user may be required to provide some input that indicates that the user wishes to look inside the container, such as bringing an avatar near the container and selecting the container. In some embodiments, a container may become visible and/or grow in size as a user approaches a position associated with the container in the 3D space, so that the user becomes aware of its existence. In other embodiments, the VR environment may be configured to place a container within the vicinity of the user’s avatar or an object related to the menu in response to input that indicates that the user wishes to see a corresponding menu. For example, the VR environment may place a container for an “add character” menu in front of the user in response to a user requesting such a menu vocally, or pressing on a certain button.

Items may be presented within a container using a variety of techniques. For example, icons may be placed at positions approximately equidistant from each other on the surface of a disc or globe. The positions of the icons may rotate in response to input that spins or scrolls the container. Optionally, for larger menus, where it might be difficult to depict all options at once, such input may further cause icons rotating away from the avatar to disappear and be replaced by new icons, rotating towards the avatar, for options or commands that were not previously depicted. As another example, icons may be depicted as loose items within a container, such that a user may locate a command or option by rummaging through icons as if they were in a bag of luggage or desk drawer.

According to an embodiment, options may be depicted as buttons or other controls affixed to the user’s avatar. A user may thus, for example, provide input that causes the avatar’s vison to be directed to the avatar’s arm, wrist, thigh, chest, or other body part. Such input may, for instance, involve the user moving his head or eyes in the direction of the relevant avatar body part, or moving a body part of the user that controls the relevant avatar body part up into a position viewable to the user in the VR environment. Once the button is visible, to select the option, the user may, for example, move an arm of the user in a manner such that a finger or other digit of the avatar approaches or touches the button. Optionally, to confirm selection of the button, a user may be required to pull a trigger in the user’s hand or provide some other additional input. In some embodiments, avatar-affixed buttons or other controls may be selected even without bringing the body part to which the controls are affixed into view. For example, a user may touch a button on the avatar’s wrist without looking at the button.

In an embodiment, other types of controls may also be affixed to a user’s avatar. For example, a rotatable armband may be worn by the avatar, and different menu options may correspond to different rotations of a fixed point on the armband. Or, the avatar may wear a watch whose face is rotatable to indicate different options. Or a virtual joystick or touchpad may be mounted on the avatar’s palm. It should be remembered that these controls are virtual. The user, of course, need not be wearing corresponding physical controls on the user’s body in real-life.

A selected option may result in issuing a command that immediately performs an action, or the option may change a state of the avatar, of an object within the scene, or of the VR environment in general. In the latter case, the control or item corresponding to a selected option may be subsequently depicted in a visually distinguishable manner, such as a change in highlighting, size, color, etc. Similarly, visual or tactile feedback may briefly be given to indicate that a user’s action has selected an item.

3.4.* Navigation Techniques*

According to an embodiment, a user may navigate a three-dimensional space by, for example, walking, using a gamepad, moving the user’s head, or performing any other motion that is detectable by motion detecting equipment. Such input changes the position and/or orientation of the avatar within the 3D space, and consequently changes what is visible in the avatar’s viewport. Moreover, such input changes the distance and/or orientation of the user’s avatar relative to objects in the 3D space, thus triggering actions that are a function of the avatar’s distance to an object.

In an embodiment, the VR environment may include a number of virtual controls to simplify navigation within the VR environment. For example, the VR environment may include controls to zoom in and out, such that the world scales to a bigger or smaller size, respectively. For instance, in an embodiment, the left wrist or forearm of the user’s avatar may include+ and -buttons that zoom in and out, respectively. This may enable a user to better manipulate and/or visualize micro or macro level details of the scene, respectively.

As another example, the VR environment may include teleport controls by which a user may immediately change the position of the user’s avatar to another defined position. The 3D space may include a number of teleport points, which may be predefined and/or user-configurable. Such points may be indicated by special indicators within the 3D space, such as colored cubes or spheres, portals, and so forth. In an embodiment, a user may add, select, or move such indicators within the 3D space just as they would any other item, and thus add a teleport point or change an associated teleport point.

In an embodiment, similar indicators may be shown as selectable icons in a menu container or on avatar-affixed menu controls. Each such indicator corresponds to a command to teleport to the teleport point associated with the indicator. For example, the left forearm or wrist of the avatar may include buttons with colored cube icons. Pressing one of these buttons teleports the avatar to a teleport point marked in the 3D space by a cube of the same color.

3.5.* Adding Items to a Scene*

According to an embodiment, a user may add an item to a scene by providing command selection input that requests a menu from which a user may select the item to add. Such menus may be text-based and/or visual. For example, in one embodiment, a box, desktop, drawer, or other container may be presented in which text or visual representations of various items are shown. A user may select one of these items (e.g. using one of the afore-mentioned techniques, or any other suitable selection input), and move it from the container to a specific position in the 3D space. Data describing the item and its position will then be stored in association with the scene. A menu may also include items corresponding to submenus, which a user may select and open, thereby allowing for hierarchical categorization of items.

In an embodiment, available items to add to a scene may be provided from a marketplace of items. Via such a marketplace, a user may purchase or otherwise obtain characters or other objects, animations, backgrounds, etc. Users may furthermore upload their own characters, objects, and so forth. Selection of an item may purchase the item from the marketplace, or present a menu or dialog by which a user may confirm purchase of the item. Or, a user may purchase the item separately, and only items already purchased by the user may be shown to the user. In an embodiment, certain items (including objects, animations, etc.) need not be purchased while the user is creating a scene, but must be purchased once the user wishes to share the scene.

3.6.* Movement Path Creation Techniques*

According to some embodiments, a user may provide various forms on input to define a path over which a selected object moves within the 3D space of a scene over time. A path generally comprises control points that indicate positions within the 3D space through which the corresponding object moves. Each control point may further indicate an orientation at the control point (e.g. which way the object should be facing). Each control point may be associated with a specific point in time in a timeline associated with the scene. At any given point in time, for example, an object following the defined path may be either at a control point associated with that time, or at an interpolated position between the control points whose associated time points are closest to the given time.

In some embodiments, the shape of a path between two control points may take a curve or some other complex form. For example, the path may include one or more spline functions or other functions associated with the control points. These function(s) may define, at any given time, a position of the object. Or, when moving the object through control points, content playback software may be configured to calculate a curve that best fits a set of control points rather than simply moving an object in a straight line between each control point. In an embodiment, an object may not necessarily move through a control point at the time associated with the control point, but rather move through a position calculated based on the control point, one or more adjacent control points, and one or more of the associated functions.

In an embodiment, various VR-assisted techniques may simplify the process of defining a path. For example, once a user has selected an object, the user may select a command that initiates path generation input. The user may then begin to move his or her avatar within the 3D space using any suitable input (e.g. walking, running, navigational input, etc.). A path is created that follows the avatar, either literally, or approximately (e.g. by smoothing out the movement). The path comprises various control points selected based on positions through which the avatar moved. These control points may be sampled from the avatar’s movements at various predefined increments (e.g. every second, every time the avatar moves a certain distance from a previous control point, etc.), or calculated to fit one or more curve functions or other functions that approximate the avatar’s movement. Additionally, or instead, a user may submit certain input that creates a control point while the user is moving the avatar. The user may then submit input that indicates the path is complete to cease defining the path. Subsequently, when playback of the scene is requested, the object selected by the user may move through these control points over time.

In an embodiment, the rate at which the selected object moves through the control points roughly corresponds to the rate at which the avatar moved through the control points. For example, the time associated with a control point may be selected initially based on how long the avatar takes to arrive at the control point.

In an embodiment, a user may create a path for an object by grabbing the object’s icon with the avatar’s hand and, while continuing to grasp the object’s icon (e.g. by making a grasping motion or by holding a grip button), moving the avatar’s hand along a path within the 3D space. As above, control points may be created for the path, and the rate of movement may indicate the speed that the object should move along the path.

In an embodiment, a user may create a path by hand-placing icons representing control points at various positions within the 3D space. For example, the user may select a command that initiates a path creation process. The VR environment may optionally depict an icon, such as a bubble having a small representation of the selected object within it, within the hand of the avatar. The user may place the avatar’s hand at a specific point in the 3D space and provide some input (e.g. selecting a button, squeezing a trigger, flicking a wrist, etc.) that instructs the VR environment to create a control point. The user may then repeat this process for the next control point in the path, and so on. Optionally, the amount of time between placing control point icons may control the times associated with the corresponding control points. In other words, if it takes a user two seconds between placing a first control point icon and a second control point icon, the object may take two seconds to travel the path segment between the corresponding control points.

Optionally, the VR environment depicts an indicator of some kind at each control point, such as a grid mark, a small cube, a bubble having a small representation of the selected object within it, and so forth. The indicator may indicate various attributes associated with the control point, such as an orientation of the object at that control point, a speed of the object at the control point, other commands associated with the control point, the time associated with the control point, etc. Moreover, there may be indicators placed between control points that indicate, for instance, the shape of the path between the control points, the speed of the object, and so forth. Such intermediate indicators may take the form of, for example, strings, lines, cubes, smaller icons, smaller grid marks, arrows, or any other suitable form.

In an embodiment, a user may define different paths for different objects. For example, a user may select a first object, define a path for that object, select a second object, define a path for the second object, and so forth. These objects may move along their respectively defined paths concurrently with each other, thereby creating a scene involving multiple moving objects. Each object may begin its movement along its respective path at a designated starting time for the scene, or certain objects may begin moving in response to triggers or at designated time offsets relative to the starting time. To simplify path creation, in an embodiment, only nearby paths and/or paths for selected objects may be depicted in the VR environment.

3.7.* Path Manipulation Techniques*

A user may further manipulate a previously defined path using a variety of inputs. In some embodiments, path manipulation may be accomplished via VR-assisted mechanisms. For example, a user may grab and move control point indicators to different positions using item selection techniques described above, thereby changing the positions of the corresponding control points in the 3D space. As another example, a user may push control point indicators using input indicating a push motion when the avatar’s hand is in the vicinity of the control point indicator. The direction that the control point is moved in response to the push may be controlled by the orientation of the avatar’s hand relative to the control point indicator, while the distance the control point is moved may be a function of the speed of the pushing motion. As yet another example, a user may manipulate the orientation of the object at a control point by providing input indicating a spinning or twisting motion while the avatar’s hand is within the vicinity of the corresponding control point indicator.

In an embodiment, a user may insert or remove control points. For example, by selecting a control point indicator and providing certain input (e.g. pressing an erase button on the avatar’s wrist), the user may delete the associated control point. As another example, by placing the avatar’s arm within the vicinity of the path and providing certain input, the user may insert a new control point between existing control points within the path. As yet another example, the user may select a command corresponding to an “insert control point” function. The selection of the command may place a disconnected control point indicator within the avatar’s hand (e.g. a bubble having a depiction of the object whose path is being defined, an empty bubble, etc.). The user may then place the control point indicator within the vicinity of a path segment to insert a control point between two existing control points that delimit the segment.

Optionally, the user may control the shape of a path between two control points by grabbing an intermediate indicator between the two control points and moving the intermediate indicator. For example, a user may approach a path line with the avatar, grab the path line at a particular point as if a string, and pull the path line in a different direction.

In an embodiment, a user may speed up or slow down the object’s movement along a path. For example, while an object is selected, a user may press a button or other control that indicates to speed up or slow down the rate at which the object moves along the entire path. Or, while a control point or intermediate point is selected, the button or control may speed up or slow down the object’s movement through the specific point. As another example, a user may grab an intermediate point with the avatar’s hand, click on a physical trigger, and twist the trigger one way to increase the speed, while twisting it another to decrease the speed.

In an embodiment, a user may select a segment of a path (e.g. by selecting a first control point, providing certain input, and then selecting a second control point). The user may then change the speed of the object along the path by moving the avatar’s hand or the avatar’s body at the rate the user wishes the object to move, without necessarily retracing the path. That is, the path remains the same even though the speed associated with that path changes based on the speed of the motion.

In an embodiment, a user may select a control point and press a button or other interface control that indicates that the object is to remain stationary at the control point for a certain amount of time before resuming along the path. For example, the longer the user presses the button, the longer the object may remain stationary.

In an embodiment, a user may play a scene by providing certain input (e.g. pushing up on a motion controller disk). As the scene is playing, the user may pause the scene at any time and manipulate objects, control points, etc. In an embodiment, a user may limit playback of motion for an object by directing the user’s avatar to attach start and stop indicators (e.g. bubbles) to control points at which the user wishes to start and stop playback, respectively, in similar manner as described below for attaching animations. In an embodiment, the start and stop indicators may instead or also be used to define a path segment that the user wishes to manipulate.

3.8.* Animating Moving Objects*

According to an embodiment, a user may define animations for an object as it moves along a path. Animations generally include some sort of manipulation or transformation of the object itself. For example, a bird may begin flapping its wings in a certain manner, moving its eyes, twisting its head, and so forth. Animations may be attached to some or all of the control points of a path.

An animation will be played beginning at the time associated with the control point to which it is attached. The object may continue to move while the animation plays, or the object may pause while the animation is played. An animation may be played continually in a loop (e.g. a bird flapping) or played only once, depending on the animation type and/or user-selected options. Where animations overlap, if the animations are not contradictory (e.g. do not manipulate the same portion of the object), the animations may be played concurrently. Otherwise, various strategies may be utilized to deal with the contradiction, such as immediately ceasing the first animation, ignoring the second animation, or performing a transition between the animations.

In an embodiment, VR-assisted inputs may attach animations to control points. For example, a menu indicating available animations for an object may be displayed using a menu container such as, for example, a rotating disc. The menu may include an indicator icon for each available animation of the select object. The menu may be displayed automatically when the object is selected, or in response to certain input from a user.

The indicator icons for each animation may optionally include a moving preview of the animation applied to the selected object. For example, if the object is a crab and the animation is walking, the indicator icon within the menu may be a bubble in which an animation of a walking crab is played. An animation may be specific to the object. Or, an animation may applicable to multiple objects, and the preview may adjust to the object currently selected. In embodiments with a marketplace, animations may be purchased by themselves, or included with corresponding objects that they animate. The VR environment automatically determines which animations are available and applicable to the selected object, and places them in the menu.

A user may select a desired animation from the menu by selecting its indicator icon using techniques such as described herein. The user may then move the indicator icon for a selected animation to a control point within the path to attach the animation to the control point. If an animation is already defined for the control point, the animation may replace or be added to the already-defined animation, depending on the embodiment and/or the animation type. A separate interface control may allow a user to erase animations for a control point. In some embodiments, an animation may be inserted into a path at a point that is not already a control point, thereby creating a new control point to which the animation is then attached.

In an embodiment, the VR environment includes a “freeze” interface control. For example, such a control may be affixed to the avatar’s wrist. Upon selection of the control, the user enters an operational mode whereby the user may point the avatar’s hand towards a control point, and select a certain virtual button or physical trigger to “freeze” the control point. Freezing the control point means that the object is required to remain at the control point until any animations or interactions that have been associated with the control point have concluded.

3.9.* Integrating Movement with Interactivity*

Movements and accompanying animations, in some embodiments, may be integrated with interactive elements within the scene. For example, instead of playing automatically, the movement of an object may only begin when (or if) a certain interaction occurs. Multiple paths and/or animations may be defined for different types of interactions. For example, paths or animations may be defined as nodes of a character interaction graph, such as described subsequently.

In an embodiment, characters or other objects may be associated with awareness rules that indicate one or more actions to perform in response to certain movement-related conditions. Such conditions may include, for instance, the speed of movement, the direction of movement, the current distance to another object (or a specific type of object), environmental conditions such as wind speed or light sources, and so forth. For example, an awareness rule may specify that a character should wave when within a certain proximity of the avatar or another character, or change speeds based on how fast the avatar is moving. More complex awareness rules may be generated with complex conditional logic, such as, if the object passes within a certain distance of the avatar, move the object closer to the avatar and perform some action (e.g. talking, looking at the avatar, etc.), unless also within a certain distance of another object. Such awareness rules may be defined as part of the object definition, or may be attached to objects using techniques such as described with animations (e.g. an awareness rule may be represented by a selectable icon within a container).

In an embodiment, interactions may be attached to control points within a path. For example, a certain interaction may be attached to a control point, at which the object pauses until the interaction occurs. As yet another example, a character interaction graph may be attached to a control point. If the graph branches, different movement paths may branch from the control point for different branches of the character interaction graph.

In an embodiment, the VR environment may provide VR-assisted input mechanisms for attaching interactions to control points within a path. These input mechanisms may be similar to those described above for animations. That is, different graphs may have different indicators, which a user may select and place on a control point.

3.10.* VR Training Techniques*

Since the exact combination of movements or selected controls needed to perform an editing task may be unknown to a user, in an embodiment, a VR environment may include one or more characters configured to provide assistance to a user. The user may interact with the characters, for example, using voice commands such as “How do I add a new character?” or “How do I change the path of the character?” The assisting character may then demonstrate one or more actions the user should take, along with a specific sequence of those actions, to accomplish the user’s objective. Characters may further offer certain help without the help being requested, such as during an initial training period or upon observing that the user appears to be trying, unsuccessfully, to accomplish a certain objective.

Such characters may be termed “digital assistants” or “VR assistants.” A digital assistant may be positioned at various positions within the 3D space, and optionally move around in that space. Or, a digital assistant may be requested via various input (e.g. voice command, by looking at the digital assistant on a “shelf” menu that provides access to various content creation tools, etc.).

3.11.* Data Storage and Retrieval Techniques*

A user may save an arrangement of objects and any paths, animations, or interactions defined for those objects, as scene data either in a local repository or on a cloud-based server. Various input mechanisms may be utilized to provide an instruction to save the scene. For example, in an embodiment, the VR environment may include visual clouds depicted roughly over the avatar’s head. By looking up into the cloud, the user may automatically save the scene. Or, the looking into the cloud may launch a menu mechanism whereby the scene may be saved, or a new scene may be loaded or created. In an embodiment, a user may create a new scene from a variety of pre-defined scenes or world spaces.

In an embodiment, different visual clouds may correspond to different functions (e.g. save or load) and/or different storage locations. In an embodiment, a user may pull a cloud down over the user’s head to perform a load or save function, or to launch a menu for loading or saving.

In an embodiment, a user may share scenes with other users. A user may load a shared scene from the cloud using any suitable menu system. Certain users may be granted edit permissions for the scene, while others may only view the scene. Users may view and/or interact with certain scenes concurrently and will see each other as different (non-editable) characters within the scene.

In an embodiment with a marketplace, certain characters or other digital assets within a shared scene may only be visible to users that have purchased those assets. A generic substitute asset or “preview” asset may be displayed in place of characters to which a user does not have access. Or, depending on the configuration of the content, the asset may be invisible, or the user may be forbidden to access the content. In yet other embodiments, once a user has purchased an asset, it is visible to all users with whom the asset is shared.

3.12.* Character Interaction Graphs*

VR content often attempts to approximate the real world (or semi-realistic worlds, fantasy worlds, etc.). In order to maintain a sense of realism and immersion, a VR content creator may desire to create VR characters which inhabit the VR world and interact with the viewer in a realistic manner. For example, a content creator may desire for a VR character to look at a user when the character is approached in a VR environment, to respond to the user’s voice when spoken to, to back away when the user invades the character’s space, and to notice when the user fails to pay attention to the character. Each of these interactions may be a product of one or more types of input from a viewer (e.g., a direction of the viewer’s gaze, one or more physical actions by the viewer, voice input, etc.), from the environment, and/or a current state of the VR character (e.g., the character’s position in the VR space relative to other objects, whether the VR character asked the viewer a question, etc.).

In one embodiment, a content development environment 106 enables users to define how VR characters interact with viewers by creating and applying character interaction graphs. At a high level, a character interaction graph comprises a set of interconnected nodes which collectively define how a character responds to various types of input, including input from the viewer, input from the VR environment, and/or information about a current state of the character. In one embodiment, a character interaction graph may include various different node types including, for example, question nodes, decision nodes, interrupt nodes, and action nodes, each described in more detail below.

In one embodiment, a question node may represent a point in VR content where a character initiates an interaction, such as by asking a question (e.g., “Hello, how are you?”), performing an action (e.g., waving hands), or any other action or combination thereof. A question node generally may be triggered at a particular point in time (e.g., at the start of VR content containing the character, at a specified point in time within the VR content, in response to a viewer approaching the character, etc.).

In an embodiment, a decision node represents a point in VR content where a character is expecting or welcoming input from the viewer. For example, if a VR character is configured to ask the viewer a question (e.g., “Do the user want toast, or do the user want eggs?”), then various types of input may be specified at a decision node corresponding to possible responses from the viewer. In the case of a question asked by a VR character, the type of input may be voice input (e.g., indicating that the viewer prefers either toast or eggs). In an embodiment, a content creator can choose what types of input to expect from a viewer (a particular body movement, voice, etc.), and each input parameter specified may be connected to one or more action nodes.

In an embodiment, an action node represents one or more actions to be performed by a VR character. In many cases, an action node may be performed in response to detecting a particular type of input at a decision node. Examples of types of actions that may be performed include, but are not limited to, character dialog, character animation, proceeding to another action node or decision node, etc., and/or combinations thereof.

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