VMI Blog VII: Animals and Environment

We’re making good progress on environmental visualization and placing animals in our VMI simulation. Gina Moore and I have been working closely together and have moved a huge amount of our workflow into Houdini and Houdini Engine, as this offers so many advantages over using inbuilt UE tools – especially because we can take a far more procedural approach. This applies across almost every area from landscape modelling, to procedural foliage generation and instancing, to the distribution of massive numbers of animals using VATs. Indeed, VATs (Vertex Animated Textures) are the only way to create large penguin colonies, such as those found on Macquarie Island, that will run in real time on a decent GPU. This exciting work demonstrates Gina’s extraordinary technical and artistic skills. I couldn’t have found a better collaborator.

The first movie is a test render flight of one of our Wandering Albatrosses, soaring around North Head, looking down upon a draft model of the Macquarie Island Research Station, created photogrammetrically from UAV data. There’s a lot to do to get this up to scratch, as the drone imagery is quite sparse – it would need a lot more coverage to enable the sort of model through which one would want to walk in a VR modality – but it’s fine from a distance. However, fortunately there are numerous approaches I can take to significantly improve the model, more on this in another post.

Draft soundtrack by Glenn Rogers.

The second movie demonstrates work-in-progress on Hurd Point at the far South of the island. This focusses upon implementing 100,000 VAT instances for the Royal Penguin colony located at the site. Colonies on the island can range up towards a million individuals. We also include a distribution model of Poa Foliosa based upon accurate vegetation maps of the island.

What is interesting about this workflow (apart from the technical achievement of the penguin colony), is that we are approaching a methodology to drive the construction of scenes around the island using satellite data, where the data can be used for far more than terrain modelling.

An exciting prospect this opens up is the ability to use near-real-time satellite data to effectively create a Digital Twin of the island. This means, for instance, tracking and deriving species distribution from satellite imagery and using this to drive the distribution of species in our simulation. Obviously this encompasses the ability to observe and display ecological changes over time, in a novel immersive way. Watch this space!

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2 Responses

  1. Kate KIEFER says:

    Probably need to review the facts about the population size of the Hurd Point colony. My understanding is that it contains about 1 million birds, not 180,000 pairs. However, your numbers might b3 an updated version, but worth checking.
    From AAD website:
    “Royal penguins are endemic to Macquarie Island where the vast majority lives, and the nearby Bishop and Clerk Islets where about 1,000 pairs breed. Royals at Macquarie Island live in very large colonies. The largest colony at Hurd Point on Macquarie Island has around 500,000 pairs. Precisely how many royal penguins there are is unknown, but the population is thought to be currently stable. However, due to key populations existing on only 3 islands in close proximity, they are considered have a more critical conservation status”

    • Peter Morse says:

      Hi Kate, thanks for the heads-up! Yes, at this stage we’re working on building features into our simulation to support things like population distributions, with a view to driving them from accurate data sources. Naturally, with millions of individuals we run up against GPU limits, so these issues will be resolved incrementally as we proceed. Suggestions for up-to-date data resources that experts use are very welcome.

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