Skip to main content

An electric partnership advances animation

New joint industry and academic research increases number of on-screen characters without compromising visual quality

Electronic Arts (EA), the world's leading interactive entertainment software company, and London's top graphics researchers at University College London (UCL) are working in collaboration to research futuristic visualisation techniques.

The close partnership demonstrates how industry and academia can work together to develop computer games. Ian Shaw, CTO at EA, and Anthony Steed, a senior lecturer in computer graphics at UCL, have joined forces to develop animation techniques that will dramatically improve the visual quality of computer games.

The partnership has also resulted in EA co-funding Simon Pilgrim, a student on UCL's Engineering Doctorate in Virtual Environments, Imaging and Visualisation (VEIV EngD) course, to work as a researcher in the company.

As computer games become increasingly realistic, many new and interesting development problems arise. Pilgrim is working within EA to research and apply a method known as 'progressive character skinning' to improve the quality of multi character animation in commercial computer games.

EA's partnership with UCL enables the company to benefit from academic advances and theoretical know-how. Having a researcher working on a game team helps developers leverage academic research that can improve game graphics in real time, and advance certain areas of production.

The structure of UCL's engineering doctorate has proved extremely successful for EA, allowing Pilgrim to spend the majority of his time in the company researching and developing animation and visualisation techniques.

Pilgrim's research focuses on the quality of animations in games. He aims to increase the number of animated characters that can be seen on screen at any one time, without impacting the speed. This is vital as the computer games industry moves to deliver the scale and complexity of computer graphics and epic scenes that are seen in hit films such as Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Pilgrim's 'progressive character skinning' technique prioritises the animation of characters. This allows him to obtain the maximum number of characters on screen at once, whilst all moving separately with minimal error.

Ian Shaw CTO at EA comments: "EA has had a working relationship with UCL for the last six years and the university's academic research correlates with our development of computer games. As an organisation, we wanted to form a closer relationship between the theoretical knowledge and practical application for developing computer game animation.

"Our partnership with UCL is proving extremely beneficial and enabling us to find ways that academia and industry can work together to help keep us at the forefront of animation technology."

Anthony Steed, senior lecturer at UCL, believes applying academic expertise to digital media has many mutual benefits: "It's fantastic to see the direct impact UCL's work is having in a growing commercial market. Both EA and UCL continue to learn how academia and industry can produce market leading results together."

Businesses interested in getting involved in the VEIV EngD or students wishing to apply to the course should contact senior lecturer Anthony Steed:

Box out - technical specifications of Progressive Character Skinning

Investigates the possibilities of level of detail systems based upon the complexities of the skeletal animation of a video game character, as well as the character's geometry and textures - reducing computation and data overheads. Prioritises the animation of each skinning 'bone' according to its importance and animates those bones which are necessary and will not waste computer time. Uses a 'progressive' skeletal hierarchy per animation to continually improve the quality of movement. Blends progressive bones and permits a low-cost continuous level of detail system, avoiding 'popping' effects. Uses existing CPU and GPU pipelines with little to no modification, whilst optimising at runtime for multiple CPU and GPU bottlenecks. Especially useful for animation of large crowds and background characters as well as costly fine-detail secondary animations such as faces, muscle modelling etc.

Simon Pilgrim presented his work on 'Progressive Skinning for Video Game Animations' as a sketch at SIGGRAPH 2006 in Boston, USA. More information can be found at <>


Notes to editors

About VEIV EngD

Entry requirements:

An upper second class honours degree (2.1) from a UK university or an equivalent class of degree from an overseas university. A lower formal academic qualification may be acceptable if the applicant has a relevant postgraduate qualification or significant industrial experience. The degree may be in any relevant subject, e.g. electronic computer science, or in a science or engineering subject with significant computer science content.


Company costs are between around £6,000 and £9,500 per annum depending of the mode of engagements (direct sponsorship or employee sponsorship). The EPSRC contributes £14,000 per annum towards the student's stipend or wages, and also pays the fees.

Course duration/format:

Four years full-time or secondment mode. Suitably qualified applicants may go straight in to second year. There are seven placements available each year.


UCL, and the sponsoring organisation

About VEIV EngD

The VEIV EngD was introduced by UCL five years ago and developed jointly between the department of Computer Science and the Bartlett School of Architecture. It is intended for both recent graduates who aspire to lead research and development teams in industry, and professionals already employed in industry, who want further academic training in research and development.

The programme has been running since 2001. Students spend most of their time working within the sponsoring organisation and approximately 25% of the course comprises taught modules. The course has seven placements each year, there are currently 27 students on board.

The course is aimed at the UK's leading researchers who are preparing for a fast-track managerial career in industry. It develops individuals who can, not only innovate, but also implement that innovation.

Current industrial sponsors include: British Aerospace, Foster and Partners, Buro Happold, British Telecom, Electronic Arts, YRM Architects, Sharp Laboratories Europe, Ordnance Survey, Philips Medical Systems, Framestore CFC.

Further information is available in the course brochure and at <>

Engineering doctorates (EngD's) The EngD is a four-year postgraduate award intended for the UK's leading research engineers who want a managerial career in industry - it is funded through the Collaberative Training Account (CTA) via the EPSRC.

An alternative to the traditional PhD, the EngD is being better suited to the needs of industry, and provides a more vocationally oriented doctorate in engineering, with 75 per cent of the student's time being spent within industry (with the sponsor's organisation). UCL currently offer five EngD in five different centres, more than any other UK university.

About UCL

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. In the government¹s most recent Research Assessment Exercise, 59 UCL departments achieved top ratings of 5* and 5, indicating research quality of international excellence.

UCL is the fourth-ranked UK University in the 2005 league table of the top 500 world universities produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. UCL alumni include Mahatma Gandhi (Laws 1889, Indian political and spiritual leader); Jonathan Dimbleby (Philosophy 1969, writer and television presenter); Junichiro Koizumi (Economics 1969, Prime Minister of Japan); Lord Woolf (Laws 1954, former Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales); Alexander Graham Bell (Phonetics 1860s, inventor of the telephone); and members of the band Coldplay.

About Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), headquartered in Redwood City, California, is the world's leading interactive entertainment software company. Founded in 1982, the company develops, publishes, and distributes interactive software worldwide for videogame systems, personal computers and the Internet. Electronic Arts markets its products under four brand names: EA SPORTSTM, EATM, EA SPORTS BIGTM and POGOTM. In fiscal 2006, EA posted revenue of $2.95 billion and had 27 titles that sold more than one million copies. EA's homepage and online game site is <>. More information about EA's products and full text of press releases can be found on the Internet at

All press enquiries :

Midnight Communications:

Tor Goldfield/ Natalie Murtagh

Tel: 01273 666200

Email: <mailto:>

Electronic Arts

Bettina Hintze

+41 22 316 1200

Natalie Murtagh



Tel +44 (0) 1273 666200

Read this next avatar GamesIndustry International is the world's leading games industry website, incorporating and