Sony Pictures Entertainment's "Godzilla" may not have made a killing at the Memorial Day box office, but the monster's swarm of offspring that overrun Manhattan in the film captured audiences' attention. VisionArt Design & Animation, a division of Santa Monica Studios, played a key part in sending the more than 1,000 'zilla babies on a rampage.
Instead of painstakingly animating each baby monster, the company developed artificial intelligence software to animate groups of babies at a time. The software first created a virtual Madison Square Garden, complete with walls, trashcans and plummeting chandeliers. Then it created flocks of little 'zillas, programmed to follow the laws of physics (no running through solid objects).
"We used a similar flocking idea when we designed the fleet of F-18 planes in "Independence Day" a couple years ago, but this software pushed the same idea tenfold," said Josh Rose, VisionArt's executive vice president.
Never one to miss a promotional opportunity, Culver City-based Sony Cinema Products Corp. used the "Godzilla" screenings to hawk its Sony Dynamic Digital Sound System (SDSS) at theaters equipped with the gear. Now used in 6,000 theaters worldwide, SDSS is a distant third to competitors Dolby Digital (14,000 screens) and Digital Theater Systems (13,400).
Both Dolby and DTS use trailers at the beginning of movies to promote their systems, but the spots have limited visuals. Sony created a live-action trailer that takes viewers from underwater caves to a jungle and an active volcano.
"We didn't want to wallop people over the head with a logo or industrial sounds, but to immerse them into another world like a tropical jungle," said Barnaby Jackson, who directed the trailers. "Audiences are getting more sophisticated and demand high-quality sound just as much as they demand high-quality special visual effects."
Eyematic Interfaces, a recent start-up company in Santa Monica, is profiting from the recent buzz over face-recognition technology. This week it signed a contract with Washington, D.C.-based Anser Corp. to use its software to help track missing children. As early as next week, executives will announce a multimillion-dollar deal with a Japanese ATM machine manufacturer, which wants the technology as a security device. By scanning facial structures rather than outward appearances, the software can see past changed hairstyles, beards and even sunglasses to verify ID.
"Our company was formed in September because of the growing interest over face-recognition, but we're so much more," said Eyematic co-founder and Chief Executive Orang Dialameh, who says the technology also has applications in making movies and video games.
Another Santa Monica-based software company has beaten computer giants Microsoft Corp. and IBM to the punch in developing a natural English-language recognition program. Illumen Technologies Inc. was awarded the first U.S. patent for a "natural language understanding system," after working on its software for 14 years.
The program, called InQuizit, can understand both the context and words in a spoken question and search a database for the desired topic.
"The Internet has driven the interest in this software," said company founder and Chief Technology Officer Kathleen Dahlgren. "Instead of having to sift through a list of unrelated topics that happen to share a key word, you could use a search engine that comes back with what you're looking for by understanding the context."
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