Ever since the over-the-top gore in Mortal Kombat outraged parents back in 1992, there’s been an arms race in video games to make simulated violence more realistic through gut-turning graphics. But new research from the University of Pennsylvania on simulating damage could make simulated injuries on video game characters too realistic for even the most hardcore gamers.
Watch any Hollywood blockbuster from the past decade and you’ll see the results of research into simulating how things break, crumble, and get destroyed. Moviegoers have a penchant for wanton destruction, but when you see an entire city being leveled on-screen while superheroes recklessly duke it out, it’s now the result of visual effects artists using cutting edge computer graphic simulations.
Virtually destroying some materials are easier than others, however. Rocks crumble into chunks and glass shatters into millions of shards in fairly predictable ways. Damage simulations get more challenging with materials described as anisotropic where their physical properties vary in different directions such as wood which tends to be stronger and more resilient following its natural grain structure.
The destruction of organic materials like flesh and muscle is even more challenging to simulate with computer graphics as they feature unseen but complex underlying elastic structures that result in them tearing or falling apart in unexpected ways. Throw a raw steak at the wall and it’s not going to shatter like a rock, but even tearing it in two won’t produce the same results as if you were ripping up paper.
It’s this problem that a research team from the University of Pennsylvania appears to have convincingly solved. More details, including the official paper, will be shared closer to the Siggraph 2020 conference in July (which is being held virtually this year) but they’ve managed to accurately simulate the destruction of anisotropic materials by first adding additional structures to a 3D model that help define its unique directionality, such as the direction of a wood’s grain, as well as its elasticity. This additional information is then taken into account when damage is being calculated, with the elasticity and directionality of the material guiding how the destruction progresses and evolves.
With the research only being published this year, it will be a while before this new approach to damage simulation finds its way into Hollywood visual effects or video games. But while it promises to take on-screen gore to a new level, it could also be a valuable learning tool as virtual reality slowly becomes a viable way to train doctors and surgeons. Cutting into a virtual patient whose body realistically reacts to mistakes is less risky than practicing on the real thing.