Scots animation studio scores with Gears of War deal

A Scottish animation studio has scored an early hit for its new software package after it was used for the latest instalment in Microsoft's Gears of War video game franchise.

Speech Graphics helped create facial animation for Gears of War 4. Picture: Contributed

Speech Graphics, which spun out from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics in 2011, said Microsoft’s Coalition subsidiary, developer of Gears of War 4, is the first company to use its SGX system, animating more than 35,000 lines of dialogue in the science fiction shooter.

The firm, housed within Edinburgh’s CodeBase technology incubator, has spent five years researching and developing SGX, which enables game studios to convert audio recordings into realistic facial animation.

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Michael Berger, co-founder and chief technology officer at Speech Graphics, said: “Automatic, accurate lip sync is one of the holy grails of computer facial animation. Our task is to create the impression that the animated face you see is the source of the sound you hear.

Michael Berger, left, and Gregor Hofer, co-founders of Edinburgh-based Speech Graphics. Picture: Contributed

“This illusion is notoriously difficult to achieve – the movements of speech are fast, complex and subtle and the viewer is highly sensitive to any mismatch between face and the voice.”

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Having already been used by Coalition for its new game, SGX has been licensed to a further three global studios.

David Coleman, animation director on Gears of War 4, said: “Speech Graphics provided us with a robust system for automatically creating quality facial animation for the many thousands of lines of gameplay dialogue. We found the people at Speech Graphics to be very responsive and helpful in us achieving our goals.

Michael Berger, left, and Gregor Hofer, co-founders of Edinburgh-based Speech Graphics. Picture: Contributed

“SGX goes beyond good lip sync. Speech contains energy and emotion, and that too can be decoded from the voice and synchronized in the face. Using all available acoustic information, our algorithms drive not just the mouth but the entire face from audio input, from syllables to scowls.”

Speech Graphics currently employs eight staff and is planning to recruit three more people in the coming year.