Connect with us

Gaming

The team behind Baidu’s first smart speaker is now using AI to make films – TechCrunch

Published

on

The HBO sci-fi blockbuster Westworld has been an inspiring look into what humanlike robots can do for us in the meatspace. While current technologies are not quite advanced enough to make Westworld a reality, startups are attempting to replicate the sort of human-robot interaction it presents in virtual space.

Rct studio, which just graduated from Y Combinator and ranked among TechCrunch’s nine favorite picks from the batch, is one of them. The “Westworld” in the TV series, a far-future theme park staffed by highly convincing androids, lets visitors live out their heroic and sadistic fantasies free of consequences.

There are a few reasons why rct studio, which is keeping mum about the meaning of its deliberately lower-cased name for later revelation, is going for the computer-generated world. Besides the technical challenge, playing a fictional universe out virtually does away the geographic constraint. The Westworld experience, in contrast, happens within a confined, meticulously built park.

“Westworld is built in a physical world. I think in this age and time, that’s not what we want to get into,” Xinjie Ma, who heads up marketing for rct, told TechCrunch. “Doing it in the physical environment is too hard, but we can build a virtual world that’s completely under control.”

Rct studio wants to build the Westworld experience in virtual worlds. / Image: rct studio

The startup appears suitable to undertake the task. The eight-people team is led by Cheng Lyu, the 29-year-old entrepreneur who goes by Jesse and helped Baidu build up its smart speaker unit from scratch after the Chinese search giant acquired his voice startup Raven in 2017. Along with several of Raven’s core members, Lyu left Baidu in 2018 to start rct.

“We appreciate a lot the support and opportunities given by Baidu and during the years we have grown up dramatically,” said Ma, who previously oversaw marketing at Raven.

Let AI write the script

Immersive films, or games, depending on how one wants to classify the emerging field, are already available with pre-written scripts for users to pick from. Rct wants to take the experience to the next level by recruiting artificial intelligence for screenwriting.

At the center of the project is the company’s proprietary engine, Morpheus. Rct feeds it mountains of data based on human-written storylines so the characters it powers know how to adapt to situations in real time. When the codes are sophisticated enough, rct hopes the engine can self-learn and formulate its own ideas.

“It takes an enormous amount of time and effort for humans to come up with a story logic. With machines, we can quickly produce an infinite number of narrative choices,” said Ma.

To venture through rct’s immersive worlds, users wear a virtual reality headset and control their simulated self via voice. The choice of audio came as a natural step given the team’s experience with natural language processing, but the startup also welcomes the chance to develop new devices for more lifelike journeys.

“It’s sort of like how the film Ready Player One built its own gadgets for the virtual world. Or Apple, which designs its own devices to carry out superior software experience,” explained Ma.

On the creative front, rct believes Morpheus could be a productivity tool for filmmakers as it can take a story arc and dissect it into a decision-making tree within seconds. The engine can also render text to 3D images, so when a filmmaker inputs the text “the man throws the cup to the desk behind the sofa,” the computer can instantly produce the corresponding animation.

Path to monetization

Investors are buying into rct’s offering. The startup is about to close its Series A funding round just months after banking seed money from Y Combinator and Chinese venture capital firm Skysaga, it told TechCrunch.

The company has a few imminent tasks before achieving its Westworld dream. For one, it needs a lot of technical talent to train Morpheus with screenplay data. No one on the team had experience in filmmaking, so it’s on the lookout for a creative head who appreciates AI’s application in films.

rct studio

Rct studio’s software takes a story arc and dissects it into a decision-making tree within seconds. / Image: rct studio

“Not all filmmakers we approach like what we do, which is understandable because it’s a very mature industry, while others get excited about tech’s possibility,” said Ma.

The startup’s entry into the fictional world was less about a passion for films than an imperative to shake up a traditional space with AI. Smart speakers were its first foray, but making changes to tangible objects that people are already accustomed to proved challenging. There has been some interest in voice-controlled speakers, but they are far from achieving ubiquity. Then movies crossed the team’s mind.

“There are two main routes to make use of AI. One is to target a vertical sector, like cars and speakers, but these things have physical constraints. The other application, like Alpha Go, largely exists in the lab. We wanted something that’s both free of physical limitation and holds commercial potential.”

The Beijing and Los Angeles-based startup isn’t content with just making the software. Eventually, it wants to release its own films. The company has inked a long-term partnership with Future Affairs Administration, a Chinese sci-fi publisher representing about 200 writers, including the Hugo award-winning Cixin Liu. The pair is expected to start co-producing interactive films within a year.

Rct’s path is reminiscent of a giant that precedes it: Pixar Animation Studios . The Chinese company didn’t exactly look to the California-based studio for inspiration, but the analog was a useful shortcut to pitch to investors.

“A confident company doesn’t really draw parallels with others, but we do share similarities to Pixar, which also started as a tech company, publishes its own films, and has built its own engine,” said Ma. “A lot of studios are asking how much we price our engine at, but we are targeting the consumer market. Making our own films carry so many more possibilities than simply selling a piece of software.”

Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Gaming

Famed Arthurian tale comes to silver screen in The Green Knight trailer

Published

on

Dev Patel stars as Sir Gawain in the forthcoming epic medieval fantasy film, The Green Knight.

An ambitious young knight of King Arthur’s Round Table makes an ill-advised bargain and embarks on a personal quest in the new trailer for The Green Knight, a forthcoming film by director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story) adapted from the famous 14th-century medieval poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Originally meant to debut at the 2020 SXSW festival, with a May 2020 theatrical release, the film was shelved in the face of the global pandemic. With theaters slowly reopening around the country (and the world), The Green Knight is finally being released this summer.

(Spoilers for the 14th-century medieval poem below.)

The original poem falls into the chivalric romance genre, relating a well-known story from Arthurian legend. (I highly recommend J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation from 1925 or Simon Armitage’s 2008 translation, recently revised.) On New Year’s Day, King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table gather at Camelot to feast and exchange gifts. A mysterious Green Knight disrupts the festivities and proposes a different kind of exchange: any one of the knights may strike him with one blow with his axe; in return, the Green Knight will come back in a year to return the blow. Sir Gawain, the youngest of the knights and nephew to Arthur, accepts the challenge and beheads the Green Knight. Everyone is shocked when the Green Knight picks up his severed head. He says Gawain must meet him at the Green Chapel one year hence to receive a similar blow, per their bargain.

As the deadline approaches, Gawain embarks on a quest to find the Green Chapel, having plenty of adventures and battles along the way. Finally, he arrives at a castle, and the lord and lady invite him to stay as their guest. The lord, Bertilak de Hautdesert, proposes another bargain: he will go out hunting every day and give Gawain whatever he catches, provided Gawain gives the lord anything he gains during the same day. And every day, the lady of the castle attempts to seduce the young knight while her husband is away. Gawain is caught between two competing codes: the code of chivalry demands that he not betray his host’s trust by sleeping with his wife, but the code of courtly love demands that he do whatever a damsel requests.

Kisses

He manages to courteously fend off the lady’s advances for two days, granting her only one and two kisses, respectively, which Gawain then passes on to the lord when he brings back a deer and a boar. On the third day, when Gawain once again spurns her advances, the lady tries to give him a gold ring. He declines the gift. But when she next offers him a green and gold silk sash that she swears will protect him from physical harm, Gawain—knowing his rendezvous with the Green Knight approaches—accepts in a moment of weakness, and the two exchange three kisses. He passes the three kisses on to the host when the lord returns with a fox, but Gawain doesn’t tell his host about the lady’s sash.

The next day, Gawain rides off to meet the Green Knight, who delivers the return blow. Gawain, who is wearing the sash, only suffers a minor nick on the neck. Technically, he “wins” their game, but the Green Knight reveals himself to be none other than Lord de Hautdesert and says that the entire yearlong scheme was meant to be a test of the Arthurian knights. Had Gawain told the lord about the sash, he would not have even suffered a slight wound on his neck. So Gawain’s victory is also a source of personal shame, even though the lord declares Gawain to be the most blameless knight in the realm.

There have been prior attempts to adapt Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for film and television, most notably director Stephen Weeks’ 1984 film, Sword of the Valiant, starring Sean Connery as the Green Knight. Both that film and Weeks’ earlier 1973 adaptation took considerable liberties with the original text—understandable, given the passage of centuries, but neither film proved successful. (Time Out’s reviewer even compared the poor production values of Sword of the Valiant unfavorably to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, although Connery received praise for his performance.)

Judging by the trailer, Lowery is also taking a few liberties with the source material. Per the official premise:

An epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend, The Green Knight tells the story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire), King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men. Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger.

Ralph Ineson (Game of Thrones, Absentia) plays the Green Knight; Sean Harris (Prometheus, The Borgias) plays King Arthur; Katie Dickie (Game of Thrones, Prometheus) plays Guinevere; Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) is the lady; and Joel Edgerton (who played Gawain in Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 King Arthur) plays the lord. The cast also includes Barry Keoghan, Sarita Choudhury, and Erin Kellyman.

The Green Knight opens in theaters on July 30, 2021.

Listing image by A24

Continue Reading

Gaming

Github reverses takedown of reverse-engineered GTA source code

Published

on

The reverse-engineered source code for the PC versions of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City is back online today, months after it was originally posted and then quickly taken down due to a DMCA request from publisher Take-Two.

TorrentFreak reports on the restored version of the project, which was posted as a seemingly identical fork of the original by a New Zealand-based developer named Theo. While the original GitHub poster (who goes by the handle aac) has not contested Take-Two’s original takedown, Theo told TorrentFreak he filed a counterclaim to restore his copy of the project, saying it “contained no code owned by Take Two.”

A question of law

We’ve previously looked in depth at how video game fan coders use reverse-engineering techniques to deconstruct the packaged executable files distributed by a game’s original developers. This painstaking, function-by-function process creates raw programming code that can generate exactly the same binary file when compiled (though the code as distributed on GitHub still requires external, copyrighted art and sound assets from legitimate copies of the games).

In general, reverse-engineering source code from a compiled binary is less straightforwardly illegal than simply cracking a game’s DRM for piracy purposes, for instance. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, US case law includes certain fair use exceptions that can allow for this kind of decompilation work for research or interoperability purposes.

In the case of Grand Theft Auto, though, the game’s End User License Agreement specifically asks players to agree not to “reverse engineer, decompile, disassemble, prepare derivative works based on or otherwise modify the Software, in whole or in part.” Back in 2005, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar anti-reverse-engineering EULA to take down BnetD, a reverse-engineered version of Blizzard’s Battle.net that allowed the service to be emulated on private servers.

Whatever the legal status of the code, Theo told TorrentFreak that he “believe[s] Take-Two’s claim to be wholly incorrect… since the code may be functionally identical, but not exactly identical, they hold no claim to the code.” So Theo filed a DMCA counterclaim requesting the affected code be reposted within ten to 14 days. When that time passed without notice of a formal legal filing by Take-Two, GitHub followed the DMCA guidelines and reposted the code nine days ago without ruling definitively on the merits of either claim.

Take-Two hasn’t responded to a request for comment from Ars Technica, so we don’t know if the publisher will go through the legal motions to remove the code again. For now, though, fans with the technical know-how can enjoy improvements made on top of the reverse-engineered code, such as bug fixes, reduced load times, improved rendering, widescreen monitor support, and a free-floating camera system, to name a few examples (not to mention derivative ports of the game to new platforms like Linux, Switch, and the PlayStation Vita).

Listing image by RockStar Games

Continue Reading

Gaming

Our fave gentleman thief is back for revenge in trailer for Lupin part 2

Published

on

Omar Sy is back as Assane Diop, a modern-day gentleman thief who models himself on the classic French fictional character Arsène Lupin, in part 2 of Lupin, coming to Netflix on June 11.

The Netflix French original series Lupin proved to be an unexpected hit when it debuted earlier this year, purportedly racking up views in 70 million households in its first month. And there’s good news for those frustrated by part 1’s cliffhanger ending: we’ll soon find out what happens next, as Netflix just dropped a full trailer and release date for part 2 of the saga. Alas, the trailer is dubbed in English—quelle horreur!—which means we miss out on star Omar Sy’s dulcet tones. (Dear Netflix: it’s OK to have subtitled trailers for your foreign fare. In fact, it’s far, far preferable to bad dubbing.)

(Some spoilers for part 1 below.)

As I’ve written previously, Arsène Lupin is the creation of Maurice Leblanc, who based the character partly on a French burglar/anarchist. Relentlessly pursued by a detective named Ganimard, Lupin is captured stealing a woman’s jewels while on board a ship. Although he is imprisoned, he ultimately escapes before standing trial and goes on to pull off many other colorful heists.

The Netflix series is the creation of Louis Leterrier, who directed the 2013 heist thriller Now You See Me, in which a band of magicians pulls off ingenious robberies. So it’s easy to see why he would be drawn to this project.

We meet the Senegal-born Assane Diop (Sy) while he’s working as a janitor at the Louvre, surrounded by artwork worth millions. Currently on exhibit is a jeweled necklace that once belonged to Marie Antoinette, in advance of a public auction to sell the piece to the highest bidder. It was this recently recovered necklace that his father, Babakar (Fargass Assandé), was falsely accused by wealthy financier Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre) of stealing. Assane is out for revenge for his father’s subsequent suicide. After duping local gang members into pulling a decoy heist, Diop disguises himself as a wealthy potential buyer and crashes the auction—and ultimately walks away with the necklace.

That’s just the beginning of the story, as we learn more about Assane’s history—including his relationship with childhood sweetheart Claire (Ludivine Sagnier), the mother of his son—and why he has modeled his schemes on the exploits of Arsène Lupin. Elements drawn from various Lupin stories are cleverly woven throughout the series, most obviously “The Queen’s Necklace”—the title of the pilot episode, which incorporates several plot elements of the original story and also provides the inspiration for the name of Assane and Claire’s son: Raoul (Etan Simon). Captain Romain Laugier (Vincent Londez) and another detective, Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab), are part of the team investigating the Louvre heist, and both share traits with Ganimard.

Count me among those who thoroughly enjoyed part 1. “The series is briskly paced without sacrificing character development, capturing the essence of each character in deft strokes. The cast delivers strong performances across the board,” I wrote in my review earlier this year. “But it’s Sy’s Assane who anchors the series as the quintessential gentleman thief for the 21st century.” But I was also a fan of the original novels and short stories and was a little surprised at the huge success Lupin enjoyed around the world. And I wasn’t the only one. A bewildered French journalist interviewed me about why I thought audiences were responding so enthusiastically—while making it very clear he did not care for the show at all.

It’s partly because Netflix, in particular, has a gift for ferreting out solid foreign films and TV series likely to appeal to American tastes. And Lupin has just the right amount of universal appeal for audiences craving fresh fare while stuck at home during a global pandemic. In fact, it was a hit in households all around the world, including Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa.

The show even reached No. 1 in France, so that French journalist was in the minority. Who doesn’t love the dashing exploits of a gentleman thief? “This level of response is totally beyond me,” Sy told Deadline Hollywood earlier this year. “It’s great to see in Brazil or in France they loved Lupin for the same reason. There’s something universal, and that’s something I always try to achieve.”

The only bad thing about Lupin part 1 was that, at only five episodes, it was too short and ended on the mother of all cliffhangers, with Pellegrini’s henchmen kidnapping Assane’s son in retaliation for the theft of the diamond necklace and Assane’s attempt to make Pellegrini’s longstanding corruption public. Per the official part 2 premise: “Assane’s quest for revenge against Hubert Pellegrini has torn his family to pieces. With his back to the wall, he now has to think of a new plan, even if it means putting himself in danger.”

The trailer opens right where part 1 left off, with Assane’s son bound and gagged in a chair and Assane vowing revenge against Pellegrini. That’s going to be particularly difficult, since Pellegrini has used his media contacts to frame Assane for a crime he didn’t commit, and Assane is now the most wanted man in France. So Assane and his loyal ally, jeweler Benjamin Ferel (Antoine Gouy), decide to disappear for a bit to concoct a new plan while in hiding. Meanwhile, Pellegrini is setting a trap for our gentleman thief: a symphony performance in honor of Arsène Lupin. We get plenty of gorgeous shots of Paris, a car chase, and what looks like an epic showdown in the famous catacombs of Paris.

Lupin part 2 debuts on Netflix on June 11, 2021. Netflix has already renewed the series for a part 3, so we’ll be getting lots more of Assane’s dashing exploits in the future. And it’s the perfect time to binge all five episodes of part 1 if you haven’t already seen them.

Listing image by YouTube/Netflix

Continue Reading

Trending