Ubisoft shows off ZooBuilder, a prototype AI designed to animate animals

The final creations are tweaked by us meatbags.

Ubisoft has shown off its ZooBuilder AI tool, a project that the publisher has mentioned before in its early stages. It is essentially software that can be fed video footage of animals, which it will then analyse frame-by-frame, before constructing animated skeletons from the visual data. This thing builds lions. Kinda.

“It all started when we did not find a volunteer to setup the mocap suit on a bear,” tweeted the Ubisoft La Forge account. But the ZooBuilder project has been going on in the background of the publishing giant for many years, first publicly mentioned in 2020 when it was presented at a specialist animation symposium. The project began at Ubisoft China’s AI & Data Lab but is now being developed at Ubisoft La Forge, which is a Canadian studio dedicated to building technical prototypes based on the latest academic research.

As explained in the video, one of the problems animators face with animals is fairly obvious: they’re all different shapes and sizes, with different skeletal structures. I’m not going to pretend I understand how the next part works but, per what Ubisoft’s saying, ZooBuilder is a bunch of algorithms that are fed basic data about animals and a bunch of raw footage, which it uses to learn patterns from, which then create synthetic or artificial data—then this thing should start, somehow, to pump out fairly reasonable animation rigs for a given creature.

There’s also a practical element to this: you’re not realistically going to get a leopard in a motion capture studio. But you can show the tireless algorithms endless footage of them.