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Animation: Gait and movement differs according to wealth

When it comes down to animating how individuals move, it is definitely an uphill battle. To be realistic and believable, everyone has a slightly different gait, a different bank of mannerisms to choose from, that make them unique. Large budget passive CG has realised this, but then that type of production has the budget to do so. Still, with the advent of mocap technologies expanding the animator's options, such a system has begun to filter down to dynamic interactive VR as well.

As of February 2009, a study appeared in the journal 'Psychological Science'. The study, run by psychologists Michael W. Kraus and Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley, was instigated to examine whether or not the socio-economic status of an individual - their position in regards to their wealth and place in society - could be determined via their body language.

The result was positive. Non verbal cues such as body language and mannerisms do show the socio-economic status of their owner. Such behaviour comes in two broad categories:

Engagement behaviour

Engagement behaviour is a broad area classifying types of behaviour that signify rapt social interaction, such as nodding or shaking the head, laughing at jokes others make, making and maintaining eye contact, leaning forwards when seated, and generally trying to engage with others, even when bored silly.

Disengagement behaviour

Disengagement behaviour, whilst not necessarily anti-social, includes making eye contact for only so long as necessary to make a point. Taking out and fiddling with personal items whilst being spoken to, showing general level of boredom with a conversation, folded arms whilst being spoken to, looking around the room, et cetera.

The results of the study show that those who feel they have a higher socio-economic status - richer, more powerful people with influence, and valuable time, tended to show far more disengagement behaviours than engagement. Engagement behaviour was still present in those studied, so there was not a lack of social skills; however their attention seemed to wander and multitask whilst they were still listening and interacting.

On the flip side, those who feel they are more 'average' on the socio-economic stale, tended to show more engagement patterns than disengagement - holding eye contact, laughing at jokes, gesturing in regards to the conversation, et cetera. Again, disengagement behaviour was present, but not as a majority of non-verbal behaviour.

Using this in Animation

Based on this work, it is worth considering, when animating characters for a virtual environment, to use a pool of sequence files, labelled as different classifications, and have the characters pick randomly, a set number of such when they are first created. In this way, a certain randomness of individual behaviour is created, without having to work out or record a new sequence file for each character's behaviour.

Additionally, weight the selection, so that say, a rich town leader takes more behaviours for dialogue context that are disengagement based than engagement based, weighted according to how high their opinion if of themselves - or perhaps their place in society.

Generic NPCs on the flip side, would draw more from engagement than disengagement. The contrast, when viewed by players, would immediately reinforce the subconscious feeling of the individuality, and the importance of the NPC they were talking with.

Individual differences in animation speak volumes about an individual NPC

References & Further Reading

Rich Man, Poor Man: Study shows body language can indicate socioeconomic status

Original Study: Signaling Socioeconomic Status (PDF)

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