Mursion | Next-Gen Avatars | Avatars | Environments | Animation | VR

Welcome to a space dedicated to my work and accomplishments at Mursion; the fast-growth SaaS start-up that I’ve proudly called my work home for the past 9+ years. In case you’re unfamiliar with Mursion, it’s a training company that helps people develop emotional intelligence by practicing interpersonal skills in an immersive VR simulator. At the heart of this simulator, are talented human interactors that inhabit the virtual avatars and guide the challenging conversations that unfold. This innovative learning modality is built on a decade of research which I encourage you to explore by visiting Mursion’s Official Website.

My professional journey with Mursion started in 2014 when a good friend called to say that he is launching a VR company and would like for me to join and lead the Art Department, which didn’t yet exist! The opportunity was obvious and although I was confident in my skills as a creative, I had no idea what Mursion had in store for me. In early 2015, sales took off and I was thrown into the deep end and overnight asked to scale an Art team and install outsourcing with aspirations to deliver multiple high-profile projects – many of which, proved key to Mursion’s early success. The Art team moved quickly to meet the aggressive demands of the business and it felt great to deliver, time and time again. It is worth noting that at this point, Mursion’s Art library of avatars, environments, and animation was in its infancy and every project was an opportunity to bootstrap. Every scope of work was a chance to expand the footprint by creating new content to help propel the business into new verticals and opportunities. We knew this well on the Art team and worked tirelessly to help the business open new doors in an effort to support the growth we were experiencing.

2017 – 2020 was a time at Mursion I’d characterize as the “innovation period” and what an exciting time it was to be part of the Art team. We invented and patented proprietary facial technology, partnered with experts to develop and launch an all-new photo -> avatar generation technology, expanded our outsourcing strategy to leverage overseas talent in support of production overflow, upgraded the animation pipeline from traditional hand-key methods to full-body performance capture, established internal and external artwork validation processes in support of DEI&B initiatives, and many other rewarding projects that I am grateful to have led.

Moving on to cap the last few years — Mursion took on Series B with a 100+ million valuation and quickly matured as an organization. We adopted the OKR business model, improved cross-departmental process flows, and strategically refined our product offerings; it’s been wonderful to contribute to and witness this next stage of growth while working closely with Mursion’s executive team. As for the Art team, the focus has been on the future with active development centered around the next generation of avatar artwork with an overarching goal to launch a brand new platform in FY24′. It’s exciting and I couldn’t be more grateful to an organization that believed in my skills and invested in my career by allowing me to become an Inventor, People Manager, Product Manager, Art Director, Thought Partner, and a Leader.

Next-Gen Avatars
  • Images captured from Unity 2020 Game View and represent a sample of Mursion’s next-gen library of avatars.
  • Models authored using a combination of scan data for the face and traditional 3D methods for the eyes, hair, and accessories.
  • Diverse avatar library validated for accuracy of race and ethnicity with input from external subject matter experts.
  • Models share a template topology that enables the global application of facial and skeletal animation systems.
  • Skin is rendered using a proprietary shader that simulates an optimized version of SSS.
  • Wrinkle map system developed via Unity’s shader graph and uses a library of anatomies to accentuate fascial expressions.
  • Clothing authored using Marvelous Designer with correctives for areas of high deformation.
  • Hair is always a challenge! Some of the more intricate styles, like the “Twist-Out”, were especially time-consuming.
Current-Gen Avatars
  • Images captured from Unity 2018 Game View and represent a sample of Mursion’s current-gen library of avatars.
  • 150+ Avatar library with wide-ranging coverage for age, gender, and demographics.
  • Base avatar model and texture generated using proprietary photograph -> 3D model technology.
  • Head anatomy refined to match the age, and ethnicity of reference material.
  • Hairstyles meticulously authored using hair cards and rendered via the cutout technique.
  • Clothing authored using traditional high poly -> low poly sculpting and texturing methods.
  • Facial animations are driven via 50+ blend shapes and anatomy offsets per model.
Adult Avatars & Classroom Simulations
  • Environments authored in a realistic art style to match the visual quality of next-gen avatars.
  • Scenes optimized for performance via material instancing, baked lighting, and Unity’s native texture compression.  
  • Templated furniture dimensions used across the library to allow for the reuse of avatar animation with minimum geometry clipping.
  • Environments populated with instantiated prop prefabs of varying colors and styles to expedite production.
  • Universal Render Pipeline utilized to streamline asset bundle build and deployment process targeting different platforms. 
  • Depth-of-Field, Bloom, Tonemapping, and Color Correction post-processing effects used to enhance image quality and realism.

2D Environment pipeline used from 2015 – 2019 allowed for photographs to be composited with avatars to create the illusion of a fully 3D scene. This technique was also utilized to optimize 3D scenes -> 2D scenes for clients running low-spec hardware.

  • Proprietary control system for virtual characters invented to drive facial expressions, poses, and behaviors using an input device.
  • In-house performance capture using DynamiXYZ for the face, Xsens for the body, and Manus Prime II for the hands. (Mocap System Schematic).
  • Body Mass Index feature that allows for configuration of avatar appearance via blend shapes.
  • Expansive and diverse conversational animation libraries for adult male and female avatars. Libraries include support for: sitting, standing, medical exam room, hospital room, nursing home, neurodivergent, wheelchair, brain trauma, autism, down syndrome, pregnant, military, BMI, laptop, cell phone, disheveled, and accessories.
  • Classroom task-based animation libraries per age group with unique character personalities and behaviors. Libraries include support for: high school, middle school, upper elementary, early education, and preschool classrooms. Fun fact – for the early education classroom, I captured my 7 yo son Leon and the data was gold!

Examples of next-gen avatar facial expressions with pressure-sensitive input, SSS skin, and wrinkle maps.

Examples of avatars with disabilities developed in close partnership with external subject matter experts.

Examples of classroom animations including actions, modes, and group commands.

  • VR is part of Mursion’s product offering and has been supported by the art team since 2015 for the Rift, Quest, Vive, and Pico.
  • Artwork content developed using 1:1 real-world dimensions for accurate perception in VR.
  • Art assets optimized for performance with simulations running 60+ fps non-tethered on Oculus Quest.

2020 VR product demo running current-gen artwork on the Oculus Rift at home at the height of the pandemic!

2018 SXSW Conference: VR Showcase of Italian music, technology, and culture, developed for the Italian Trade Agency for the HTC Vive.

2015 ASU GSV Conference + AT&T AR/VR challenge entry: VR prototypes developed for the Google Glass & Oculus DK1 kit.

3DoF VR prototype developed for the low-spec Oculus GO headset and achieved by baking 3D scene onto an environment sphere and restricting translational movement in VR.