Software turns 3D animations into action figures
Computer scientists at Harvard have developed a software tool that can turn 3D animations into fully articulated action figures using a 3D printer.
The method uses characters from the video game Spore, which allows players to create creatures with almost any anatomical configuration using a technique called procedural animation.
This software tool works by identifying the ideal locations for the action figure's joints, based on the character's virtual articulation behaviour, and then optimising the size and location of the joints for the physical world. It then uses a series of optimisation techniques to generate the best possible model, incorporating both hinges and ball-and-socket joints.
The team says it is also possible to perfect the model's skin texture. Procedurally animated characters tend to have a very roughly defined skin to enable rendering in real time. Details are typically added by manipulating the normals that determine how light reflects off the surface. In order to have these details show up in the 3D print, the software analyses the map of normals and translates it into a realistic surface texture.
"With an animation, you always have to view it on a two-dimensional screen, but this allows you to just print it and take an actual look at it in 3D," commented Moritz Bächer, a graduate student in computer science at Harvard school of engineering and applied sciences. "I think that's helpful to the artists and animators, to see how it actually feels in reality and get some feedback."
The model does not allow deformations beyond the joints, so stretchable bodies are not yet captured in the process.
"Perhaps in the future someone will invent a 3D printer that prints the body and the electronics in one piece," added Bächer. "Then you could create the complete animated character at the push of a button and have it run around on your desk."
The team is currently working to commercialise the technology by licensing it to an existing company or by forming a start-up.
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