Ever imagine that you could turn any imaginary creature in video games to a physical model with a 3D printer? However often there can be a problem - "In animation you're not necessarily trying to model the physical world perfectly; the model only has to be good enough to convince your eye". That is saying, a physical model of a creature may be never be able to stand up in real life, you could even have a head that isn't attached to its body, or legs that occasionally intersect each other instead of colliding.
However a group of graphics experts from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Technische Universität Berlin and Cornell University have been working to solve these problems. They have created an add-on software tool that translates video game characters -- or any other three-dimensional animations -- into fully articulated action figures, with the help of a 3D printer.
The researchers demonstrated their new method using characters from Spore, an evolution-simulation video game, because Spore allows players to create a vast range of creatures with numerous limbs, eyes, and body segments in almost any configuration.
Left: a computer model / Right: physical model created using new software
(Photo courtesy of Moritz Bächer)
The software tool achieves two things: it identifies the ideal locations for the action figure's joints, based on the character's virtual articulation behavior, and then it optimizes the size and location of those joints for the physical world. For instance, a spindly arm might be too thin to hold a robust joint, and the joints in a curving spine might collide with each other if they are too close.
The software uses a series of optimization techniques to generate the best possible model, incorporating both hinges and ball-and-socket joints. It also builds some friction into these surfaces so that the printed figure will be able to hold its poses.
The tool also perfects the model's skin texture. Procedurally animated characters tend to have a very roughly defined, low-resolution skin to enable rendering in real time. Details and textures are typically added through a type of virtual optical illusion: 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 analyzes that map of normals and translates it into a realistic surface texture.
Then the 3D printer sets to work, and out comes a fully assembled, robust, articulated action figure, bringing the virtual world to life.
(Photo courtesy of Moritz Bächer)
"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," says Moritz Bächer, a graduate student in computer science at SEAS. "I think that’s helpful to the artists and animators, to see how it actually feels in reality and get some feedback. Right now, perhaps they can print a static scene, just a character in one stance, but they can’t see how it really moves. If you print one of these articulated figures, you can experiment with different stances and movements in a natural way, as with an artist’s mannequin."
The researchers believe when technology improves, this software may even be able to print models that can move. "Perhaps in the future someone will invent a 3D printer that prints the body and the electronics in one piece," Bächer muses. "Then you could create the complete animated character at the push of a button and have it run around on your desk."
Posted in 3D Software
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