Sep.17, 2013

One century ago animated Mechanized characters, such as wind-up duck or dancing Eiffel Tower were very popular. Those clockwork automatons that move using a series of oddly shaped gears and threads, demands highly specialized engineering skills. But research teams at Disney Research have created a pair of software packages that allow non-expert users to create animated mechanical characters.

The software is developed by Disney Research labs in Zürich and Boston, and labs at ETH Zürich and MIT. The first set of tools allows a designer to input an articulated character into the software, select a set of actuation points on the character and sketch a set of curves to indicate the motion desired at each point. The system then draws upon the motion library to identify the mechanical assembly and its related set-up that best matches the desired motions. Simulation software then optimizes the assembly to achieve the animation envisioned by the designer.

The second set takes digital characters that are deformable rather than articulated, such as jelly monsters, plants and jiggling buildings, and helps transform them into elastic figures that can simulate the movements of their virtual forebears.

As input, the design system begins with a 3D representation of the figure in its neutral state as well as a set of target shapes representing the desired deformations. The user can then select actuation points in the figure or, particularly when the character lacks any apparent articulation structure, the system can suggest a number of actuators and their locations. Once the number and approximate locations of the actuators have been decided, the system optimizes the design, taking into account whether actuation will be applied using strings, pins or clamps.

In both instances, the design pipelines take advantage of rapid manufacturing methods, such as 3D printing, to fabricate the physical characters.

The researchers demonstrated the versatility of their software pipeline by designing ten animated characters and then fabricating seven of the characters using 3D printing technology. Design took less than a half hour in each case.

"Our characters are currently restricted to cyclic motions," said Stelian Coros, an associate research scientist at Disney Research, Zürich. "However, our research brings us one step closer to the rapid design and manufacture of customized robots that can sense and interact with their environments to carry out complex tasks."

In the third design stage, the system computes the distribution of stiff and soft materials within the character that will enable the desired deformations, while maintaining the overall shape of the character. Soft materials, for instance, might be placed near joints, with stiffer materials used in the limbs. This step took the most computation time of the three, but proved powerful; the researchers demonstrated, for instance, that material optimization enabled a straight bar to be deformed into four shapes very close to the target shapes using just two clamp-type actuators.

The researchers designed and fabricated both two-dimensional and three-dimensional characters – six in all – with the prototypes showing good agreement with their simulations.

"We believe our method is an important step toward physics-based design of real-world characters,"said Bernd Bickel, research scientist at Disney Research, Zürich. "Now, we'd like to explore using a larger number or range of materials to build these characters and to design more elaborate actuation systems so that the animation of complex structures could be automated."

Source: Disney Research


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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Armin wrote at 3/27/2017 1:34:59 AM:

Does anybody have news on this. I would really like to play with this more maybe 3d print some of these.

Curious wrote at 9/25/2013 2:18:28 PM:

This is amazing news because non-assemblies are a vastly underrated feature of AM at the moment. One question though: is the software equipped to calculate the non-assembly clearances for the machine intended to be used? If not, it seems like a lot of work to go through every joint and modify the clearance.

Elana kellogg wrote at 9/18/2013 4:02:17 AM:

I am very interested. I would like to know how to get started. where do I go to get the software package and how to create the figures. Please help me.

Dirty Steve wrote at 9/17/2013 3:41:35 PM:

I so very much want this offered as an app!

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