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Innovation Brings New Life to Animated Characters

As the number of film and video game releases featuring computer-generated characters and sequences increases, the experts at the National Centre for Computer Animation at Bournemouth University have unveiled a clever new system to bring more realistic movement to animated characters.

The development, lead by Bournemouth researcher Prof Jian Zhang and his colleague Dr Xiaosong Yang, allows animators to ‘flesh out’ their characters from the outside appearance rather than take the more conventional route of working from the inside out. When an animator is happy with a character’s appearance, the computer will automatically generate an appropriate anatomy to fit inside resulting in more realistic movement. The new system is so adaptable, it can be used to create almost any humanoid or animal character so long as the shape of the skeleton and the consistency of the skin is known.

“In animation, what looks right is right but when it comes to movement and appearance, both the public and the industry are demanding more and more realism from computer animated characters,” says Professor Zhang, Director of Bournemouth’s Computer Animation Research Centre. “This is usually very difficult and time-consuming for animators to achieve; using the traditional muscle-based approach, they usually start to work from a basic skeleton and then spend hours adding layers of muscle and then skin. The movement and skin deformation is then determined from that process and can often lack the realism appropriate to the story, which both the animators and audiences really desire.”

“Using our software, it is now possible for animators to replace all of that ‘mechanical’ work with a new process that builds the internal structure of a character based on its outward appearance putting the animator in complete control of the creative process but saving hours and hours of development time,” Professor Zhang. “The software can determine a suitable humanoid skeleton for the character based on its appearance and can then attach muscles to that skeleton to fit the character’s shape making it move more realistically in a way that our movement is governed by our musculo-skeletal make-up.”

In addition to commercial applications within the entertainment industry, Professor Zhang and his colleagues can also see more practical applications in medicine emerging as doctors seek to use the outward appearance of a patient to determine the biomechanics of their anatomy.

“Having used this new system ourselves, we believe it to be a very useful tool,” Professor Zhang concludes. “There are still lots of technological challenges ahead for computer animation but this development is certainly an aid to the animator who is able to accelerate the animation process without having to learn an entirely different production approach.”

Charles Elder | alfa
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