Turning Computer Animated Characters into Reality using 3D Printing

As we spoke about in this previous blog post, there remain a number of technological gaps between what we know as 3D content and 3D printing. Computer animation is one such area. The video above shows how articulated deformable characters from computer animation can be transformed into real 3D printed models that move in the same manner as the computer generated animation. This is significant because no methods currently exist for automatically fabricating animation using additive manufacturing technologies.

The professors and student in this unique study (Baecher, Bickel, James & Pfister) have proposed a method that takes a skinned mesh as input, then estimates a fabricatable single-material model that approximates the 3D kinematics of the virtual character!

I’ve even had the pleasure of interviewing one of the study’s authors, Moritz Baecher, which you can read below:

Sam GreenPlease tell us a little about yourself?

Moritz Baecher: Hi, I’m Moritz Baecher. I studied computer science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology where I graduated with a Master in Visual Computing in 2007. Prior to graduation, I interned with the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories in Cambridge (USA) and spent half a year as a research fellow at Harvard. I’m currently a fifth year Ph.D. student in the Graphics, Vision and Interaction Group at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences working with Professor Hanspeter Pfister.

SG:  Why did you choose to print the models on the Objet system?

MB: We started working with Objet 3D printers because of their unique property of allowing us to print with a range of materials at a high resolution. Our character models consist of a set of limbs jointed together with ball-and-sockets and hinges. With Objet’s system we were able to reduce the required minimal gap between movable parts to 0.3 mm. This allows us to keep more of a character’s articulation (at a given scale) than on other systems.

SG: Which Objet system were you using?

MB: The Objet Connex500. (read more about the Objet Connex system here)

SG: What’s your feedback on the functionality of the materials and the print quality?

3D Printed Hand with Articulated Ball and Socket Joints in Objet ABS-like material

MB: We’ve printed with VeroClearVeroBlack, and Objet’s ABS-like Digital Material. The advantage of VeroClear is its transparency: the joints of a printed character are visible. The advantage of the ABS-like material is its strength. It allows us to print models with functional and durable joints at smaller scales. The detail in the printouts is incredible. However, while our software supports full color, we haven’t been able to print colored characters yet. It would be nice to see Objet’s system support full color printing in the future.

SG:  What other projects will you be doing with the Objet system in future?

MB: In our current research projects, we are looking into new ways of adding “3D print button” functionality to 3D software packages. The printouts are going to be a ton of fun to play with and look at!

SG: Moritz, many thanks and we look forward to seeing more of your 3D print-outs really soon!

MB: Thank you very much! All the best.

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