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 Muscle and bone bring animated characters to life

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Date posted: 11/07/2006

A new animation system analyses 3D models, and automatically generates the proper skeletal and muscular systems accurate to that form. These systems can then be manipulated for animation.

In the past, models have always worked in reverse, a wireframe model of a character's outer appearance moves in pre-programmed ways, and an animator manually works out how the skin should wrinkle and bunch if those movements happen.

By starting from the inside with a skeleton and working outwards by adding muscles it is possible to make very realistic animations that can even be used by surgeons to work out anatomy.

This system was created by Jian Zhang and Xiaosong Yang researcher at the National Centre for Computer Animation in Bournemouth, UK. Currently, its biggest problem is speed ? too slow for animators to use for the moment.

"It works by using geometric processing of the still character to determine where muscles should go," Zhang said. "If there's an important muscle it will show through the skin so the tool can infer where the major muscles should be."

The software guesses at a suitable skeleton to attach the muscles to by adapting a standard humanoid skeleton to fit the character's overall shape. With skeleton, muscles and skin all in place, the character can be made to move in more realistic ways.

The software simulates how the muscles affect the outward appearance as they contract, relax and slide in relation to joints and other muscles.

"Our method could also be applied to characters based on other mammals. As long as the basic shape of an animal's skeleton is known and the skin is designed, it would work just as well?

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