Disney Research uses 3D printing to bring animations into the real world

Disney Research has developed a method to bring animated characters into the physical world.

The researchers used 3D printing to create a number objects which were animated by mechanized cables and joints. To demonstrate the technique, the research created a puppet-like character, an animatronic hand and a gripper.

Titled ‘Designing Cable-Driven Actuation Networks for Kinematic Chains and Trees’, the paper combines researchers from MIT, ETH Zurich, the University of Toronto and Disney Research.

Gif shows the animated ‘Fighter’ character. Images via Disney Research.

Reducing complexity 

To create the mechanized devices, users are required to select a skeletal frame and choose desired poses. The system then forms a suitable cable network to recreate the poses.

Disney research scientist Moritz Bacher explains how, with this research, the team aims to compliment the rise in maker technologies;

“The advent of consumer-level 3D printing and affordable, off-the-shelf electronic components has given artists the machinery to make articulated, physical versions of animated characters,”

Bacher adds, “our approach eliminates much of the complexity of designing those mechanisms.” With similar aims, Disney Research has also recently been exploring the fabrication of 3D printed joints.

Gif shows the gripper especially configured to steal hearts. Images via Disney Research. 

Breathing life into animated characters

Vice president at Disney Research Markus Gross believes providing these physical tools is similarly as important as digital animation tools were in the past. As he says, “a number of design tools developed over the past 30 years have enabled artists to breathe life into animated characters, creating expressions by posing a hierarchical set of rigid links,”

“In today’s age of robotics and animatronics, we need to give artists and hobbyists similar tools to make animated physical characters just as expressive.”

Using the design software, the researchers were able to expand from animated figures into functional grippers and hands.

Austrian researchers from the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) similarly created software to design functional 3D printed objects.

 Thumbs up from Disney Research. The future of emoji?

With future work, the team intend to refine the mechanisms to give more degrees of freedom. But perhaps in the future Disney may implement 3D printed characters in the creation of films. Since Laika studios used 3D printing to create its stop-motion picture Kubo and the Two Strings.

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Featured image shows the ‘Fighter’ character puppet which has been animated by this system. Image via Disney Research.