Recent 3D Animation Techniques

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Published: 11th July 2012
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3D animation finds its applications in different areas such as movies or games industry, as well as it is useful for different kinds of education purposes. It brings more human, social and dramatic reality to these fields. The reason of using the animations for educational purposes is to create specialized presentations to support greater level of realism that is adequate for better understanding of the context presented.

3D animating found in games refers to various sorts of objects and characters that are animated in real-time (flocking systems, etc). Its application in this area concerns realistic fashion of animation during the game and, for example, in cutscenes which break up the gameplay.

According to animations that are present in movies, these are used to provide the sophisticated art and entertainment by watching amazing graphics. The number of different techniques that are found in production of films is great, e.g. Motion Capture, Rotoscoping and many more.

1. Potential of 3D animation

3D animation is growing in both use and importance and the need for new advances in this field becomes an emerging possibility for studies and researches as new approaches need to be developed. The latest findings show it is essential to invent new algorithms and techniques for creating better results that could be adopted by other industries. Recent studies concern, among other methods, facial expressions and character animations which are important areas to discover.

The number of movies and games that make use of computer generated animation becomes larger as existing approaches yet are able to provide realistic effects. However, there is a need to enhance the knowledge regarding recent methods that simulate these processes. Furthermore, this knowledge should be adopted by active animators and newcomers.

The limitations of existent technology bring to live problems that must be faced by current animators. These limitations cause the lack of realism in animations produced by most animators as they have no professional tools or have no experience to do so. As a consequence, the motivation for exploring the areas of facial expressions and character animations needs to be addressed to scientists and developers of new animating approaches. The findings can enhance rendering facial features or improve the level of realism applied to a character. Finally, new methods can create new ways of producing animations more efficient and more effective.

2. Recent advances and future technologies

Facial animation and character animation have a long history in their development processes. At its early stage, both were only available in cartoons, where animators were drawers painting sequences of pictures to create an illusion of movement. But the advance in facial animation and character animation areas became larger as the technology has risen. A development of computer graphics started applying both areas by computers.

2.a. Facial animation

Depending on what technique the animator would take to animate a face, the production cycle is different. For some standards methods, mesh of the face model needs to be pre-modelled then vertex by vertex, frame by frame animated to produce desired expression. For some latest approaches, such like motion capture, the mesh of the face is captured instantly. After that, animators polish and smooth the pre-generated animation and add some details to the mesh model.

The list of some standard techniques which are related to facial animation:

Skeleton-Muscle System
Morph Target Animation

Skeleton-Muscle System, for example, is a relatively old technique that is used in most commercial animated movies production. Also, 3DS MAX package supports this approach. The Skeleton-Muscle System has a 1:1 correspondence to know other face muscles surrounding. Moreover, it uses a spring and mass systems to animate or deform the skin.

Other method, called Morph Target Animation, bases on moving each vertex of a face mesh to a different position in every keyframe to create a motion. By doing this an animator is able to make real-looking face expressions (smile or blink) or sophisticated movements to bring life into computer-generated lines, points and surfaces.

The most recent advances in facial animation have presented new ways to capture facial expressions from human face. This technique can be implemented by using specialized detectors which transfer the data to the PC during the face movements. Nowadays, a large number of such tools are present but all of them use different algorithms and different equipment and the results obtained from every each one are more or less accurate. Typically, more accurate systems cost more. An alternative to them are cheaper systems which are widely used.

The list of most recent techniques which are related to facial animation:

Non-Rigid Tracking for Facial Motion Capture
Spatial Markov Random Field method
Sketch-Based Facial Animation
Sparse Stereo Mesh

Among other recent methods, Sparse Stereo Mesh gives relatively great results. Sparse Stereo Mesh is designed to obtain facial contours by capturing the data from special markers that are placed on the human face using the camera. The input data is a dense 3D mesh of the person. This technique allows transferring the kinematics learned on a sparse mesh onto the 3D dense mesh, which provides more realism at the end.

The application of all facial animation techniques is wide (biometrics, animation, CGI, etc). There are some factors that differ ones from another, such like:

Production cycle (new development approaches in use)
Costs (new expensive technology will become cheaper)
Production time (new advances save the production time)
Obtained textural details (such as wrinkles or stubble)
Captured quality of expressions (quality of the facial 3D mesh)
Number of filters used to smooth the skin (if supported)
Detectors (markers) used or not
Future holds (new technology will be in use)

2.b. Character animation

Animation techniques applied to a character have a large number of applications being done so far. The production cycle of the character animation is similar to facial animation.

The list of some standard techniques which are related to character animation:

Morph Target Animation
Forward Kinematics and Inverse Kinematics
Skeleton-Based Animation

Forward Kinematics calculates the movements of particular part from the position and orientation of the object, in the normal way, downward the tree structure. In case of using Inverse Kinematics the position and orientation of each part of the articulated model is determined by desired position of certain parts of the model, movement is calculated upward the tree structure.

In Skeleton-Based Animation approach a skeleton is a base having hierarchical structure of the human model. Each part of the model is responsible for a portion of deformable mesh. In practice, the character obtains shapes by attaching a mesh to a skeleton. Assuming, the skin will follow the movement of the skeleton.

Motion Capture advance for character animation is as great 3D animation tool for realistically capturing human motion. There are a lot of mocap systems that are widely used because of their precision and big advantage of simplifying the process of animation (mechanical, electromagnetic, optical).

Here is the Motion Capture Pipeline:

3D Position Reconstruction
Fitting to the Skeleton
Post Processing (motion editing, motion warping)

The future of the Motion Capture:

Marketless mocap
Cheaper (current systems are relatively expensive)
Larger use and easier access

3. Conclusions

For sure, film and games industries profit from the latest technology, for example Motion Capture, as well as other methods to successfully progress the realism and feelings in movies and games. Moreover, commercial graphics packages (Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3DS Max, Light wave 3D) enable animators to create movements smoother and better. Moreover, animation techniques are successively developed and it is important to invent new algorithms for creating greater results that could be adopted by other industries.

The very current state of technology in a range of researches about facial expressions and character animations is advanced. However, the technology cannot be easily implemented and used by actual graphics and animating systems/ software. The limitation due to computers power causes that this technology can be used by expensive computer systems that are able to handle all the operations to produce best effects.

Assuming, an effort to develop new approaches, that can be available for everybody, is needed.The latest trends show a huge impact of facial and character animations on the technology development. In the future new techniques will be invented for tracking human movements and facial expressions more precise and more efficient.

The original article can be found on our blog.

Martin Blair from Hypernova Design is an expert in graphic design so please feel free to contact him if you have any design related questions.

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