Bring Your Animations to Life with Digital Puppetry
All it takes is a Leap Motion and your hands to make the next The Powerpuff Girls
A team of Carnegie Melon researchers seeks to expunge the grunt work associated with the animating process with a software called Dranimate. It uses Leap Motion technology, a computer hardware sensor device that supports contactless hands and fingers motion as input.
Anyone who has ever used animation software, be it Maya, Cinema 4D, Blender, Toon Boom, Adobe Flash or the like knows how arduous the process of reproducing seemingly organic movement can be.
A flashback in history will help to further illustrate the precarious nature of animating as well as the innovative vision behind Dranimate: In 1990, a team of dedicated animators working for Pixar sought to create the world’s first feature-length computer animated film. Slaving for four years, Toy Story was finally birthed in 1994, and was released in theaters the subsequent year by Walt Disney Pictures. Generating sales upwards of $361,000,000 USD and a massive following, the film went on to receive three Academy Award nominations, an induction into the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and prompted the release of Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010).
Evidently, the work by the Pixar staff didn’t go unnoticed; the displayed endurance of the team for less than satisfactory pay ultimately proved a worthwhile endeavor, though many still question whether four years of work is a justifiable consumption of time to produce a predominantly child oriented media.
Fast forward to contemporary times: The creation of Dranimate significantly cuts down the time it takes to animate. By defining the edges of a computer uploaded hand-drawn image, a tetrahedral-like mesh silhouettes the figure, allowing users to map their fingers to particular nodes that operate as joints.
The resulting effect resembles a marionette, where each finger floating above the Leap Motion’s physical motion corresponds to the movement of the cartoon’s appendage. The sophistication of both device and software is further demonstrated by rigging one hand to one character and the other hand to another.
Though the software is currently only compatible with two-dimensional figures, Dranimate offers an accessible, intuitive and entertaining alternative to certain styles of animation and storytelling. Perhaps a future installation will make Dranimate actionable in accordance with three-dimensional figures, whereby films like Toy Story 4 will be released a year later, rather than four.