This story is from the category Sensors
Date posted: 29/08/2012
Within milliseconds, and just with the help of mathematics, computing power and conventional video cameras, computer scientists at the Max-Planck-Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken can automatically capture the movements of several people. The new approach helps not only animation specialists in Hollywood movies but also medical scientists and athletes.
In the computer graphics (CG) animated comedy "Ted," which is running now in the cinemas, Ted is a teddy bear who came to life as the result of a childhood wish of John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) and has refused to leave his side ever since. CG Animated characters like "Ted" have become a standard of Hollywood's movie productions since the blockbuster "Avatar" with its blue-skinned computer-animated characters won three Oscars and brought in three billion US dollars, digital animated characters have become a standard of Hollywood's movie productions.
While movies like "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Ted" still combined real actors with digital counterparts, the well-known director Steven Spielberg focused entirely on virtual actors in "The Adventures of Tintin." He used the so-called motion capture approach, which also animated Ted. Motion capture means that an actor wears a suit with special markers attached. These reflect infrared light sent and received by a camera system installed in a studio. In this way, the system captures the movements of the actor. Specialists use this as input to transfer exactly the same movements to the virtual character.
"The real actors dislike wearing these suits, as they constrain their movements," explains Christian Theobalt, professor of computer science at Saarland University and head of the research group "Graphics, Vision & Video" at the Max-Planck-Institute for Informatics (MPI). Theobalt points out that this has not changed since animating "Gollum" in the trilogy "Lord of the Rings." Hence, together with his MPI-colleagues Nils Hasler, Carsten Stoll and Jürgen Gall of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Theobalt developed a new approach that both works without markers and captures motions in realtime. "The part which is scientifically new is the way in which we represent and compute the filmed scene. It enables new speed in capturing and visualizing the movements with normal video cameras," Theobalt explains.
Implemented, it looks like this: The video cameras record a researcher turning cartwheels. The computer gets the camera footage as input and computes the skeleton motion of the actor so quickly that you cannot perceive any delay between the movement and its overlay, a red skeleton. According to Theobalt, the new computing approach also works if the movements of several persons have to be captured, or if they are obscured by objects in the studio and against a noisy background.
"Therefore we are convinced that our approach even enables motion capture outdoors, for example in the Olympic stadium," Theobalt points out. Athletes could use it to run faster, to jump higher or to throw the spear farther. Spectators in the stadium or in front of the TV could use the technology to tell the difference between first and second place. Besides entertainment, medical science could also benefit from the new approach, for example by helping doctors to check healing after operations on joints.
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