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Enhanced Computer Animation by Fusing Computer Graphics Technology with Smart Data Management

Final Report Summary - ANIM (Enhanced Computer Animation by Fusing Computer Graphics Technology with Smart Data Management)

Despite over 30 years history and the ability to produce stunning visual effects for many blockbuster movies, the industry of computer animation remains one of the most labour-intensive ones where quality moving imagery relies heavily on manual operation from a large number of animators. Aiming to improve the status quo by developing the “next generation computer animation techniques” through knowledge transfer and research development, the primary objective of project “AniM” is to gain complementary knowledge and expertise and to develop “smart solutions” and “data management strategies” which benefit the process of animation creation and enhance the efficiency in digital content generation.

The current industry is seeking for effective models and systems to handle and manage increasing data storage. “AniM” has contributed to construction of a theory framework to fulfil the existing gaps and developed software prototype tools to provide practical solutions, which can bring in useful capability of handling complex scenes and data in a large scale. In line with the research development, the fellow has received full-suite training on various skills related to computer animation production and software usage, esp. with a special focus on novel modelling technologies and human computer interaction.

Overview of main results:
• “AniM” has developed novel ordinary differential equations (ODE) based approaches using no-mesh representation to model geometric information (e.g. Chinese Marionette head), which provide better accuracy and higher order smoothness.
• “AniM” has developed a prototype of 2D Chinese traditional marionette performance system by utilising depth motion sensing technology to provide natural interaction/control and immersive experience, which is available for download via the project website.
• “AniM” has developed two prototypes of novel interactive digital storytelling system assisted with virtual puppetry to provide natural interaction/control and immersive experience, which are available for download via the project website.
• “AniM” has developed a software prototype of intelligent animation data management, which demonstrates the intelligent way to facilitate animation creativity and to encourage interaction among users. The main functions include: a mobile client APP and distributed servers to allow flexible access to animation data; smart tools for animation data visualisation which organise/aggregate the animation data set and interpret/display the information in a user friendly manner; ontology based digital assets management to provide semantic smart animation contents retrieval.
• “AniM” has organized a workshop in September 2016 to disseminate research output to peers from both academia and industry. The workshop stimulated wide discussions and communication on new insights, approaches and methods of the next generation computer animation techniques and the intelligent animation data management.
• “AniM” has published a number of research papers on top journals and peer reviewed international conferences (4 journal papers + 1 in writing and 6 conference presentations) to disseminate research outcomes and create influences. Among them, one paper has won the best paper award (4th place) at VRCAI 2015 in Japan which is a joint event with influential SIGGRAPH Asia conference.

The computer animation industry has been booming and prospering in recent thirty years. One of the significant changes faced by this industry is the evolution of computer-animation data and, yet, extant literature has offered very little insights into the evolution process and management issues pertinent to computer-animation data. Hence, many questions have surfaced in the extant literature of computer-animation data management. For example, to what extent has the data content expanded in terms of quantity and quality? To what extent has the information technology used to store and process the data changed? To what extent have the user and the community groups diversified in terms of their nature and number?
“AniM” has taken the pioneering step to address these issues by proposing four factors prudent for examining the evolution phases associated with computer-animation data management: technology, content, users, and community. A conceptual framework to guide practical developments of software and tools have utilised the inter-dependent relationships between these four factors together with associated theoretical and managerial issues. “AniM”, albeit limited by its conceptual and prototyping nature, has advanced the extant literature of computer animation, information system, and open-product model.
In recent years, computer animation has undergone many profound changes. Chief among them is platform innovations. Digital platforms (e.g. smartphone and tablets) have titillated consumer appetite for novel animation content, and consequently, have vitalised the growth of the computer animation. Current animation trends include interactive platforms, such as moving video to mobile devices, to the Internet and to social networking sites. “AniM” has studied and tried to implement the innovative prototypes of interactive digital creation and data sharing platforms, which aim to enable animation producers and consumers to share and exchange digital data. We share the vision that some avid animation fans will opt to participate in the animation creation process with the help of the up-to-date digital technology developed in “AniM”.
With the expansion of the animation production, the next evolution of animation data management is expected to focus on solving the growing trend of massive data in animation production. As a result, animation companies are encouraged to be more proactive with their management strategies and practices relating to data handling. Advanced technologies or tools and novel platforms, such as mobile computing, cloud services and intelligent data management, will shed light on the future trends of storing and processing animation data. As the animation industry globalises, the animation production will involve multiple specialists from various geographical locations, and, in turn, the animation data will become more mammoth and more multifaceted inevitably.

The socio-economic impacts
Overall, the project has served as a pilot investigation for wider society to understand and use the new technologies of computer animation and digital creation. It has contributed to the excellences of research areas of FP7 and in particular to Objective 8.1 Technologies and Scientific Foundations in the Field of Creativity which associates to Challenge 8, ICT for Creative and Learning in the ICT 2013 work programme, with novel animation creation and data management technologies.

The gap between technology development and industry need has been addressed in the research development with fruitful outputs of research papers, codes and software prototypes. The main research findings and outcomes have been summarised in the research papers and reports for dissemination so that academics and wide communities can have free access.

AniM’s research has tailored to address the demands in industry, where large studios spent millions dollars to develop and maintain complex proprietary systems. Anim’s development has demonstrated the new solution of sharing animation data and shed the light to the “smart and mobile” direction to innovate existing solutions, such as “Alienbrain” and “Shotgun” which present the current digital asset management model.

The emergence of new technology on computer animation brings excellent business opportunities. The video games industry alone is estimated to reach a global total of $70 billion (about €50 billion) in revenue by 2015. Great efforts has been investigated in the project implementation to channel the research outputs to targeted companies, including the meetings with key persons (Natural Motion, Double Negative, Picasso Pictures), the conference presentations, a research workshop to summarise and demonstrate the outputs. Resources, including demos and codes have been added to website for free access and usage.

AniM also created a good synergy with a number of parallel on-going existing projects. It has exchanged knowledge and formed interaction with visiting researcher from an EU FP7 Marie Curie IRSES project (612627), AniNex. The fellow also contributed to another multi-million Euro EU FP7 project (611383) Dr Inventor by volunteering in the evaluation test. The research outputs of “AniM” have also helped to form part of a knowledge background for a new research bid to Interreg VA France (Channel) England on improving sustainability of heritage sites using virtual reality technology, which worth 7 million Euro.

The investment in “AniM” has contributed to maintaining technical advances of EU in the relevant fields of computer animation and digital technology, generating direct impact on the ever evolving field of animation and digital economy. It has brought new vision and introduced possible new methods in industrial practices, with direct outputs of practical tools and software prototypes.

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