Avid gamers everywhere may soon be able to print action figures of their favorite game characters. Graphic experts and computer scientists from Harvard have created software that can turn any three-dimensional animation (think, Pixar) into a "fully articulated action figure,” according to a press release from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

According to the release, the software returns a virtual character to the real world, which means it has to abide by real world physical constraints. When animating characters from the game “Spore,” surface points are used to determine weight relationships and skeletal positioning. In the animated world, these figures lack joints and other body features that produce real-life movement. The software addressed this problem by identifying the best places on the image for joints, and then adjusted the character’s physical attributes. (i.e. a thin arm equals a smaller joint.)

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Skin textures were also optimized for 3D printing. The software analyzed the way light reflected off of the virtual skin and mapped it to a physical form.

Moritz Bacher, author of the study and a grad student in computer science, describes the use of this kind of software for animators, saying, “Right now, perhaps they can print a static scene, just a character in one stance, but they can’t see how it really moves. If you print one of these articulated figures, you can experiment with different stances and movements in a natural way, as with an artist’s mannequin."

Harvard has filed a patent application for the software and plans to commercialize it to either license it to an existing company or creating a start-up, with a focus on customized user-generated toys and enhancing animation.

Credit: Moritz Bacher