Harvard computer scientists have developed the software that helps turn video game characters into real-life figures, using a 3D printer.
Computer figures created without the constraints of the physical world are difficult to print.
So the team developed a tool that identifies ideal locations for a real-world figure’s joints.
But a lawyer said if the technology were to come on the mass market, copyright issues could arise.
Three-dimensional printers, which create objects layer-by-layer using materials such as plastic, wood or chocolate, have been used to make toys, jewellery, car parts and even artificial limbs.
But making cartoon or computer games characters was more of a challenge, said Moritz Bacher, one of the researchers on the team.
“In animation you’re not necessarily trying to model the physical world perfectly – the model only has to be good enough to convince your eye,” he said.
“You can make a character so anatomically skewed that it would never be able to stand up in real life, and you can make deformations that aren’t physically possible.”
Moritz Bacher said although most video game characters were created with skeletons that help animators turn the figures around on the screen, they were different from those in real-life objects.
“As an animator, you can move the skeletons and create weight relationships with the surface points, but the skeletons inside are non-physical with zero-dimensional joints – they’re not useful to our fabrication process at all.
“In fact, the skeleton frequently protrudes outside the body entirely.”
The team developed software that identifies the ideal locations for a computer-game figure’s joints.
It is difficult to understand where the joints are just by looking at a character in 2D.
The software then optimizes the location and the size of the joints for the physical world and generates the best possible model.
It also analyses a computer character’s skin and enhances the texture, making it possible for details such as scales on a snake to appear on a printed object.
The researchers say the tool could be useful for artists and animators to experiment with a moving character.
“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,” said Moritz Bacher.
But if the technology were to come on the market for the mass consumer to use, a major issue could arise – copyright.