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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 6 | Jun. 5, 2003

Motion Doodles

Software makes computer animation accessible to artists of all ages

By Gayle Mavor and Michelle Cook

Can’t draw a stick figure to save your life? New software designed by two Computer Science graduate students may give hope to all the budding artists out there blessed with more enthusiasm than skill.

Motion Doodles can quickly turn even very young children into amateur animators, say its designers Matthew Thorne and Dave Burke. If you can draw with a pencil, you can use it. That means anyone, regardless of their computer skill or artistic ability, can create rudimentary animations.

“In less than a minute, you can have a figure up on the screen and moving around doing leaps and somersaults,” says Burke, who worked on developing the software’s character sketching abilities.

All it takes is a simple swish of your mouse or stylus. In a two-part process, the software lets you sketch a series of basic loops representing a human head, torso, arms and legs. Once you’ve got those seven basic body parts, you can add hair and hands if you wish. The computer transforms your doodle into a figure capable of replicating basic (and some not-so-basic) human motions.

Then the fun really begins. Draw a forward circle with your mouse and your doodle executes a front flip of Olympian caliber. Drag your mouse in arcs and your doodle marches forward, with each arc specifying the length and height of each step. You can make the figure jump, tiptoe, stomp - whatever suits your mood. You can even add a few landscape features like trees and hills. You don’t even need to worry about proportion. In the world of Motion Doodles, even a stubby legged animation can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

“You don’t really need any art skills at all to do this,” says Thorne, who developed the database of motions that provides the user with choreography choices.

Motion Doodles may seem like a high-tech Etch A Sketch® toy but in spirit it lies somewhere between the simple interfaces used in computer games that allow players to steer characters, and the more difficult-to-use “keyframing” interfaces that professional animators use to control every aspect of a character’s motion. There is currently no software on the market quite like it.

Thorne has been working on developing Motion Doodles since October 2002 as part of his master’s thesis on how to “sketch” motion. His principal reference for the project has been The Animator’s Survival Kit, a book by Roger Rabbit creator Richard Williams. One of the biggest challenges has been finding a set of appropriate doodles that map to the natural motions of the human body.

Just as the musical notation system was created to write songs or “capture” music hundreds of years ago, Thorne has had to invent a notation system for motion, says his thesis supervisor Michiel van de Panne, a Canada Research Chair in Computer Graphics and Animation.

“We’re designing a new language, a system of shorthand or gestural notations to create motion that is easy to understand and use,” says van de Panne.

While the project is in its infancy, Van de Panne hopes it will lead to more complex sketching software in the future. The possibilities for both the 2D and 3D versions of Motion Doodles are open to further exploration. Aside from its potential as a fun animation tool for artists of all ages, it could be used to quickly draw storyboards for film animation or video games. It would also be useful as a choreography tool for diving, dancing or gymnastics routines.

Before that van de Panne would like to see the software’s repertoire of motions enlarged and get a prototype into the hands of amateur animators for testing. After that, don’t be surprised to see a doodle moonwalking soon on a screen near you.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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