UCT CS Research Document Archive

A linear framework for character skinning

Merry, Bruce (2007) A linear framework for character skinning. PhD, Department of Computer Science, University of Cape Town.

Full text available as:
PDF - Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader or other PDF viewer.

Abstract

Character animation is the process of modelling and rendering a mobile character in a virtual world. It has numerous applications both off-line, such as virtual actors in films, and real-time, such as in games and other virtual environments. There are a number of algorithms for determining the appearance of an animated character, with different trade-offs between quality, ease of control, and computational cost. We introduce a new method, animation space, which provides a good balance between the ease-of-use of very simple schemes and the quality of more complex schemes, together with excellent performance. It can also be integrated into a range of existing computer graphics algorithms.

Animation space is described by a simple and elegant linear equation. Apart from making it fast and easy to implement, linearity facilitates mathematical analysis. We derive two metrics on the space of vertices (the “animation space”), which indicate the mean and maximum distances between two points on an animated character. We demonstrate the value of these metrics by applying them to the problems of parametrisation, level-of-detail (LOD) and frustum culling. These metrics provide information about the entire range of poses of an animated character, so they are able to produce better results than considering only a single pose of the character, as is commonly done.

In order to compute parametrisations, it is necessary to segment the mesh into charts. We apply an existing algorithm based on greedy merging, but use a metric better suited to the problem than the one suggested by the original authors. To combine the parametrisations with level-of-detail, we require the charts to have straight edges. We explored a heuristic approach to straightening the edges produced by the automatic algorithm, but found that manual segmentation produced better results. Animation space is nevertheless beneficial in flattening the segmented charts; we use least squares conformal maps (LSCM), with the Euclidean distance metric replaced by one of our animation-space metrics. The resulting parametrisations have significantly less overall stretch than those computed based on a single pose.

Similarly, we adapt appearance preserving simplification (APS), a progressive mesh-based LOD algorithm, to apply to animated characters by replacing the Euclidean metric with an animation-space metric. When using the memoryless form of APS (in which local rather than global error is considered), the use of animation space for computations reduces the geometric errors introduced by LOD decomposition, compared to simplification based on a single pose. User tests, in which users compared video clips of the two, demonstrated a statistically significant preference for the animation-space simplifications, indicating that the visual quality is better as well. While other methods exist to take multiple poses into account, they are based on a sampling of the pose space, and the computational cost scales with the number of samples used. In contrast, our method is analytic and uses samples only to gather statistics.

The quality of LOD approximations by improved further by introducing a novel approach to LOD, influence simplification, in which we remove the influences of bones on vertices, and adjust the remaining influences to approximate the original vertex as closely as possible. Once again, we use an animation-space metric to determine the approximation error. By combining influence simplification with the progressive mesh structure, we can obtain further improvements in quality: for some models and at some detail levels, the error is reduced by an order of magnitude relative to a pure progressive mesh. User tests showed that for some models this significantly improves quality, while for others it makes no significant difference.

Animation space is a generalisation of skeletal subspace deformation (SSD), a popular method for real-time character animation. This means that there is a large existing base of models that can immediately benefit from the modified algorithms mentioned above. Furthermore, animation space almost entirely eliminates the well-known shortcomings of SSD (the so-called “candy-wrapper” and “collapsing elbow” effects). We show that given a set of sample poses, we can fit an animation-space model to these poses by solving a linear least-squares problem.

Finally, we demonstrate that animation space is suitable for real-time rendering, by implementing it, along with level-of-detail rendering, on a PC with a commodity video card. We show that although the extra degrees of freedom make the straightforward approach infeasible for complex models, it is still possible to obtain high performance; in fact, animation space requires fewer basic operations to transform a vertex position than SSD. We also consider two methods of lighting LOD-simplified models using the original normals: tangent-space normal maps, an existing method that is fast to render but does not capture dynamic structures such as wrinkles; and tangent maps, a novel approach that encodes animation-space tangent vectors into textures, and which captures dynamic structures. We compare the methods both for performance and quality, and find that tangent-space normal maps are at least an order of magnitude faster, while user tests failed to show any perceived difference in quality between them.

EPrint Type:Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Keywords:animation space, skinning, level of detail, parametrisation
Subjects:I Computing Methodologies: I.3 COMPUTER GRAPHICS
ID Code:443
Deposited By:Merry, Bruce
Deposited On:17 December 2007
Alternative Locations:http://www.brucemerry.org.za/research/downloads/alod-thesis.pdf