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March 2015

PDF Documents are Better with Animation

We've had books with pictures in them for hundreds of years. With modern computing powers we can move from static pictures in our PDF documents to dynamic animations and tell a more compelling and understandable story like in this Project Draco example (you may need to download it to see the animation in action and use Adobe Reader X or newer).

As we can see in the video above, there are things to consider when authoring a document with animated figures:

  • readers should not be burdened with complex UI controls
  • readers should not be distracted by the animation when reading text. 

Of course there are other things to consider when creating animated figures:

  • Duration: just like with a static figure, keep the animated figure short and concise
  • File Size: keeping the animations short will reduce file size
  • Number of Animated Figures: use them sparingly but where important to communicate
  • Audio: sound can be included but can be very distracting so use only if necessary

In a work of entertainment, like a comic book, publishers may be more free with including animations. When publishing an academic paper or instructional document, beyond showing an animation, here are some of the best places to use an animated figure:

  • Demonstrating How an Interaction Technique Works
  • Illustrating Cause and Effect
  • Contrasting Visual Differences 
  • Visualizing How an Algorithm Works

You can read more about this research and follow our instructions if you want to try it out. Happy publishing! 


Teaching the Computer How to Draw

Simon Breslav from the Environments and Ergonomics team likes to draw and did some work with his colleagues at the University of Toronto on teaching the computer how to draw. The computer can study the line styles on a drawing and apply it to a new 3D model creating a hand drawn look similar to the artists original creation. This can be useful for both replication and restoration of historic works as well as new applications such as animated cartoons. 

Teaching the computer to draw Autodesk Research

The group had artists hand shade 3D models of different objects and taught the computer to analyse what the artists had done. From the drawing they pulled out the following information:

  • Hatching level: whether a region contains no hatching, single hatching, or cross-hatching.
  • Orientation: the stroke direction in image space
  • Cross-hatching orientation: the cross-hatch direction when present
  • Thickness: the stroke width
  • Intensity: how light or dark the stroke is
  • Spacing: the distance between parallel strokes
  • Length: the length of the stroke

These factors can be visualized:

Analyzing Drawings Autodesk Research


And then synthesized - both making for interesting drawings themselves:

Autodesk Research Drawing Synthesis

 The results of the learning and application are pretty impressive as you can see below:

Autodesk Research Teaching the computer how to draw

This work is the first of its kind in learning the complexities and intricacies in the human artistic process. Future studies may include stroke textures, stroke tapering and randomness in strokes (such as wavy or jittered lines).

4D Printing: aka 3D Printing Self Evolving Structures

4D Printing adds the dimension of time to 3D Printing. Instead of printing stable and static objects, with multi-material printing we are starting to manufacture soft and active objects that can react to their environment. In our post on Synthetic Biology for Architects we talk about the potential of growing a house from a seed. In this post we'll talk about some of the steps being taken by the Autodesk Research Programmable Matter team to get there.

Other than growing a house, why else might you want a 3D printed object to change over time? 

Soft robotics and bio-inspired robotics are one popular reason. These soft machines inspired by nature are particularly interesting to medical science at smaller scales that can be applied within a body. Another reason might be that the object being manufactured is larger than the printer but it can be folded up.

With this research we are using the Nucleus Physics solver to help simulate the behaviour of the objects - they can bend and stretch.

Autodesk Research 4D PrintingThe objects are composed of bars and disks. The disks in the center act as stoppers. By adjusting the distances between the stoppers it is possible to set the final folding angle.

4d printing Autodesk Research

The magic of this process is the combination of two materials at printing time. We use a rigid plastic base and a material that expands upon exposure to water. The expanding material is a UV curable polymer that when exposed to water absorbs and creates a hydrogel with up to 200% of the original volume.

With this system we've been able to create a variety of shapes getting as complicated as this undulating grid pictured below.

4d printing Autodesk Research

In the video below you can see the objects change over time as they are immersed in water.

You can read more about this exciting project on the Autodesk Research site.


A Repeatable 3D Printing Process for Low-Cost Prosthetics

Dr. Ryan Schmidt leads the Design and Fabrication group at Autodesk Research and has been working with CBM Canada and Dr. Matt Ratto's Semaphore Lab at the University of Toronto to create a repeatable and inexpensive process for childrens’ prosthetics. The pilot for this project is taking place at CoRSU Hospital in Uganda. Dr. Ratto talks about the project in the following short video.

This project is currently focusing on trans-tibial (below the knee) prosthetics. Above the knee is known as trans-femoral and you may have heard of the complementary prosthetic knee project D-Rev is working on with the Autodesk Foundation. Both of these projects are helping the developing world by reducing costs from thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars down to tens of dollars. 

The team recently went to Uganda to visit the prosthetists at CoRSU hospital to familiarize them with the latest tool developments, get their feedback and test the tools beyond the home lab.

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The prosthetics lab at the hospital is a workshop with a lot of familiar hand tools. Here we see Dr. Ratto from the University of Toronto.

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Prosthetics have two primary parts – the socket for the limb to fit into and the prosthetic limb. Here we see some lower legs with feet. These parts can be reused as the patient grows. 

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The current process is both time-consuming and produces more waste than necessary. The current process requires creating a plaster mold of the residual limband then creating a plaster positive of the limb to vacuum form a plastic socket around. Here we see some plaster positives ready to be discarded.

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Once the plastic socket is created, the hand tools are used to improve the fit and comfort for the patient. Using a 3D scanner (the team is using Sense for this project) provides a better fit without the waste and lets the team go straight to 3D printing a socket.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15030505/77b9fe3c-1c95-4830-a71f-60303590ad2b.png

The team has taken advantage of the API in Meshmixer to create a wizard to streamline the process of cleaning the scan and preparing it for printing. This can now take as little as thirty minutes.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15030505/ba480b15-3768-469b-9427-b1a7f1cfc5c1.png

This brings the process down from a week to a day. Here Moses Kaweesa from CoRSU inspects a 3D printed socket and the bolt assembly that attaches the prosthetic limb.


Dr. Schmidt works on the digital tools at a more traditional workstation.

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And then takes a break from coding to untangle some filament for the 3D printer. 


And then returning to code again in a more relaxing location. 

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Here is Ruth trying on the first 3D printed socket. She is not only a patient but also a volunteer at the hospital helping to develop this process while pursuing a degree in architecture.

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Ruth`s socket fits and everyone is happy!


If you look closely at the socket Dr. Schmidt is holding you can see a horizontal line in this socket as it was printed in two pieces to increase the delivery time. The two pieces were connected with a mirror welder at the hospital.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15030505/2f6dbb7d-0930-434a-b1e5-4c243c7e1a7a.png

This is Rosaline trying out her new leg. 

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15030505/740f2ae0-1225-4d23-a2de-b3ecbe5ffd7a.png

It was a successful trip and the results show that the process is working. In thinking about the predictions of needing 40,000 prosthetists across the developing world, reducing the time for a new limb from a week to a day is very significant. This helps the doctors work with more patients but it also helps the patients save money on travel costs and lodgings during treatment. The time for 3D printing is the longest part of the process so as 3D printers get faster, the process will get even faster. 

All Photos: Semaphore/ginger coons

License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License