Connecting to a 3D animated world with KinÊtre


Today's inspiration project is another "Wow" project from Microsoft Research and continues to push the boundaries of what you might believe possible with the Kinect.

KinÊtre: Animation + Whimsy

KinÊtre lets anyone create playful 3D animations.

Imagine you are asked to produce a 3D animation of a demonic armchair terrorizing an innocent desk lamp. You may think about model rigging, skeleton deformation, and keyframing. Depending on your experience, you might imagine hours to days at the controls of Maya or Blender. But even if you have absolutely no computer graphics experience, it can be so much easier: grab a nearby chair and desk lamp, scan them using a consumer depth camera, and use the same camera to track your body, aligning your virtual limbs to the chair’s geometry. At one spoken command, your limbs are attached to the chair model, which follows your movements in an intuitive and natural manner. KinÊtre is such a system. Rather than targeting professional animators, it brings animation to a new audience of users with little or no CG experience. It allows realistic deformations of arbitrary static meshes, runs in real time on consumer hardware, and uses the human body for input in conjunction with simple voice commands. KinÊtre lets anyone create playful 3D animations.

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KinÊtre: Animation + Whimsy

First, there was Kinect. You’ve probably heard of that one. Next, it was KinectFusion, which uses live data from Kinect for Windows to create high-quality, 3-D models of a room and its contents. KinectFusion made a splash in 2011 during the 38th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH).

Now, it’s time for KinÊtre, the latest Microsoft Research project that uses a Kinect depth camera to provide novel functionality: Among other animations, it can make chairs dance.

No, your eyes didn’t deceive: dancing chairs. If that sounds like fun, you’ve come to the right place.

KinÊtre, which can animate all sorts of inanimate objects, will be presented as a talk by Jiawen Chen during SIGGRAPH 2012, being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center from Aug. 5 to 9. Perhaps the best introduction to the project is this informative video:

The idea is that we want to let you bring the world around you to life,” Chen says. “We want to let you use Kinect for Windows and a PC and take arbitrary household objects and make them move like a cartoon character.”

The process to engage is deceptively simple. You use a consumer depth camera to scan an item such as a chair, a desk lamp, a bookcase, or a stepladder. Then you use the same camera to track your body and align your virtual limbs to the geometry of the item. With a word—“Possess!”—your virtual limbs are attached to the item. When you jump, the bookcase jumps. When you dance, the chair dances.

And, using KinÊtre—a portmanteau that combines “Kinect” with the French verb for “to be”—anyone can create playful, 3-D models.


Other usage possibilities for KinÊtre include storytelling by children—the technology is sufficiently intuitive and accessible for kids to use—and gaming.

At the core of the technology is non-linear numerical optimization, enabling what Chen calls “a fairly robust, very easy method to make arbitrary things come to life.”

Still, the best way to understand KinÊtre is simply to see it in action. (Watch that video!) Chen gleefully recalls the reaction he got in March while demonstrating its capabilities during TechFest 2012.

“The best fun was seeing tons of Microsoft employees realize how fun it is,” he smiles. “Explaining it to them didn’t make too much sense. You have to experience it.”

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KinÊtre - Animating the World with the Human Body

When I first saw the KinÊtre project from Microsoft Research I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it – a novel use for Kinect yes, but what would it be used for other than some fun? And then I thought about my childhood watching cartoons with inanimate objects, animated to behave like humans.

KinÊtre is being presented at SIGGRAPH 2012 this week in Los Angeles. A project from Microsoft Research in the UK, it uses the capabilities of Kinect for Windows to map your virtual limbs to the geometry of a variety of household objects such as a chair or lamp. After scanning a physical objects using KinectFusion (another project from Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England) a 3D mesh of that object is created. A spoken command (possess) attaches your limbs (virtually) where they overlap with the mesh and the virtual object then follows your movements. This is far easier to understand by simply watching the video above.

KinÊtre isn’t targeted at professional animators but for those with zero experience in the field of animation, it’s a fun tool and another demonstration of how our own researchers are continuing to push the boundaries with Kinect – and advance the state of the art in graphical-based technologies.

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