New software lets novices turn sketches into sophisticated 3D animations

New software developed by Moka Studio and EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne), called Mosketch, will allow anyone to create professional-grade 3D animation without sophisticated training or Hollywood-level budgets.

As it currently stands, 3D modelling and animation requires a lot of time, money and training. This precludes many with an interest or idea from breaking into the field, placing unfortunate limits on a field that has huge potential in a variety of areas.

Mosketch aims to counter this entry ceiling by delivering performance equal to that of the more expensive animation applications, but with an accessibility that allows artists with no 3D knowledge whatsoever to enter the field and use the software.

“The strength of our software is that it easily transforms 2D sketches into 3D, letting artists create 3D animation seamlessly and naturally,” said Benoît Le Callennec, co-founder and CEO of Moka Studio.

Images courtesy of EFPL

Images courtesy of EPFL

The software works by bringing together two major methods of animation: direct kinematics and inverse kinematics. Direct kinematics has artists change each joint of a character individually, while inverse kinematics allows artists to guide any part of the character’s body. Unlike current market heavyweights, Mosketch allows users to easily switch between these methods and model a complete posture with only a few sketches.

Perhaps the true innovation of the software, however, is the way in which it calculates 3D characters’ postures. Mosketch’s enhanced algorithm runs in parallel, making it 10 to 150 times faster than other programs and letting artists shape a character’s posture in real-time.

This focus on the artistry side of things extends to other areas of the program as well; Mosketch is purposefully designed with flexibility in mind, avoiding the intense preparation and complex control rigs needed with a lot of other software.

“Thanks to our advanced mathematical models, artists can animate any 3D character without a lot of up-front work. That makes our software much easier to use,” said Ronan Boulic, head of the immersive interaction research group at EPFL.

Perhaps the most exciting potential of the software however, is its possibilities in research applications outside of standard 3D modelling. The software could be used for both planning in robotics and developments in virtual reality.

Due to the time investment usually required, developing content for virtual reality can prove a real challenge. This new software will vastly enhance the field due to the simple fact of the efficiency its algorithm lends to creators.

By focusing on accessibility to artists, regardless of previous experience, Mosketch may serve to massively increase the range of those involved in virtual reality, and their creations.

“A key challenge in virtual reality is shortening the time lapse between a user’s movement and the corresponding shift in what he sees,” Boulic said. “The algorithm we developed for Mosketch can speed interactions in complex modelling environments, such as virtual prototypes for manufacturing or complicated tasks for robotics, or even for developing humanoid robots.”

Atari tells fans its new Ataribox console will arrive in late 2018

Atari has revealed more details about its Ataribox videogame console today, with the company disclosing that the console will ship in late 2018 for somewhere between $249 and $299.

Atari says that it will launch the Ataribox on Indiegogo this autumn.

The company said it chose to launch the console in this way because it wants fans to be part of the launch, be able to gain access to early and special editions, as well as to make the Atari community “active partners” in the rollout of Ataribox.

“I was blown away when a 12-year-old knew every single game Atari had published. That’s brand magic. We’re coming in like a startup with a legacy,” said Ataribox creator and general manager Feargal Mac in an interview with VentureBeat.

“We’ve attracted a lot of interest, and AMD showed a lot of interest in supporting us and working with us. With Indiegogo, we also have a strong partnership.”

Images courtesy of Atari

Atari also revealed that its new console will come loaded with “tons of classic Atari retro games”, and the company is also working on developing current titles with a range of studios.

The Ataribox will be powered by an AMD customised processor, with Radeon Graphics technology, and will run Linux, with a customised, easy-to-use user interface.

The company believes this approach will mean that, as well as being a gaming device, the Ataribox will also be able to service as a complete entertainment unit that delivers a full PC experience for the TV, bringing users streaming, applications, social, browsing and music.

“People are used to the flexibility of a PC, but most connected TV devices have closed systems and content stores,” Mac said. “We wanted to create a killer TV product where people can game, stream and browse with as much freedom as possible, including accessing pre-owned games from other content providers.”

In previous releases, Atari has said that it would make two editions of its new console available: a wood edition and a black and red version.

After being asked by many fans, the company has revealed that the wood edition will be made from real wood.

Atari has asked that fans let it know what they think of the new console via its social channels

Scientists, software developers and artists have begun using VR to visualise genes and predict disease

A group of scientists, software developers and artists have taken to using virtual reality (VR) technology to visualise complex interactions between genes and their regulatory elements.

The team, which comprises of members from Oxford University, Universita’ di Napoli and Goldsmiths, University of London, have been using VR to visualise simulations of a composite of data from genome sequencing, data on the interactions of DNA and microscopy data.

When all this data is combined the team are provided with an interactive, 3D image that shows where different regions of the genome sit relative to others, and how they interact with each other.

“Being able to visualise such data is important because the human brain is very good at pattern recognition – we tend to think visually,” said Stephen Taylor, head of the Computational Biology Research Group at Oxford’s MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM).

“It began at a conference back in 2014 when we saw a demonstration by researchers from Goldsmiths who had used software called CSynth to model proteins in three dimensions. We began working with them, feeding in seemingly incomprehensible information derived from our studies of the human alpha globin gene cluster and we were amazed that what we saw on the screen was an instantly recognisable model.”

The team believe that being able to visualise the interactions between genes and their regulatory elements will allow them to understand the basis of human genetic diseases, and are currently applying their techniques to study genetic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

“Our ultimate aim in this area is to correct the faulty gene or its regulatory elements and be able to re-introduce the corrected cells into a patient’s bone marrow: to perfect this we have to fully understand how genes and their regulatory elements interact with one another” said Professor Doug Higgs, a principal researcher at the WIMM.

“Having virtual reality tools like this will enable researchers to efficiently combine their data to gain a much broader understanding of how the organisation of the genome affects gene expression, and how mutations and variants affect such interactions.”

There are around 37 trillion cells in the average adult human body, and each cell contains two meters of DNA tightly packed into its nucleus.

While the technology to sequence genomes is well established, it has been shown that the manner in which DNA is folded within each cell affects how genes are expressed.

“There are more than three billion base pairs in the human genome, and a change in just one of these can cause a problem. As a model we’ve been looking at the human alpha globin gene cluster to understand how variants in genes and their regulatory elements may cause human genetic disease,” said Prof Jim Hughes, associate professor of Genome Biology at Oxford University.