Fostering human-computer interaction
University researchers and postgraduate students with strong technical or artistic skills in computer animation are being invited to get involved with the University’s brand-new Laboratory for Animate Technologies.
Based in the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), the pioneering laboratory has been set up by 2012 Distinguished Alumnus and Oscar-winning bioengineer, Dr Mark Sagar (pictured). It will take computer animation to a new level, creating interactive autonomouslyanimated systems which “will help define the next generation of human-computer interaction and facial animation.
“Imagine a machine that can not only express what is on its mind, but also allows you to glimpse the mental imagery that it is constantly changing in its mind,” says Mark.
Industries to benefit from research and technology created in Mark’s lab could include those where establishing emotional rapport is important such as education, advertising, and the entertainment industry.
Mark says his lab will create an experience that will allow visitors to engage with “smart technology” that appears conscious, emotive and thinking. “One question we are pursuing is: can technology be made more appealing if it is more natural?”
He says the technology created in his lab will simulate the lifelike qualities and the observable natural reflexes and behaviour of someone engaging with another person.
”Our computational models of emotion, perception, learning and memory will generate highly expressive realistic – or fantastic – imagery which engages the user on a visceral, emotional level,“ he says.
The lab will also develop advanced computer vision techniques to track facial expression and behaviour. These techniques will be used with other modes of sensory input to allow the smart machine to sense its world.
“We are building a collaborative modular model of the face and brain, a brain and face Lego with swappable and re-shapable parts. Both scientists and artists who want an interactive context to test and visualise their work can design, combine, integrate, inspect, react, be reacted to, and redesign," says Mark.
Dr Sagar previously worked for Weta Digital where he created technology for achieving the realistic appearance and performance capture animation of digital characters such as Avatar’s Na’vi people. His pioneering work in computergenerated faces was recognised with two consecutive Oscars at the 2010 and 2011 Sci-tech awards, a branch of the Academy Awards that recognises movie science and technological achievements. Dr Sagar will continue to work with Weta on selected projects.
The former medical researcher started his career building computer simulations of the human eye for virtual surgery. He has a Bachelor of Science and a PhD in Engineering from The University of Auckland.
Professor Peter Hunter, Director of the ABI, says he feels very fortunate to have Dr Sagar working at the Institute.
“Mark is an exceptional researcher, scientist and artist with immense vision and passion. He has made a huge contribution to the motion picture industry in a relatively short time and I expect that he will continue to excel here and abroad with his work at the Laboratory for Animate Technologies.”