The Institute’s R&D department concludes SARA, a project on autism

Ludwigsburg, March 22, 2016. The R&D department at the Institute of Animation has successfully concluded its participation in the DFG-funded project SARA, a project that aims to support people on the autism spectrum. SARA exemplifies the R&D department’s broad scope which ranges from the development of technologies and tools for the digital entertainment industry to the utilization of animated content in further fields and industries – such as sociologically based projects.

People on the autism spectrum have a hard time recognizing expressions or emotional states in other people’s faces. SARA’s objective is to facilitate better facial recognition and consecutive evaluation of nonverbal, facial communication, for a more empathetic human interaction. Over a period of two years, the Institute of Animation, the University Medical Center Freiburg and the University of Konstanz analyzed different levels of abstraction in the depiction of virtual characters and their facial expressions. Abstraction is the chosen tool, because it reduces the high amount of detail in faces, enabling better recognition of facial expressions. Non-photorealistic portrayals cover a wide range of styles – from realistic, to water-color and loose-sketchy.

Every project partner took on a different responsibility. Clinical studies were conducted in Freiburg, while the research of non-photorealistic rendering and implementation of real-time algorithms was carried out in Constance (the final studies are executed in Freiburg during the first quarter of 2016). The Institute of Animation was responsible for the experiment software, with R&D Engineer Dr. Diana Arellano taking the main lead. Following several publications in the specialist media and presentations at international events such as SIGGRAPH Asia, the test study software for SARA is now available for download on the department’s website. SARA is open source software, which was refined during the project and can be used as the basis for further projects to come.

After concluding the SARA project, the R&D department continues to work on three further initiatives. One of them is the EU-funded DREAMSPACE that researches and develops tools and prototypes and enables the combination of live performances, video and computer-generated imagery in real-time. In a similar vein, the project “Digital actors in semi-documentary productions” seeks to create an exemplary trailer with a believable, lifelike character, including realistic facial expressions and gestures. In addition, the department is partnering on the “Media Solution Center” at the High Performance Computing Center in Stuttgart, which develops paradigmatic approaches and applications for industries that require high performance computing.

All current projects can be found on the department’s website:

Author, cgwires

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