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Animating clothes is tricky, unless you teach animations to dress themselves

Despite advances in CGI, the depiction of some simple tasks remains a challenge. Putting on clothes is one of these, where stiff character models animated by hand have to interact with flowing fabrics controlled by physics simulators. Integrating these two systems is tricky, not least because the act of putting on clothes is full of small, unconscious adjustments based on subtle factors like the fabric's material. This means that animators often just avoid depicting getting dressed or stick to simple clothing and actions, like characters putting on capes in The Incredibles.

You might think the solution to this would be powerful computers or more realistic physics engines, but a group of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have a different answer: teach the characters to put on clothes themselves. In their recent paper "Animating Human Dressing," they explain that by breaking the act of dressing down into basic "primitive actions" and keeping the physics simulations of the fabric, they can model characters getting dressed with natural motions much more simply than before.

"The character has the intelligence to understand its own actions."

"The difference really with [animating] dressing right now is that it's all done manually," explains Karen Liu, one of the co-authors of the paper. "They use physics simulation on the clothes and then do manual keyframe animation on the character side, and wrap it together and hope that something reasonable will happen. What we're proposing is something more automatic. The character has the intelligence to understand its own actions."

Using Liu and her colleagues' new software, animators should find it much easier to create all sorts of staple dressing scenes, from the essential Gearing Up For Battle By Putting On My New Army Jacket montage to the ever-popular Awkwardly Pulling On Clothes While Trying To Avoid Waking My One Night Stand routine.

Looking sharp, anonymous mannequin character! (Animating Human Dressing)

The research might also be useful for controlling robots in the future, with the team currently investigating whether they could use their work to build mechanical aids for people who have difficulty dressing themselves. After all, says Liu, putting your arm into a shirt sleeve is essentially "navigating a highly occluded environment that is constantly deforming" — surprisingly tricky to pull off unless you've had years of practice like us humans.