Marie-Paule Cani had a banner year in 2011, winning the Eurographics Award in April and an ERC Advanced Grant just a few months later for her pioneering research project, EXPRESSIVE (EXPloring REsponsive Shapes for the Seamless desIgn of Virtual Environments).
Can you tell us about your grant-winning project?
The European Research Council (ERC) awarded me an Advanced Grant due to the visionary nature of my EXPRESSIVE project. The project aims to simplify the creation of 3D animated graphics so that anyone can do it. Despite all our modern technology, we still don’t have software that lets graphic designers easily draw moving 3D objects. The programs currently available require designers to understand mathematical degrees of freedom and be able to use special interfaces. With EXPRESSIVE, we want to make virtual design software intuitive and easy-to-use. Imagine a tablet with an electronic pen that lets users easily and rapidly create and edit 3D objects based on 2D sketches. That would put users back at the heart of artistic creation.
Sounds like that would require a lot of complicated programming!
We want to make the artistic creation process as simple as possible, which means using elaborate mathematical models to run in the background. These models will incorporate the latest techniques so they can add the missing third dimension to 2D sketches and replicate recurring details. They will also be able to account for object deformations, like the movement of clothing if the user draws a person, or the swaying of hair, which will be modeled as lines extending out from the person’s head according to mathematical rules. We have already developed software that can generate virtual 3D trees at different resolutions from sketches of their overall shape. The model behind this software incorporates botanical information; it calculates the location of branches on a trunk and the ramifications all the way to the leaves, generating the 3D images as often as necessary. Since designers won’t have to worry about the tedious replication process, they can focus on the artistic aspect of their work and modify it as they go along.
What progress have you made so far on the project, and how will the grant help you achieve its objectives?
We have already developed some methods for generating 3D objects from sketches, but only for certain object classes specified at the beginning. Our next challenge is to develop a system that can break any sketch down into volumetric components (like bodies), surfaces (like clothing), and linear objects (like hair), and model the relationships between them. Then we will develop intuitive methods for representing the animation and deformation of these complicated objects. The money from the ERC Advanced Grant will let me hire five PhD students, one post-doc, one engineer, and one computer graphic designer for five years. They will join the IMAGINE project team that I recently set up at the Jean Kuntzmann Laboratory and the INRIA to work on EXPRESSIVE.
What applications are you targeting?
We imagine our technology will be used in electronic games, animated films, and drawing software for the general public—basically any field where professionals need to work with 3D models to develop their products. Even fashion designers could find it useful. Did you know that designers currently have to separately draw the pattern of every piece of clothing for a 3D character? With our technology, they can dress characters directly with an electronic pen, and the software will automatically calculate the corresponding patterns. As you can see, I’m very excited about the possibilities. Throughout my career—and especially with this project—I’ve been able to combine my work with what I loved as child, like drawing, sculpting, and making things!
Marie-Paule Cani graduated from France’s prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure before obtaining a PhD in computer science from University of Paris XI in 1990. She was given an Associate Professor position at Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris in 1991, then at Grenoble Institute of Technology in 1993. In 1995 she became certified to head research at Grenoble Institute of Technology, and became a Professor at the Institute’s Ensimag engineering school in 1997. From 1999 to 2004 she was a Junior Member of the Institut Universitaire de France (IUF), a small group of French university professors recognized for their academic excellence. In 2006 she received the French National Order of Merit. In 2007 she won the Irène Joliot-Curie Award (in the Mentoring category), given jointly by the French Ministry of Research and the EADS Foundation. Her research focuses on virtual animation, for which she has developed geometric modeling and animation methods.