KFI on the Pulse

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'Magic Bench' Allows You To Interact With Animated Characters

When it comes to enhancing their theme parks, Disney has always been on the cutting edge. From the first anamatronic characters who play our presidents and pirates, to the holograms and VR used in rides today, Disney Imagineers have always sought to push the limits of what it means to interact with their animated characters. 

Now, Disney Research has released video of a new experience that combines augmented and mixed reality experiences - all without wearing a head-mounted display or using a handheld device. 

Instead, the surrounding environment is packed with instruments that helps people experience the magic of interacting with animated characters as a group. 

When people sit down on the 'Magic Bench,' they see themselves in a mirrored image on a large screen in front of them, giving them a third person point of view. The scene is reconstructed for people using a depth sensor which allows the participants to be in the same 3D space as a computer generated object or character. Haptic actuators installed on the bench are dynamically driven based on where the animated content/character might be reflected on the screen. 

"One of the compelling ideas behind mixed reality, is this ability to share the same space as an animated character. And this is where an exciting new form of storytelling begins," Mo Mahler, the principle digital artist at Disney Research said. "Current mixed reality experiences can be very compelling, but they require  a person to either wear a head-mounted display, or direct through a handheld device like a phone or a tablet. And this can be an isolating experience because you need the hardware to participate. What we're proposing is that, instead of instrumenting a person, what can we accomplish by instrumenting the environment creating a walk up and play experience?"

Researchers used a RGB camera along with a depth sensor in order to create a real-time HD-video-textured 3D reconstruction of the bench, its surrounding and whoever else might be present. Disney's algorithm reconstructs the scene, combining the RGB camera information with the depth sensor information. 

Between the 3D reconstruction and the haptic sensors embedded within the environment, people can not only see and hear the animated characters, they can also feel them on the bench through the haptic feedback. Many of the characters can even interact with the users either through speech or touch. In one example, an elephant passes off a glowing orb to a participant. 

As cool as this seems, don't expect to see it to show up at Disneyland or California Adventure anytime soon. If you want to get an early look at it and try it out, the research team plans on presenting and demonstrating the 'Magic Bench' at SIGGRAPH 2017, the Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques Conference which begins on July 30th. 

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