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Dwango Unveils Anime-Drawing Assistant AI With Sibling Mascot Characters

posted on by Jennifer Sherman

Dwango revealed on Tuesday that part of the production of the FLCL Progressive film and CalorieMate's "Susume, Karolina" commercial use an animation production assistance technique from the company's machine-learning technique division Dwango Media Village. The company is calling the technique an "assistant" that can help users streamline the "animation processes of anime production."

Dwango also unveiled the "Tokigahara siblings" anthropomorphizations that represent the two functions of the new assistant. The character duo consists of the sister Umeru Tokigahara and the brother Utsusu Tokigahara. "Nazo no Anime-dan" (Mystery Anime Group) is credited with their character designs. A Twitter account for the pair also launched on Tuesday.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in various industries has been spreading in recent years, and Dwango has been researching and developing AI techniques that can support animators' work. As part of that aim, the new AI can assist with the inbetweening and keyframe-tracing parts of the anime production process.

Inbetweening is the process of creating frames that transition between keyframes. Through deep learning, the new AI can generate part of the inbetween frames necessary for the animation process. Increasing pictures that complete actions can help produce smoother animation. The AI can also support the process of cleaning up keyframes, which can reduce the work hours that animators spend adjusting lines.

Dwango's announcement provided a link to a YouTube video posted by Dwango's Yuichi Yagi in June 2017. The video, titled "A filter based approach for inbetweening," is related to a paper of the same name that is available in Japanese through Cornell University Library.

The paper's English abstract describes the new inbetweening technique:

We present a filter based approach for inbetweening. We train a convolutional neural network to generate intermediate frames. This network aim to generate smooth animation of line drawings. Our method can process scanned images directly. Our method does not need to compute correspondence of lines and topological changes explicitly. We experiment our method with real animation production data. The results show that our method can generate intermediate frames partially.

Testing of these techniques seen in the video in real work environments began in 2018.

The fifth part of the FLCL Progressive film, which will premiere in Japan on September 28, used the assistant for keyframe tracing of certain characters and for inbetweening of cracks in the ground and smoke effects. The siblings are officially credited for inbetweening in the anime. The animation process for the main character in the "Susume, Karolina" commercial also used the new AI keyframe-tracing technique. Dwango hopes to improve the practical usage of the assistant in the future.

Sources: Dwango's website, Tokigahara Twitter account, Anime! Anime! Biz (Kōtarō Nakase)


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