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Researchers print 3D versions of animated characters

Christmas presents could begin getting a lot more interesting, thanks to new software that can turn video game characters into real 3D figurines.

A team of Harvard computer scientists took it upon themselves to put 3D printers to good use to create real-life toys (or collector's items, for adults) out of animated characters, the BBC has reported.

Three-dimensional printers build objects layer-by-layer out of different materials like plastic, wood, or even chocolate, and can be been used to create toys, jewellry, car parts, and incredibly, artificial limbs.

Print jobs of animated 2D characters presumably don't have to be quite as precise as a prosthesis, though.

"In animation you're not necessarily trying to model the physical world perfectly. The model only has to be good enough to convince your eye," Harvard researcher Moritz Bacher said.

It's easy to make characters so anatomically skewed that they could never achieve true physical presence, Bacher said, especially since video game characters are built to somewhat resemble humans, but without the same bodily expectations.

The new software works hard to build something concrete out of a bunch of pixels–it identifies ideal locations for a figure's joints, then optimises the location and the size, all while enhancing a character's "skin" texture, allowing details like a snake's scales to appear on the final product.

"If you print one of these articulated figures, you can experiment with different stances and movements in a natural way, as with an artist's mannequin," Bacher said.

For now, there is no word on the computer scientists' broader plans for their printer, aside from perhaps creating their own personal collection of Donkey Kong figurines.