Disney has developed a very cool system that allows non-expert users to create very realistic mechanical character animation. Given an articulated character as input, the user iteratively creates an animation by sketching motion curves indicating how different parts of the character should move. For each motion curve, their framework creates an optimized mechanism that reproduces it as closely as possible.
The resulting mechanisms are attached to the character and then connected to each other using gear trains, which are created in a semi-automated fashion. The mechanical assemblies generated with their system can be driven with a single input driver, such as a hand-operated crank or an electric motor, and they can be fabricated using rapid prototyping devices.
The scientists demonstrate the versatility of their approach by designing a wide range of mechanical characters, several of which they manufactured using 3D printing. While their pipeline is designed for characters driven by planar mechanisms, significant parts of it extend directly to non-planar mechanisms, allowing them to create characters with compelling 3D motions.