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Animation Filmmaking Technology Helping People with Cerebral Palsy

Posted by on 26th Dec,2012 in Category News ~ Comments Off

Utilizing the latest in advanced, film-making technologies, researchers at San Diego State University are studying the way people with cerebral palsy use the muscles in their face to communicate. The goal is to help develop better therapeutic techniques for improving speech and language skills in those struck with speech-language problems as a result of cerebral palsy.

Ignatius Nip, professor of speech-language at SDSU, is researching and analyzing the way facial movements and speech-language development interact. In order to study this connection Nip and his colleagues are using the identical motion capture technology that filmmakers use to turn the facial expressions of actors into computer-generated animated movie characters.

“No one has looked at the speech movements of children with cerebral palsy using this technology,” Nip said. “We can use this information to help speech-language pathologists understand how to help their clients communicate better.”

With the help of a $450,000 grant spread over three years from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Nip and his student research assistants are testing speech and language properties in children from one to eighteen years old, both with and without cerebral palsy.

Eight cameras are set up in a room which is a research lab with the appearance of a movie set. All the cameras, which are placed along two walls, are focused on the seated subject. About 15 reflective tags are positioned around the face of the subject, especially on the lips and jaw. The markers reflect the infrared light emitted by the cameras, and then is absorbed back by the cameras. The information the cameras receive is then sent to a computer which analyses the data and turns it into a three-dimensional picture of the subject’s face, an image similar to what a filmmaker would see on an animator’s computer at a film studio.
The original goal was to work with 30 participants, 15 with cerebral palsy and 15 with normal development. Because the response to the research was so positive, Nip has increased the number of research subjects up to 50.

SDSU senior Lucia Kearney works with Nip on the project. “I started out doing data analysis in Dr. Nip’s lab, but I never expected to have the level of knowledge and involvement that I have gained working with him,” said the speech, language, and hearing sciences major. “He is truly passionate about his research and has been a great mentor.”

A large number of those affected with cerebral palsy, which is characterized by difficult muscle control in selected parts of the body, often have difficulty speaking. “Researching mouth movements in both groups will help us understand the underlying cause for speech difficulties in children and adolescents with cerebral palsy,” Nip said.

Early research suggests that children with cerebral palsy make more pronounced movements of their mouth and have trouble making succinct, precise facial movements. Nip has seen that even those without visible speech problems make these oversized mouth movements.

“The research helps us understand how well children with cerebral palsy are understood by listeners, so that we can create more effective speech therapy techniques and help them become more effective communicators,” added Professor Nip.

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