AnyFish - animation and rendering system for fish biologists

anyFish is currently in development. Check back frequently for updates. To be added to the anyFish mailing list, contact Gil Rosenthal

The anyFish team:

We are developing a novel software tool, anyFish, for creating computer-animated stimuli in animal behavior.  The software will be distinguished by ease of use, methodological rigor, and end-user involvement. The proposal represents a close collaboration between end-users working on animal behavior and evolution, and developers working on computer-animation and video-game technology. 

Playback of moving images is a ubiquitous technique in animal behavior. At the forefront of visual playback, computer animations offer the opportunity to manipulate almost any combination of parameters of a realistic visual scene, but the only current option for animal-behavior researchers is difficult-to-use animation software.  Further, most current animations fail to address important methodological concerns about signal fidelity and pseudoreplication.

anyFish will apply user-friendly approaches for creating scientifically rigorous  animations that are analogous to the customized avatars that are ubiquitous in video-game platforms and online. Because of the large body of experimental work on visual signals in fishes, including genetic model systems like danios and sticklebacks, we are concentrating on the creation of virtual fish as stimuli in playback experiments.  We have identified at least ninety-two labs worldwide that are actively conducting laboratory research on visually-guided fish behavior. The program will be freely available and open-source, meaning that end-users can create and apply plug-ins with additional features.  Users will be able to select among predefined options and/or enter specific scene parameters, which can then be published and shared with other researchers. Users will be able to control the visual environment, morphology, behavior, and interaction of the stimuli. A user will be able to select among predefined templates based on common behavioral models (threespine stickleback, zebrafish, Lake Victoria cichlid, guppy, sailfin molly, and highland swordtail) or opt to generate an entirely novel scene.  The program’s flexibility will allow users to manipulate any number of parameters (e.g. courtship rate, body depth, scene brightness) from an existing template, or to make an animation de novo.

The ease and flexibility of anyFish will make it a valuable instructional tool for undergraduate and K-12 classes.  The program will be easy enough to use that undergraduate and high school students can manipulate parameter values and thereby gain a hands-on understanding of the quantitative underpinnings of morphology, motion, and social interaction.  Students will be widely familiar with analogous systems in computer games, making it a particularly powerful tool to bring students into STEM programs by piquing the interest of students in science, biology, and animal behavior.  A module based on anyFish will be integrated into the Virtual Biology educational software package for inquiry-based education at high school and college levels.

anyFish will also make it easy for students to participate in original research on a minimal budget.  A single desktop computer can be used to create and play back stimuli, and a handful of aquaria are required for the experiments.  Students at smaller and minority-serving institutions will be able to design and execute rigorous, state-of-the-art experiments in animal behavior.