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VWN Resource Database: Avatars and Personification
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Resource Database > Avatars and Personification
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Virtual Body | Realistic Modelling | Alternate Lives | Avatar Creation | Avatar Interfacing | Embodied Avatars
 
Avatar, as a term, comes from Sanskrit, one of the world's oldest languages. The Sanskrit word Avatāra was used to denote a being from a higher plane of existence descending to our world, and wearing a form here, before returning to the higher plane.

It is thus not difficult to see how avatar came to be associated with virtual bodies ? forms we use in worlds below our own.

The form of an avatar is limited only by the imagination. Anything from a shower of golden light or a coalescing cloud of water vapour, right the way down through humanoid and animal forms to sentient toilet seats, and chew toys.

In the simplest virtual environments, the avatars are fixed to the whim of the owner of the environment. However, the more control over appearance the participant gains, the closer the bond between participant and avatar becomes.


Sections


Identity in an Avatar Age (5)

When you are interacting through an avatar, you are projecting your sense of self across a technological communications network. Identity becomes fluid, and that has profound implications for both identification, and for identity itself.
Applicable Dictionary Entries:  
Alternate LifeHomo Cyber Sapiens
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Book Quotes: Identity Without Fixed Form
The thing about identity in cyberspace is you have the chance to wash away any and all physical identifiers, and become anything your mind can imagine.

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Dark City: Avatar Identity
Using Dark City to explain the phenomenon in modern social VR, why people find it hard to connect to the avatar of another, when many such avatars look identical.

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Large Image Display: Simone: The End of Deathless Death
An avatar persona can be a quite complex thing. It is not physically connected to you, yet it is you, or at least an aspect of you. Yet, because it is not physically connected, if it can be ursurped by another then they take over a part of you, as completely as if they had ursurped your physical body.



Living through an Avatar (16)

If our minds are truly separate from our bodies then life through the eyes of a virtual avatar could surely be at least equal to life through the eyes of a physical body?
Applicable Dictionary Entries:  
Homo Cyber SapiensSimStim
The Simulation ArgumentUncanny Valley
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ActiveWorlds: Avatar Overriding
VR is not just a chance for you to choose how you would like to be seen, it is a chance for others to choose how they would like to see you. To assign you a form other than the one you chose, and see you in that form, without you ever needing to be aware they are doing it. Simply overriding their perception of you, to be something different.

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Book Quotes: Identity Without Fixed Form
The thing about identity in cyberspace is you have the chance to wash away any and all physical identifiers, and become anything your mind can imagine.

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Changing Self Perspective with VR
A key set of experiments building on the rubber hand illusion, have opened the floodgates for full sensory immersion - proving that the brain will identify with the body it perceives itself to be in, not necessarily the body it is housed in.

Despite its name, this book, is not dedicated solely to the single virtual environment of Linden Labs? Second Life. Instead, whilst SL is mentioned quite a lot, the book is more concerned with the generic concept of an avatar form inside one or more virtual environments forming a true second life for the individual concerned.



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Large Image Display: Animatrix: Beyond: Bedeviled Dog
Another example of how a world can go awry when data becomes corrupted, this one explains how an embodied NPC can continue to behave the same way, as its form changes in random fashion.

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Large Image Display: Bicentennial Man: Aging Android
The concept of aging, or the appearance thereof, is a good one. It is an aspect of circumnavigating the uncanny valley that should never be forgotten: No matter how perfectly a human face, behaviour, mannerisms are recreated, unless the face, the body seems to change with time, the uncanny valley has not really been conquered.

This groundbreaking book shows how conscious beings could interact with a physically realistic virtual world. It looks at the conscious mind, as distinct from the brain, and strives to explain the existence of the mind, and its place in the greater scheme/chaos of things via the medium of VR.



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Project LifeLike
Project LifeLike, a collaboration between the Intelligent Systems Laboratory at the University of Central Florida and the Electronic Visualisation Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is an attempt to create an avatar that completely supplants the physical form of the individual, for remote interaction both in virtual reality and physical space.

Simone, a story ahead of its time of a film producer trying to save his career by employing a virtual actress to star in his films. Unfortunately, the actress is an avatar ? he has to animate her himself, which leads to a whole host of potent issues...



Linked resource
SXSW Panel: Virtual Worlds and Avatars
the results from the 'Virtual Worlds and Virtual Humans: NPCs and Avatars' conference, this meaty resource details 8 fundamental points about avatar usage, and their growing importance in all things.

Michael Heim, the author of this book, describes modern 'VR' as a pale imitation of real VR. On this point, he is of course, all too correct. He then goes on to state that the real thing is fast approaching. We'll soon be able to totally immerse ourselves in detail-rich, highly interactive artificial worlds....



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Waldo Avatars
In order for a virtual environment to truly be an environment for us, the avatars we utilise have to be so much more than they are now. They have to become extensions of our will as well as of our selves, bodily appendages or recreations that enable fine movement, and the manifestation of physical movement or the will to move physically, recreated in the every detail, in the collaborative, virtual space.



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Personified Avatars (9)

Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators is the brainchild of photographer Robbie Cooper. He was inspired to create it after meeting a father who used the VR gameworld of Everquest to stay in touch with his children whilst he was out of the country.



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Book Quotes: Avatar rooted in Physical Details
There is a lot packed into this snippet from SnowCrash. In order for any of this height restricting to work, the virtual environment would have to know who you are, and have access to considerable detail about you, including of course, your height information. Otherwise, people would actually have avatars higher than themselves.

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Book Quotes: Presentation matters more, when you have no Self to Present
A quote from Snow Crash, that speaks of the very real truth that the less of your physical self you present in a virtual space, the less deviations from visual perfection are going to be tolerated in any effort to sell yourself and your abilities. In fact quite the opposite occurs. The more fine detail and professional appearance you can cram into an avatar without slowing things down, the more it speaks well of your abilities and standards.

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EFIT-V and personalised avatars
EFit-V is one of the newest tools in the police arsenal. A replacement for sketch artists and the electronic EFit system. Rather than concentrate on how wide a nose is, or how far apart the eyes are, whilst it still has that capability, the software takes a new approach, and creates photorealistic faces whilst it is at it.


IMVU, coming from the people that made There, is a 3D interface for Microsoft MSN Messenger, which effectively turns an IM session into a 3D, visual environment for up to ten people at a time.


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Open Source 3D Human Models
Industry News

On the 26th of May 2005, two companies (Zygote Media Group and e frontier) joined forces to give us a new model of open source distribution ? 3D avatars.

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Personal and Public Avatars
As the boundaries between virtual lives and physical lives thin and fade for an increasing number of people, the amount of their lives, their passions, their desires that are shared online grows. At the same time, professional interest in VR is at a level unprecedented at any time before, and steadily growing.

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Photo Distance Represents Trustworthiness
In a finding that is of particular importance when combined with various attempts to create a personalised avatar by mapping photos of your own face to it, University of California researchers have discovered that the distance between the photographer and the subject is crucial to the trustworthiness of the resulting picture.

Locally Hosted resource
Virtual Manniquin - You!
Industry News

Industry news, originally posted 02-02-2004, deemed too important to allow to fade. Tired of battling with wardrobe accessories in crampt changing rooms? Fed up of trying oh-so-carefully not to damage items whilst your body does its best to get in the way, and the stall is falling apart around you? VR may have a solution, in the form of a system developed by Toshiba. The company is developing a 3D, realtime system uses video cameras to create a virtual copy of your body on a screen, and not only moves with you, just as a mirror would, but also tries on clothes, without you having to. The system is still at an early stage, but it could in use in stores within three years.



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Accepting an Avatar Body (6)

There is quite a large amount of psychology involved in the issue of whether or not someone will accept an avatar body. For some, the avatar has to look just like their physical body. Fort others it could not be more different. Some see it as just a tool, whilst others transfer over their whole persona, arguably down to the essence of Ďsoulí (whether that exists or not) poured into the avatar body. Why do people do this? What need does it fulfil? What dangers are present?

Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators is the brainchild of photographer Robbie Cooper. He was inspired to create it after meeting a father who used the VR gameworld of Everquest to stay in touch with his children whilst he was out of the country.



Locally Hosted resource
Book Quotes: Avatar rooted in Physical Details
There is a lot packed into this snippet from SnowCrash. In order for any of this height restricting to work, the virtual environment would have to know who you are, and have access to considerable detail about you, including of course, your height information. Otherwise, people would actually have avatars higher than themselves.

Despite its name, this book, is not dedicated solely to the single virtual environment of Linden Labs? Second Life. Instead, whilst SL is mentioned quite a lot, the book is more concerned with the generic concept of an avatar form inside one or more virtual environments forming a true second life for the individual concerned.



Locally Hosted resource
Personal and Public Avatars
As the boundaries between virtual lives and physical lives thin and fade for an increasing number of people, the amount of their lives, their passions, their desires that are shared online grows. At the same time, professional interest in VR is at a level unprecedented at any time before, and steadily growing.

Simone, a story ahead of its time of a film producer trying to save his career by employing a virtual actress to star in his films. Unfortunately, the actress is an avatar ? he has to animate her himself, which leads to a whole host of potent issues...



Locally Hosted resource
Trust and Judgement in VR: Still based on looks
It seems that we are approaching a critical juncture in the uncanny valley as related to avatars. We may well be encroaching on the point where physical world lessons on how to look become mandatory for avatars as well.



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Altering Self-Perception (6)

One of the most powerful potential uses of an avatar is as a surrogate body, such that you do not see a physical face/body you might be somewhat displeased with, when you look down or look in a mirror; you see a body of your choosing looking back. How far can such a process really go, and what are the potential benefits?
Applicable Dictionary Entries:  
Rubber Hand Illusion
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Androgynous Avatars Inspire Less Trust
Two researchers set out to see if mixed gender avatars would be less well received than single gender. Their findings? A person of androgynous appearance is felt to be less trustworthy than one clearly defined as belonging to one gender or another, when all other factors are eliminated.

Locally Hosted resource
Changing Self Perspective with VR
A key set of experiments building on the rubber hand illusion, have opened the floodgates for full sensory immersion - proving that the brain will identify with the body it perceives itself to be in, not necessarily the body it is housed in.

Locally Hosted resource
Personal and Public Avatars
As the boundaries between virtual lives and physical lives thin and fade for an increasing number of people, the amount of their lives, their passions, their desires that are shared online grows. At the same time, professional interest in VR is at a level unprecedented at any time before, and steadily growing.

Locally Hosted resource
Self Recognition as a Perception Issue
A study on rubber hand illusion as applied to the face, which raises further questions about the nature of self, providing further evidence that who we are and who we perceive ourselves to be, are not as intertwined as once thought, and both are subject to change based on sensory stimuli.

The virtual mirror kiosk, is essentially what it says; a virtual reality mirror, using your face as an avatar, upon which to display an almost infinite combination of make-up products.





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Regional and Cultural Challenges (3)

As more about the use of human expression and mannerisms has been unearthed by researchers, we have made some surprising discoveries that potentially challenge any avatar system, yet at the same time increase the benefits of such interaction. Regional and cultural marked differences in the meaning of basic expressions and gestures.
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It's not just how the Avatar Looks, it's how the Avatar Talks that is Remembered
When it comes to creating NPCs with a specific task in mind: salespeople in VR-based shops for example, or official company representative AIs able to address potential clients and address questions about the products, then how they interact with the customer is important. However, their visual appearance is not the only critical element. How they utilise emotion matters perhaps more than any other aspect.

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Judging Emotions with Age
Emotional states can be a difficult thing to judge. We already know that different cultures see facial expressions differently, but what about different ages? It is both a social problem and a health one, with humanoid robots and AI controlled avatars taking over an increasing number of home care applications.

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Only A Few Basic Emotional Expressions are the Root of All Others
We have known for some time that different cultures perceive different facial expressions as conveying different emotional states, and likewise in different cultures different facial expressions are made. Rather than having ream after ream of options for facial expression sequence files, might there be a far better way to handle such regional differences in recognising avatar-based visual emotional states?



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A new kind of Split Personality (2)

A mind split between a physical body and a metaphysical body. Both are real, in their own way, and both have their own personality. Yet, both are driven by the same mind. As we delve deeper into long-term use of avatars and bodily constructs, are we creating a duality in our own minds?
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Large Image Display: Simone: Split Personage
In the film Simone, take Victor, a failing film director, was able to embody himself, mind and desire as Simone, the beautiful actress entirely under his control. Yet, there was another aspect that, at least in this case, turned the paradigm entirely on its head. Two bodies, one mind, much breakage.

Locally Hosted resource
Lessons from Simone: Avatar Embodiment
Simone is a seminal virtual reality film, and there are several aspects of both the technology of VR and the social impact, which the film carries off very well, and which deserve to stand on their own merits. One of these is of course one part of the driving point of the film; avatar embodiment.



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Avatar Psychology (14)

Locally Hosted resource
Androgynous Avatars Inspire Less Trust
Two researchers set out to see if mixed gender avatars would be less well received than single gender. Their findings? A person of androgynous appearance is felt to be less trustworthy than one clearly defined as belonging to one gender or another, when all other factors are eliminated.

Locally Hosted resource
Animatrix: Matriculated
Matriculated is the last of the Animatrix shorts, but far from the least important. One of the longest, at 16 minutes in length, this film deals with the nature of reality, and the precarious nature of the self in a VR where all is fluid, and the fabric of reality itself can be like water.

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Book Quotes: Avatar Size
A look at the concept expressed in Virtual Light, and perfectly possible but seldom used, of controlling relative avatar sizes for psychological control.

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Contrast one of the Key Issues in Determining Both Avatar Facial Gender and Age
When it comes to an avatar face, how it is perceived by others is the most important detail. Surprisingly how the eyes process what they see and turn an androgynous face into one gender or another, or a young face into an aged one, depends to a surprisingly great deal on subtle contrast differences in a small number of facial features.

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Dark City: Avatar Identity
Using Dark City to explain the phenomenon in modern social VR, why people find it hard to connect to the avatar of another, when many such avatars look identical.

Locally Hosted resource
Golden Ratio for Faces - Female Faces at Least
Research conducted in 2009, which proceeded to fade into obscurity, found a direct connection between the attractiveness of a face to human subjects and the exact dispance of spacing of facial features relative to the size of the head in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. When building an avatar face we can actually move the features around and take advantage of their findings in ways physical faces cannot.

Locally Hosted resource
It is not just your avatar that will be customised to you
This quote from Otherland, Book one, puts a oft-overlooked spin on the concept of customised avatars for sales-AI. A psychologically compatible AI personality and avatar, designed to talk you into buying, crafted not from a detailed psychological work up, but simply from geolocation and information you did not mean to reveal.

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Large Image Display: Animatrix: World Record: Exceeding the Avatar
An interesting, fiction-inspired look at how it is technically possible to push a full sensory surround avatar body to limits never conceivable in the human bodies it was designed to replicate.

Locally Hosted resource
Large Image Display: Simone: Split Personage
In the film Simone, take Victor, a failing film director, was able to embody himself, mind and desire as Simone, the beautiful actress entirely under his control. Yet, there was another aspect that, at least in this case, turned the paradigm entirely on its head. Two bodies, one mind, much breakage.

Locally Hosted resource
Lessons from Simone: Avatar Embodiment
Simone is a seminal virtual reality film, and there are several aspects of both the technology of VR and the social impact, which the film carries off very well, and which deserve to stand on their own merits. One of these is of course one part of the driving point of the film; avatar embodiment.

Locally Hosted resource
Lessons from Simone: MoCap Filter
Simone is a seminal virtual reality film, and there are several aspects of both the technology of VR and the social impact, which the film carries off very well, and which deserve to stand on their own merits. The MoCap filter the film alludes to, is one such aspect.

Locally Hosted resource
Pronunciation of Key Sounds Influences Perception of Avatar's Gender
In an interesting discovery that holds a great deal of potential for the creation of wholly artificial virtual voices rather than those derived from actors and actresses playing a part, Lal Zimman , a researcher from the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered that the style of speech, rather than simply the pitch or the voice used, is key to our interpretation of the gender. Getting it wrong whilst getting the other two right will lead to confusion on the part of the listener.

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Scent Integration with VR: Determining Avatar's 'Age'
Surprisingly, we use the sence of smell every time we meet another person. For the subtle body odours our physical bodies emit, guide others as to our physical age, and provide cues on how to talk to us. As scent interfaces work their way into social VR systems, we need to give serious consideration to adding 'BO' to our avatars.

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The Face is Not Enough to Convey Emotion
An interesting discovery has come out of a study by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at New York University and Princeton University. Namely, the discovery that the face is not the primary communicator of emotion. The rest of the body handles that. This is of course critical for our virtual environments and their avatars.