Virtual clothes shops and animated talking heads

April 01, 2003

EUREKA project E! 1818 3D TOOLBOX developed a virtual clothes shop, a talking head interface and new 3D capture and animation techniques even though this wasn't their original aim. It began with six partners, lost two and gained three and produced results in three distinct areas, none of which were the original focus of the project!

The plan was to use digital media techniques to create "synthactors", virtual actors, for use in TV production. These synthactors would consist of a 3D model of the real actor, a file defining the behaviour and mannerisms and a way that the model could be driven by any actor. Using this technology Createc, the partner behind this part of the project, claimed that they could not only create a virtual Tony Blair but also make anyone act like him.

Work was done to scan in 3D objects, software created to teach 3D behaviour such as running, walking and talking and a new wireless technique for motion capture that allowed more freedom of movement was developed.

However it soon became clear that while this was feasible within five years, it was not possible within the life of the project. The hardware was just not capable of handling the detail and movement of humans. Technology that had been developed was then repositioned into achievable results.

While it wasn't possible to create a 3D actor because of the detail of, for example, human hair, it was achieved as a 2D or cartoon image and in a way that could be used on devices as simple as mobile phones and by project partner Pepper's Ghost to create systems that create long 3D animations at a fraction of the cost.

Behaviour techniques were successfully developed as well as a solution to sending potentially large amounts of data to small and slow devices. Instead of streaming all information, the head was stored on the device and only information telling it how to move was streamed.

This allowed the development of a "talking head" by another partner Createc for PDAs and mobile phones. This fully animated head can read emails, news reports or guide the user through menu options. Peter Stansfield, the project co-ordinator, explains "people prefer watching news rather then reading it. The talking head gives all those non-verbal messages we give off without thinking, making it far better than a computer displaying syntax error".

The development of 3D clothing technology by UK company Virtual Mirrors in order to dress virtual actors realistically resulted in the development of a 3D virtual clothes shop where consumers are scanned in booths and can see themselves wearing the clothes and fabric they select. If clothes are ordered, the software will output the design in pattern pieces to be cut and made into the garments.

According to Stansfield, "EUREKA provides a level playing field, an open area of collaboration." This open and co-operative environment allowed for the change of partners and the repositioning that made the project a success. Just an unexpected success.


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