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Virtual Human Project: the toolbox for avatar animation

A toolbox for the animation of avatars in virtual reality

Crédits photos : VHP

How to imagine a good immersion in Virtual Reality without a sense of social presence with the virtual characters populating the environments? For Geoffrey Gorisse, assistant professor at the Arts et Métiers institute of Laval, avatar visual and behavioral consistency is crucial to foster social interaction effects in virtual reality applications.

Perfecting the human aspects of avatars

Avatar visual fidelity was at the heart of Geoffrey’s research conducted during his thesis and his post-doctoral stay at the Event Lab, University of Barcelona in 2019. One year later, in this quest for realism, the project came to maturity. He took advantage of the lockdown period to develop the Virtual Human Project (VHP) for Unity (one of the most widely used 3D engines used for video game and VR development): a toolkit to provide Virtual Reality developers with a package of optimized functions for avatar procedural animation.

It aims to improve the human aspect of virtual characters based on 3 main features: gaze (multiple strategies from static to probabilistic), lip synchronization (based on pre-recorded or real-time audio inputs) and emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise).

One tool, two competences

Making the characters even more realistic really enhances the experience and developers are aware of this for the success of their projects. There is a great need, but the resources required to develop such tools are not always found in the same team. Computer science labs have the technical skill to develop such projects but lack the social science expertise of psychology labs.

To develop the VHP, this dual approach was essential. Geoffrey, thanks to his academic background (master degree in virtual reality and PhD on the impact of avatar visual fidelity on the sense of embodiment in immersive virtual environments), used his technical skills (programing and 3D modeling) and his expertise in virtual humans to develop this easily integrable and optimized tool.

At the service of the scientific community

At this stage, the project primarily serves the scientific community, it is part of a knowledge-sharing process. This Open Source project (public and accessible to all) is available on GitHub, a platform hosting the source code of software projects. Posted on Youtube a few months ago, the project is already federative since it initiated a collaboration with researchers from the Memory and Cognition Lab of the Paris Descartes university and was also presented during a meeting of the CNRS virtual reality research group.

About author

Event coordinator at the Institut Laval Arts et Métiers. Facilitator in collective intelligence, likes to reveal talents among students and researchers in Innovation, VR and AR.