Everything You Should Know About Avatars

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Everything You Should Know About Avatars
February 26, 2018

Sceptics say current VR headsets are clunky, heavy, uncomfortable diving masks that won’t make their way to people’s homes. Well, I agree, but with one significant exception — the technology is moving lightning fast.

 

Even if you are a true VR evangelist with a tattooed Oculus or Vive logo on a shoulder, you have to admit current-gen headsets will never get mass adoption. Because for now, Virtual Reality means being tied up to an expensive PC in the prison cell of a Guardian system.

 

It’s just not that virtual freedom we were all dreaming about.

 

However, there is one crucial thing that we forgot. It’s called “progress.” And it smashes everything on its way.

 

In less than 2 years of VR-consumer-version era headsets became completely wireless, field of view doubled, and the resolution tripled.

 

In fact, VR technologies are evolving much faster than consumer versions of headsets can be released.

 

In the series of weekly articles called “Behold The Next Generation VR Technology” I will guide you through the world of the latest and most promising tech that will finally make VR the next computing platform.

 

Mostly on the early stage of development, all this tech will be implemented in consumer version headsets during the next 10 years. Some sooner, some later.

 

I divided this series into parts — one part for every vital aspect of VR technology. This one is about:

 

Avatars

VR is not only for being anywhere you want, it’s also for being anyone(or anything) you want. A photorealistic scan of yourself, a bounty hunter from space or a can of beans with cartoony hands — you are free to choose.

From a corporate-style photo on LinkedIn to the Solid Snake picture on Steam, your online representation changes depending on context, mood, environment, goals and a bunch of other circumstances. So will your VR avatars.

 

For corporate style VR meetings some stylized lookalike version of you is perfect. It’ll help others get a clue who they are talking to.

 

For some dating activities or a conference, it’s more likely that you use a more realistic version, like a 3D scan.

 

And in some fun social VR apps, boundaries are erased completely. Minutes ago you joined the ranks of annoying Uganda Knuckles, and now you are marching with cute anime Neko cats as one of them.

 

So, it’s clear there is a bunch of different uses of avatars, but only two options to create one (know more? add in comments). First is to use an in-app editor, second is to upload a pre-made 3D model.

 

And creating is fun: you can choose hairstyles, sunglasses, makeup, and eye color, make it taller or lower. But if you want to make a somewhat realistic copy of you(for a company profile, for example), choosing the right face parts from the range of thumbnails might become a little hard to tackle.

 

Rather than going through the process of choosing face parts that match your appearance, wouldn’t it be awesome if an avatar could be created automatically?

Full video / Source Loom.ai

 

That’s exactly what Y-Combinator’s Loom.ai is working on. Their technology lets you create a 3D avatar face merely from one selfie.

 

They are using a trained AI, which can identify the geometry of your face using visual clues from the 2D picture. As a result, it creates a 3D model provided with a facial musculature rig that has been adapted to fit any face.

 

They also claim they factored out the lighting from the photograph, so your 3D avatar can be immersed into new environments with different light conditions. That means you get the fully interactive and ready to use model of your face, that can be utilized in any virtual world you want.

 

At first, I was surprised that Oculus hadn’t bought them yet, especially since Facebook has photos of more than 2 billion people. But it turned out they are already working on their own solution.

 

While the face 3D model creation is cool, there might be a demand for full-body scanning. Why “might be”? You see, it’s not that clear yet.

 

As for avatars, I believe users might want their face look more similar to the original than their torso. Because why do they need to scan their body in the first place, if they can use a model of let’s say an interplanetary space suit or a medieval armor?

 

The only use-case I came up with is virtual dating. When things get serious, you know.

ShapeScale’s sensor scans the athlete — Full video / Source: SHAPE LABS INC.

 

For that(avatar creation, of course!) you can already find an extremely rare doob 3Dscanning booth, take off your clothes and let it go. Or use a similar tech ShapeScale uses for its fitness app.

 

The Kinect-like sensor captures your body from close-up at a high resolution and uses infrared(IR) light dots to measure the distance between you and the sensor.

 

First, it scans those IR dots to form a point cloud of over 2 million points that line up in the shape of your body. Connected they generate a mesh, and the 3D model is created.

 

The sensor also takes hundreds of pictures and stitches them together to map a realistic texture of your body and clothing. The result is a highly precise scan of yourself.

 

While this tech is nothing new, it could replace 2D photography in future smartphones, so we could scan everything and use it in VR later. Just imagine what it would be if Snapchat becomes a Scanchat? I bet you get the point. The truth is, there are already some prototypes out there, so the consumer version is close.

 

Oh wait, what about the fun use-cases? What to do if you want to become a small red hedgehog-like creature wearing white spiky gloves? (God, I can’t stop doing it)

 

For now, to create one of these you have to deal with the game engine, 3D modeling software, rigging software. You have to spend hours to create a new avatar if there’s no in-app editor. And it should not be there!

 

Creating an avatar is about total freedom. No editor in the whole world can make such a boast. And thank God some devs understand that and let you upload avatar models to their apps.

 

Unfortunately, there is no other way than mastering some 3D modeling software. I haven’t seen the technology, that can create an avatar based on what you tell it or, for example, what picture you upload. But what is clear that as social VR will arise, the demand for avatar creation will be increasing.

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