Internet-based Interactive Character Design:
From Agents to Avatars

Steve DiPaola

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University December 3, 1999

          The windows-based desktop metaphor ... Text and graphical user interfaces ... Multimedia displays of moving images and audio ... These three concepts constitute the majority of methods we use to communicate, to educate, to entertain with our computers and the Internet.
          And yet in our daily lives we communicate and engage in a totally different way. We talk with our friends and relatives -- we watch their facial expressions, read into their pauses, vocal inflections and hand gestures. This is the language, the syntax, that we are all truly experts in: communicating and engaging interactively with people -- with characters that emotionally engage and entertain us through films, plays and cartoons; characters that inform and try to influence us, such as teachers, sales people and business colleagues; characters that have personality and spirit.
          There is a real schism between the metaphors and interfaces we use with our interactive systems and those we use in our ubiquitous life.
          The high end computer animation industry now has the knowledge and techniques to create computer animated characters that can engage an audience. Some of this knowledge and experience has been successfully transferred over to Internet-based characters. But with few exceptions, character animation is still mimetic to the linear style associated with film.
          We are now at a seminal point in time, where it is becoming possible to combine the emotive and communicative qualities of characters with the interactive, programmatic and alternative narrative technologies of the Internet. Characters we can talk/listen to with speech recognition/synthesis; characters who exhibit the illusion of life and cognition via artificial life/intelligence algorithms, information retrieval capabilities and behavioral models. These technologies can be combined with emerging communication and narrative metaphors such as multi-user worlds, and interactive or participatory performances.
          I will discuss the implications of these issues, as well as give a presentation of projects that I have developed for both web-based hosts and multi-user avatar communities.

See the slides for this presentation.

Steve DiPaola has been involved with computer based character design for many years starting back in 1984 when he was a senior member of the computer animation research group at the New York Institute of Technology. He specialized in 3D character animation R&D as well as producing animation for film, TV and his Fine Art work. His main area of expertise at NYIT was 3D Facial Animation and has published several papers and book excerpts on the subject.

He is currently Director of Development at's OnLive Group, where he leads a team of artists, architects, UI designers and musicians in designing and developing 3D avatars and virtual spaces. OnLive's Internet-based Virtual World software and communities allow groups of people to socialize with each other by navigating through 3D spaces, meeting others and talking with their own voices through emotive, lip-syncing 3D head avatars.

He co-headed the San Francisco office of Saatchi and Saatchi's innovation arm called Darwin Digital as Creative Director. Darwin Digital was mandated to explore state of the art new media and interactive projects including several Internet based characters projects.


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