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Cultural Agents
and Avatars
76
They aimed to encourage visits to the Web
site by providing simple, attractive and
straightforward mechanisms to access infor-
mation.To this end, the Executive introduced
a virtual digital `character' in the shape of a
stimulating and intuitive avatar, as a way of
making government more engaging for
young people.
After looking at companies across
Europe, DA Group
112
(DA) was commis-
sioned to develop an approachable and
effective way to communicate news online.
Their solution was Seonaid,
113
a `cyber'
anchorwoman capable of reading the news,
accompanied by all the expected animation
and signs of human emotion. Seonaid is a
fully animated 3D character utilising DA's
patented avatar technology and is the world's
first real-time virtual character on a govern-
mental Web site.
The first step in defining the avatar was
to establish basic parameters such as age, sex, hair and eye colour. Adding extra visual and
sensory characteristics together with natural body movement gave shape to the avatar's
human elements. Seonaid's technology employs a 3D model integrated with a text-to-
speech engine, movement programming and automated lip-synching, natural face and
body movement, emotional response, and unique personality traits.
The avatar is controlled through an interface that allows full broadcast-quality video
footage to be created using simple text inputs and a basic markup language (automated
through DA's user interface).The avatar technology is integrated into a publishing engine
that connects with the Scottish Executive's content management system, automating the
creation of video files and allowing the user to create a playlist of video files.The file can
then be concatenated and formatted for publishing via multiple delivery channels. DA's
software coordinates Seonaid's lip movements with natural face and body movement,
emotional response, and personality traits.The software allows text to be marked up with
a simple set of expression or `action' codes. In the words of Jeff Marksz, Business
Development Director at DA Group, Seonaid delivers the news `word-perfect and with-
out rehearsal, in a matter of minutes.'
114
The implementation of the system took around three months; however, ongoing
improvements have been made since development began in September 2001.Total devel-
opment costs reported in the Scottish Parliament on 30 August 2002 were 151,833
(
216,011) plus VAT. Seonaid's technical heart is in technology developed by DA Group.
However, integrating the publishing engine with the Scottish Executive's content man-
agement system and the user database required some lateral thinking.This was resolved
112 http://www.digital-animations.com
113 Seonaid (pronounced `sho-na') is the Gaelic form of the girl's name `Janet'.
114 http://www.digital-animations.co.uk/html/1-4_casestudies/1-4-3_seonaid.html
Cr
own Copyright
SEONAID: the Scottish Executive Online News and Information
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TWR2004_01_layout#62 14.04.2004 14:07 Uhr Seite 76