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Cultural Agents
and Avatars
The impetus behind the decision to
use avatars was based on the conviction
that they contribute towards a much more
compelling learning environment than static
and passive interfaces. A virtual avatar
seemed to be the natural interface for user
interaction as it replicated real work modes
of communication. Given CAMTech's
expertise in VR technology, the team was
able to recreate fully immersive environ-
ments of historical heritage objects and
environments that can be entered and viewed in real-time. By providing innovative inter-
action techniques and methodologies that are specific to the reconstructed environment,
a relevance of interface to content is created, which aids understanding of the historical
and cultural content.This leads to a `learning-by-doing' scenario, wherein the user is able
to participate actively in the virtual environment rather than merely experiencing it as a
passive observer. Learning-by-doing scenarios have been proven to be more effective
than conventional (passive) learning techniques.The application's main goal is to educate
the public effectively on the history of the Peranakans and their culture. By using VR
technology with the tour guide and the calligraphy brush as the interface between the
application and the user, the project allows users to `enter and explore' the virtually
recreated 3D environment, thus enhancing the learning curve.
The 3D Modelling for the VTG and the
various exhibits and architecture for the Virtual
Environment was carried out using Discreet's
3D Studio Max and Alias's Maya.
The VTG's
modelling is divided into two parts: face and
body modelling. For the face modelling, a base
face was created and viseme `face-sets' were
derived from the base head.
The base head
uses the different visemes as targets to `morph'
between the mouth shapes to create an appro-
priate relationship between mouth form and
the analysed sound files for speech generation.The VTG's body was modelled and
mapped to a base hierarchical skeleton in order to generate animation sets to support
movement such as walking and climbing stairs.
Both in-house software and OpenSG were used for the real-time visualisation.The
source code of both systems is available to the programmers, and it can be adjusted to
suit a range of needs.This made possible the skin and bones system, and the avatar's
speech generation.The Chinese calligraphy brush was chosen for the interaction tool
because it is unique, fun, and fits the Peranakan context well.The brush is tracked by an
electromagnetic tracker, a device that the team has employed effectively on earlier proj-
ects. An interface for this tool had been developed for a previous project, and this code
was reused without any need for modification.
Peranakans Chinese calligraphy brush
The Virtual Tour Guide and his moving parts
127 Visemes are the mouth positions/shapes of a particular sound in speech.
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