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Cultural Agents
and Avatars
The only suitable alternative technology to
OpenSG was Java3D. OpenSG offers superior
performance and flexibility when compared with
Java3D. So far, creation of the avatar has been
the most challenging part of the project.The
skin and bone system and speech generation
required to realise the avatar were the deciding
factor in the choice of C++ and OpenSG. All
of the 3D models are exported to Virtual
Reality Modelling Language (VRML
) format.
As Maya's standard VRML exporter does not export the avatar textures (skin and bone,
and other materials) satisfactorily, the team had to write their own exporter for this purpose.
The implementation of avatar technologies lies at the core of the Peranakans project.
The VTG avatar increases the edutainment value of the application. It also establishes a
user interface that is much more personal and natural than those driven by buttons or
menus.The tour guide analogy makes his purpose immediately understandable.Visitors
come with expectations of tour guides; for example, they know the VTG can show them
around, give information on exhibits, and answer questions where conventional buttons
and menus may not be so intuitive.
The CAMTech team has developed a demonstration program that shows a three-
dimensional Peranakan chamber complete with selected furniture models.The purpose
of this program is to test the real-time rendering of the 3D models, as well as the user
interaction with the calligraphy brush.Visitors can use the brush to navigate around the
environment by pointing with it at the screen, or they can write simple Chinese charac-
ters with it to execute commands.This is trickier, and visitors usually have to try it a few
times before they can manage to form characters that the system recognises.This is due
to the simple recognition method used by the system; visitors must write the character
stroke by stroke, and lift the brush off the writing board between strokes.
Evaluation and user testing of the VTG remain to be done. Future evaluation will
include analysis of user interaction with the avatar; visitors will be encouraged to select
questions, ask the VTG for recommendations and advice, and follow him during a tour.
Close collaboration with Peranakan content experts will continue in order to construct a
detailed and content-rich portrayal of the Peranakan culture. Other development tasks
include constructing a storyboard, the enhancement of the Peranakan object library with
more digital cultural artefacts, improved natural behaviours for the VTG, and a more
intuitive and seamless interface between the virtual and real environments. One major
benefit of this avatar model is that it can be repurposed for other applications simply by
changing its outfit, underlying information database, and behaviour settings.
There are many potential future application areas for this project.While the application
serves as content for the local market in Singapore and the outlying regions, the intuitive
character will make it an effective vehicle for reaching a global audience.Within the
Singapore market, there are few ongoing digital heritage projects and almost none with
CAMTech's extensive expertise.The team hopes to create a niche market for digital her-
itage applications specific to Singapore and its region, by diversifying its focus into appli-
cations such as museum installations, the World Wide Web, and games.
Real and virtual brushes
128 For more on VRML and Java3D, please see DigiCULT Technology Watch Report 1 (pp. 98-100 and 102).
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