Or: Samsara, the Amazing Motion-capture of Signing for Avatars that are Really Angry. Alexis Heloir wrote me an email the other day about a project called Samsara. The acronym is quite amazing and telling: Synthesis and Analysis of Motions for Simulation and Animation of Realistic Agents. The demo videos of the SIGNE (sub)project are of a signing avatar, or of a naked skeleton with hands. The special thing is that they make the puppet sign in an angry way or as if he were somewhat tired. And this they do by applying rules to the motion-captured data. A neat trick, if they really manage it. Check out the videos and see for yourself whether they got it right.

Personally, I did not find it very convincing (sorry Alexis). But being told that I was supposed to see an angry signer helped though :-). I guess the emotion is there if you are willing to see it, or if the context (speech, situation) matches it. To be fair, I am not very convinced that emotions are easily read from people’s gestures at all, even if Frank Pollick says so. Making a recognizable movie of a neatly enacted emotion is something else as being able to do live recognition of someone’s emotional state from his behavior.

But perhaps creating a gesturing avatar that matches the emotional state of the moment (as dictated by situation or speech) is enough. Maybe all that is possible is all that is necessary. Do we ever need to rely solely on an avatar’s gestures to project emotions? A frantically waving guy in the distance? Too small to see his face, too far away to hear him, no idea what he wants. Why is he waving? Is he mad at us or warning us? Is he in need of assistance? If the guy were human I would be wondering as well.

The Signing Skeleton of Samsara

“Hi” – “Wait ’till I get you” – “Help!” – “Watch out!”

The members of Samsara are Sylvie Gibet, Jean-Francois Kamp, Nicolas Courty, Alexis Heloir, Alexandre Bouënard, and Charly Awad. Together these researchers have an impression collection of publications on the topic, I must say. The work is done at VALORIA Research Laboratory in Computer Science, Brittany, France. They also seem to have a connection to the wonderful Elephants Dream project, which is an open source animated movie.

Elephants Dream Guy

What emotional state is visible from this gesture? (source)

Ps. According to wikipedia the word Samsara can refer to many things, most importantly to the religious concept of reincarnation in Hinduism. I wonder if that plays a part in the name for this project: the reincarnation of signs, that come to life after being motion captured and lying dead as data on a disk somewhere.