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3D animation or real news presenter?

Posted by: Howie2.0


Human beings communicate through verbal (speech) and non-verbal (body language, facial expressions) modes. One of the barriers that limits inter-country communication in many forms is language (English, Russian etc), however, non-verbal communication is arguably a universal language understood by everyone, except of  course those who are socially inapt.

Now even though I consider myself someone who pays attention, not even I can translate every type of non-verbal cue, and besides which – it’s a mission to focus that hard on something that's made for mass consumption. Or maybe I’m just lazy. Could be either. Could be none.

This leads me to considering our news presenters all over the world. These people, with obvious faces for TV, stand and present the news to their audiences in their relevant languages. But I want to know what they are saying when I watch an international story. Yes, I know that there are computerised sentences translating, but that is honestly distracting.

 I often have the option of reading subtitles when listening to news presented in a language I do not understand – but this is not something I enjoy. I want to focus my attention on what I am listening to aided by appropriate visual representations... not spend all my time trying to read what is being said and missing the visuals.

So, what are the options for those of us who want to enjoy the news, from around the world, in a language we can understand? One of the options is a virtual news presenter. A 3D animated person who can take on a huge range of applications, like teachers, guides and even sales people. The idea behind this concept is that the virtual person will communicate through verbal and non-verbal cues based on a behavioural model. This model would be developed from the facial/body language analysis of actual news presenters and how they communicate various emotions and words. These animations are known as Embodied Conversational Agents (ECAs) according to an article written by Denise Hippler and José Mario De Martino, called Virtual Presenter.

Virtual Presenter goes on to detail the evolution of virtual presenters and their applications, as well as their design and implementation. Their design requires the synchronisation of facial movements and expressions with speech (sound) to make it seem realistic. As an aside, I find it interesting that even though we have human presenters, we feel the need to generate animations that are as close to human beings as possible. This shows the incredible need for people to personify everything so that they can understand, categorise and adapt accordingly. Anyway, that was a little off on a tangent – moving back on track now.

There are exciting possibilities with the future of this concept. On one hand they could be used to present news in many different languages, all over the world.

Their physical design seems to have no bounds as “non-verbal expressions can be implemented using geometry-based manipulation.” (Hippler & De Martino) - So they would be able to generate gestures and mannerisms that humans can relate to.

The animations could even look like celebrities. Can you imagine Brad Pitt, for example, was talking to you about entertainment news or even his next new movie... The extent is limitless.

On the other hand, this could present a problem for human news presenters. Their jobs could be in jeopardy if virtual presenters could serve the media business in the interest of lowering costs. Paying one animator to redesign a virtual presenter along parameters instead of paying many prima donna human news presenters? ...Could be a threat.

I think I might take a while to get used to animations talking to me but I would like this option,  if I could choose a virtual agent from a list of a few (like normal GPS's have a variety of different voices and accents to speak to you). There is still much research to be done on this topic. It will be interesting to see if real presenters or animated presenters take the lead in the future, or if something completely different will soar past.


Extra bits of interesting info:

Source: screenshot of the Newscaster proposal for cable TV station on YouTube:



Screen shot of the website, Reallusion, which develops 3D cinematic animation tools for consumers, students and professionals. [online]

Academic sources:

  1. Denise Hippler and José Mario De Martino. Virtual Presenter. [online]


Comments (2)Add Comment
Mobile Kugel
written by Mobile Kugel, May 17, 2011
wow, @howie 2.0 I think there is something seriously disturbing about all of this. I have watched a short video on Second Life ( and it made me very anxious to the point where I was actually quite upset.
It is too robotic, and I struggle to relate to such figures especially when their mouths are still moving after they have finished their sentence.
In reality, it combines gaming and communication and for many people it is very exciting.
But if I did have a choice, I would opt for the human news presenter any day, thank you very much.
written by Howie2.0, May 17, 2011
@Mobile Kugel - I have to admit that I am on the fence with this idea. The graphics/animation side of me gets all excited when I think of the possibilities, but the normal side of me is hesitant about "computerised-everything". I do enjoy watching people as it feels right - but who knows where we will be in the future. Hopefully we get the option to choose in what format we would like to receive our news animation or actual.

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