Avatars in e-Learning: How Human is TOO Human?

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Online Forums 2011 - January 20, 2011
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John DiGiantomasso

Vice President
Breakthrough PerformanceTech

In 1970, roboticist Masahiro Mori discovered that as things started to become vaguely human in their characteristices, they tended to be more "likeable," but as robots started to approach being synthetic humans, they stopped becoming likeable and instead just seemed "creepy."  Then once they started being extremely humanlike, and perhaps even indistinguishable from humans, they became likeable again. He labeled the area of discomfort "the Uncanny Valley." Today, animators face the task of creating avatars that assist e-Learning and provide comfort to the learners, but in order to avoid the Uncanny Valley, they have typically been forced to render less-than-truly-human avatars that appear more stylized or cartoonish. While this provides comfort, it does nothing to create realism and generate the emotional response of a true human interaction. The trick to getting an avatar to serve as an effective learning partner – to simulate real human exchanges and an emotional response – is to cross over the Uncanny Valley and arrive on the other side. But to do this, you have to balance realism with just a hint of identification that it is indeed a synthetic representation of a human character. This is an extremely difficult target to hit.

Participants in this session will see several different animation tools, learn the strengths and weaknesses of each, and how a combination of affordable tools can be used together to create a highly satisfying animation at a very affordable price.

In this session, you will learn:

  • The concept of the Uncanny Valley and why it exists
  • The two safe sides of the Uncanny Valley
  • How to identify common problems in modern animation
  • Tools and techniques available today to allow for “non-creepy” avatar creation


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