Web3D RoundUp: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Vol.34 No.2 May 2000

Virtual Communicator Characters

Ed Sims
Vcom3D, Inc.

Figure 1: Tonya, the Signing Avatar™, communicates stories in sign language.

Figure 2: Interactive Vcomix™ let the user challenge Kinesis.

Vcom3D, Inc. (formerly Seamless Solutions, Inc.) develops highly articulated Virtual Communicator™ characters for the Internet. These characters can be embedded in on-line greetings, games, comics and educational websites.

The core technology behind these characters is a 60Kbyte Java applet that animates up to 57 joints, as well as controlling facial expression. Animations may be keyframe, motion capture or real-time inverse kinematics. Once the applet and basic motions have been downloaded, the characters can be animated by a straightforward API or by simple text commands. Our characters are developed to the Humanoid Animation standard ( By using this standard, we are able to develop animations once, and apply them to numerous models.

The most exciting role for our characters is as Signing Avatar™ 3D communicators, shown in Figure 1, who help deaf children learn to sign and to read. Hearing children are immersed in language, which they learn from television, radio and voice-enabled software, as well as from their families. Language is delayed for most deaf children because concepts and information are inaccessible. Signing Avatar characters expose deaf children to language and offer new opportunities for anyone to learn to sign. Each character can form more than 800 signs and has more than 20 facial expressions.

The Signing Avatars have been funded in part by the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, and are being tested in classrooms at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind ( Anyone who thinks that 3D on the web is too hard to use, or of limited value, should see the five and six year olds’ response!

Signing Avatars are modeled in VRML 97 and run best in accelerated VRML viewers such as blaxxun’s Contact 4.3. However, many elements of our character animation technology have been adapted for Java-only viewers, such as blaxxun3D. Navigation and interactivity are provided by our lightweight character animation applet, and can be tailored for games, comics and emailable greeting cards. Our Vcomix™ allow the user to match wits with the characters and, perhaps, determine their fate.

Vcom3D has presented our characters at each Web3D RoundUP since SIGGRAPH 98. Passing the judges’ and audience’s scrutiny is a challenge we take seriously twice each year. The audience is both critical, because they know the technology, and understanding, because many of them have been in your shoes, and know the hazards of a live demonstration.

Vcom3D characters, including some you can email to your friends, can be viewed on-line at We are currently setting up a new website,, dedicated exclusively to the Signing Avatar™ characters.

Ed Sims
Vcom3D, Inc.

The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.