Facebook Strives for Full-Body VR Avatars
One of the unique aspects of virtual reality is how immersive it is. Whereas animation for a film or television show works within a frame, VR simulates an entire world for its viewer. That means they are no longer a mere “viewer”, but an actual presence within the work itself.
This poses a new challenge though: how should this presence be animated?
Sure, there are options to have a generic human head and disembodied hands, or simply have no visible avatar at all for the user. And while these solutions can be satisfactory for some purposes, they have their limitations. For one, single-user VR programs may benefit from having a more fleshed-out version of the user, such as perhaps medical applications. On another note though, having detailed and accurate avatars also bolsters the concept of multi-user applications.
At the moment, most VR applications with social capabilities let you choose your own avatar. This results in fantastical designs filling the space. VR Chat is an excellent (and sometimes frightening) example. Going forward though, more mainstream commercial uses will want a more personalized and accurate avatar, so people can see who they are interacting with.
In recent weeks though, Facebook has been making strides in that direction. Last week at their annual developer conference, the company announced it’s not just working on developing anatomically correct skeletons to animate, but they’re also trying to simulate the actual clothing a user is wearing. They showed off a video that demonstrated two people playing a virtual game of soccer, with nearly identical 3D versions playing out the game in real-time. Facebook developers are trying to incorporate details such as eye movements, mouth movements, and body language. So many subtleties come into play - in one test, a participant identified her husband who was only represented by three simple shapes, thanks to “the way he shrugs”.
However, these ambitions have two major barriers to cross. Facebook Reality Labs' research manager Ronald Mallet addressed these at the conference: sensor power, and privacy concerns. At the moment, consumers are largely unable to get the kind of technology needed to accurately sense and image their bodies in a dynamic way, and it may be some time yet before its readily available. As for privacy issues, there could be concerns about what an accurate 3D model of a person could be used for, especially with deepfake videos becoming more and more prominent. This could be potentially be the greater of the two concerns for Facebook; technology grows cheaper all the time, but privacy issues remain a sticking point for the company.
The technology for full-body avatars may be a ways away, but it’s coming fast. Major companies and studios are already testing more applications and pushing the limits of what it can do, and sometime soon we may be able to see ourselves in virtual worlds. With that out of the way, the only question remaining is what to do with that ability.
Moonward Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production. We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.