Oculus Introduces Next Generation Of VR Avatars With ‘Expressive Avatars’ Update
More lifelike avatars and a new avatar editor arrive on Oculus Rift & Go headsets.
Since launching in December of 2016, Oculus Avatars has brought a much-needed sense of humanity to the Oculus platform, allowing users to interact with one another on a personal level while in VR. With every new update, the platform has expanded its offerings with regular technical updates, and a sizable catalog of faces, lipstick, hairstyles, and accessories, presenting users with plenty of options for customizing their virtual self.
Today, Oculus introduces its latest update to their Oculus Avatars platform, ‘Expressive Avatars,’ adding a new level of realism to the expressive behavior of avatar models. Thanks to new improvements to eye and mouth movement, avatars now offer more engaging, meaningful interactions that culminate in a more immersive social experience. To achieve this effect, Oculus studied the dynamics of the human eye and mouth in order to identify and replicate minute details.
For example, studies have shown the human eye blinks more as it looks around due to the exposure to air; this information has allowed Oculus to better simulate the blink rate of an avatar based on what they’re looking at. They’ve also identified the differences in a users natural behavior while in a headset, primarily how they tend to turn their heads more to look at something than they would in reality. This is most likely due to the limited field-of-view currently offered by a majority of existing headsets. This crucial data has allowed them to better predict the head movements of a user, resulting in more realistic eye movements fromt the avatar.
These eye movements, including the eyebrows, are also affected by the user’s changes in a users voice while speaking. For instance, a sudden change in pitch or a jerk of the head could result in a raised eyebrow or widened eyes. Oculus hopes to eventually add more updates in the near future, such as pupil dilation and constriction based on lighting changes, as well as mutual eye contact between users.
Using the data mentioned above, Oculus has also made great strides in the movement of the mouth while speaking. Seeing as the lips move before, during, and after a sound is emitted from the mouth, the biggest difficulty for Oculus was accurately simulating the lip movements for a noise before it’s even emitted. After testing several solutions — including delaying the audio between users to buy computing time — they decided on a technique referred to as differential interpolation, which involves modeling intermediate mouth shapes between each sound while controlling individual mouth muscles.
In terms of avatar realism, Oculus looked back on past updates to develop a pleasant balance of realism for their latest design. The result is a lineup of slightly more accurate avatars married with minimalistic textures designed to keep the model from looking too realistic.
Along with the Expressive Avatars update, Oculus is also introducing a brand new Avatar Editor, adding hundreds of new hairstyles and accessories to their already robust catalog of customizable goodies.
So what’s next for Oculus Avatars? Following this overhaul to expressions and faces, Oculus will now be focusing their efforts on a more expressive avatar body in order to further increase social presence while immersed. This, of course, introduces a whole new set of challenges to overcome; including how to account for the movement of a user who is sitting down while his or her corresponding avatar is standing up in-game, how to calibrate for the actual size of a user and the size he or she is in-game while still being able to interact and coordinate with both the world and other users in an effective manner, as well as many others.
It’ll be fascinating to see just how seamless the social interactions will be once the company merges a new full-body system with their Expressive Avatars update.
The Expressive Avatars update is available now on the Oculus Rift and Oculus Go headsets. No doubt we’ll most likely see support heading to the upcoming Oculus Quest standalone headset when it releases sometime this month.