Avatars, talking web characters, and virtual actors are growing in popularity for one crucial reason… “they work”!
With broadband becoming the standard Internet access in all four corners of the world, the benefits and possibilities of using rich and interactive media in marketing are starting to become a reality if not the norm. One of the most active areas is in what are called Animated Avatars which are known by many names such as: Talking Web Characters, Virtual Actors, Virtual Personas and Web Comparers. They are growing in popularity every day, not by chance, one of the crucial reasons is… “they work”, but when it comes to using them to deliver training or presentations or integrating them into CBT and education, the Virtual Teacher rises to the challenge.
Delivering education with Virtual Teacher Everywhere has helped come of age.
Virtual teachers, pedagogical providers and teachers can have a new face, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with the same happy disposition, virtual content, animation, automatic lip-syncing and compelling content along with contextual delivery. We know that retention has improved, we know that ‘simple’ teaching can be easily assimilated and we know that nothing is more powerful when it comes to presenting complex ideas or facts than the spoken word. Virtual teachers can be available in different shapes, ages, genders, and even fantasy. The flexibility is endless. Education creators can focus on the topic and choose the perfect virtual teacher to help with the process. A literature assignment can be presented in context, and even brain teasing science and math education can become more refined when you get help from a virtual teacher with the power of “voice”. Online or locally run offline education makes the delivery of virtual education very efficient and manageable. CBT has a new face, interactive courses can have virtual assistants and guides. Many formal training and educational environments incorporate media into their presentations and educational content, and this is no coincidence, why? Because it works! The ability to focus on content and deliver it compelling and memorable is why virtual teachers and educators are such a common place in the upper organization in the corporate stratosphere and prep schools alike, and they both have one thing in common, which is the recognition that compelling animated virtual educators can deliver results in a planned and accurate manner, where achievement can be accelerated at all levels of learning. This is no accident, its technology is at its best, with a face and a purpose. Take a PowerPoint presentation, graphs, facts, numbers and pictures, nice enough, add a fully animated virtual teacher to the mix and you now have a new breed of educational presentation.
In an educational setting, it is a proven fact that information retention and concentration are enhanced when faced with compelling content. So what should you look for in your animated talking character.
1: The Avatar Look
Is your talking cartoon character “cute”, does it look as if it fell from the ugly tree, is it generally well made and disguised, or is it rude and poorly animated. Does it fit your image and delivery requirements…is the quality you feel comfortable associating.
2: Auto lip sync
Is the lip-syncing avatar accurate? There is nothing worse than watching a hypothetical actor that looks like a badly dubbed movie, it’s crucial, our brains react in a few seconds when faced with something that doesn’t sound right! It sounds weird, but most animated speaking character shows have lip-syncing convincingness to say the least. Simple tests include; Do virtual teachers’ lips stop moving when they are silent? Are you shaping the phonemes correctly or is it just a random bunch of babbling?
3: default teachers surrounding animation, less is more.
The animation during the narration should be minimal, subtle and almost invisible. When watching a news broadcast, you will feel uncomfortable as the eyes roll from side to side and strange head movements appear and seem uncontrollable. Content delivered by a talking avatar is important, and all animations should be kept to a minimum to avoid distraction. Less is definitely more.
4: Virtual Teacher – The Voice
Text-to-speech may look decent but it tends to sound really bad. He remembers! This is a virtual actor, your animated web or your animated media, you can compare it to an extension of your image, unless you look like a robot shuffling away with synthesized sounds. Use your own voice, a friend’s, or use a professional voiceover artist, it’s not as expensive as you think! TTS will probably improve in the future but for now it should only be used if you have no other choice.
5: Customize your virtual character
Some shows give you plenty of tailoring options and even allow the visitor to play with the character as they narrate. In general, you should try to limit stitching to clothing and backgrounds for best effect. You want your visitors and users to build a relationship with your virtual teacher, so constantly changing its appearance does not provide continuity for the visitor or student. Having a virtual tutor that the visitor can tinker with only diminishes its message.
6: Integration and hosting of your virtual teacher
Keep in mind that many of the requirements for providing education may be remote, online. Give a great deal of thought to this area as potential additional fees and risks are dotted. If you’re on a pay-per-view contract, a contract that charges you a monthly fee for many streams, the risk is that you grow in traffic, and you end up with one of two potential problems; You have to pay more because you get higher traffic as your site becomes popular, or you can’t pay more, so the talking avatar disappears and you’re left with a block with the suppliers’ logo in its place. Same goes for hosting suppliers, you have no control over their hosting facility, if you depend on your web comparison and your suppliers servers go down you have lost your ‘voice’. If your internet service goes down, at least the entire site won’t be visible. Always try to use a solution that gives you complete control, create your own configuration in your own time, create industry standard output (Flash, Flash video or traditional video) and have complete flexibility when it comes to integration.
7: Flexibility gives you choice.
Flexibility is important, would it be a good idea to access the original output of your efforts in an industry standard format like Flash, Flash Video, AVI, etc. so you can integrate your work into other environments like Powerpoint, Camtasia, youtube, etc. Are there any other services that can help you from the vendor such as Voice-Overs, integration and custom services. Can your combination work offline, can you create it without being connected to the internet. Flexibility adds to your return on investment.
Doing anything poorly is not a good idea, many people grab a new technology and throw it at their audience with little thought. Executing a bad animated virtual actor is harmful and can reflect on your work and/or educational requirements, take your time creating and don’t settle for second place.