A few months back I treated myself to a new Logitech webcam and poked around with its avatar and video effects features. Basically these let you overlay an animated face and other facial accessories such as a beard onto your real face during a video chat or web broadcast. The software based system uses facial recognition technology to figure out where your mouth, eyes and eyebrows are, and then adapts a 3D model (of a cartoon character for instance) to your features.
The whole thing works seamlessly so that other bits of software on your computer such as Skype receive the modifed video (I now doubt this, have been having problems – ED)
I recently updated the software and was pleasantly surprised to find that the entire package (Quickcam) has been overhauled significantly since the Summer. The avatars and video effects features have moved on leaps and bounds, and the facial recognition technology is much more impressive. Under very poor lighting conditions (see below), it picked out my features using a new ‘training’ wizard, overlaying dots onto my face similar to those found on a motion capture suit. Once calibrated, it picked out my movements very accurately, despite the poor lighting.
The physics engine in general seems to have been overhauled, and is now able to identify left, right, up, down, tilt left and tilt right head movements. It also picks out the opening and closing of your mouth and the blinking of your eyes. With the new 3D avatars supplied with the software and others available on Logitech’s website (earlier versions were 2D only), the effects are really impressive.
I was surprised to find Logitech giving away additional avatars and facial accessories for free. I would probably have paid a couple of bucks for a package of new avatars or even individual ones if the payment system was fast and intuitive.
Avatars in general are going to be big business in my opinion. WeeMee, CrazyTalk, Klonies and Logitech’s system show the current state of play.

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