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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 10:01 GMT
Digital doubles debut
A Digimask head on the body of a virtual Quake player, Digimask
The Digimask can be used in games such as Quake
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

No matter how many different gadgets and technologies you use to keep in touch with friends and family, soon you could be using one digital double to represent you on all of them.

British technology company Digimask has developed a method for creating a virtual twin that can be used to accompany text messages on mobile phones, turn e-mail messages into personalised greetings, act as an animated screensaver on your desktop PC, and even represent you in online game worlds.

Unlike many other avatar technologies, the three-dimensional model does not require a visit to a scanning booth. Instead, it is created from just two digital images.

Digimask said kits would be available soon to let people create and manipulate their own digital likeness.

Face builder

These kits will use just two pictures - one full-face and the other a profile - to create a digital double.

The technology developed by the Surrey-based company fills in the space between the two to create a 3-D image that Digimask hopes people will soon start to use as their representative in cyberspace.

Digimask profile on a mobile phone screen, Digimask
You could even use your Digimask on a mobile phone
Behind the image is a representation of facial muscles that Digimask claims makes it much more realistic and animated than other avatars.

"One of our key strengths is the simplicity of creation," said David Burdett, chief executive of Digimask. "All you need is access to a scanner or digital camera and a PC."

He said the scalability of the digital head made it possible to use it on the web, attached to e-mails, as a phone icon or to accompany text messages.

At its highest resolution, the Digimask head is made up of 6,000 polygons and can be up to 400 kilobytes in size. Tiny versions that can be swapped via mail messages weigh in at a few kilobytes in size.

Electronic extras

Mr Burdett said the Digimask would really start to prove useful when the messaging available on mobile phones today went beyond simple text.

Kyoko Date, Digimask
Kyoko Date: One of the first virtual stars
People will be able to make their own animated heads perform the messages they are sending and use simple software tools to enhance them with outlandish expressions and gestures.

Already it is possible to send a much-reduced Digimask image to Nokia and Ericsson mobile phones as a signature on text messages or to use as a phone icon.

Mr Burdett expects the Digimask to prove popular with young people who are keen senders of text messages and want a novel way to customise their handset.

Future handsets and handheld computers that could download and use small Java programs would be able to get much more out of the Digimask images, said Mr Burdett.

Rally championship

Digimask technology is also expected to be widely used online either by people wanting to send personalised messages or by keen online gamers who want their online persona to wear a good representation of their own face.

While it is already possible to put your own face on a computer game character, the images used are typically flat, static portraits that never change.

But, said Mr Burdett, the modelling system behind each image could make in-game images much more lifelike. Already the company has worked with Sony to create Digimask images of the 22 drivers in the forthcoming World Rally Championship game.

The simplicity of the system could be a boon to any sports game company that has to digitise the likenesses of hundreds of the top players in a particular sport.

See also:

15 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Creating your cyber-self
06 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Meet your virtual double
25 Feb 00 | Entertainment
Virtual pop star's chart bid
08 Jan 01 | Europe
A cyberstar is born
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