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Enhancing Expressiveness of Speech through Animated Avatars for Instant Messaging and Mobile Phones
Joseph E. Pechter
Dartmouth TR2004-503


This thesis aims to create a chat program that allows users to communicate via an animated avatar that provides believable lip-synchronization and expressive emotion. Currently many avatars do not attempt to do lip-synchronization. Those that do are not well synchronized and have little or no emotional expression. Most avatars with lip synch use realistic looking 3D models or stylized rendering of complex models. This work utilizes images rendered in a cartoon style and lip-synchronization rules based on traditional animation. The cartoon style, as opposed to a more realistic look, makes the mouth motion more believable and the characters more appealing. The cartoon look and image-based animation (as opposed to a graphic model animated through manipulation of a skeleton or wireframe) also allows for fewer key frames resulting in faster speed with more room for expressiveness.

When text is entered into the program, the Festival Text-to-Speech engine creates a speech file and extracts phoneme and phoneme duration data. Believable and fluid lip-synchronization is then achieved by means of a number of phoneme-to-image rules. Alternatively, phoneme and phoneme duration data can be obtained for speech dictated into a microphone using Microsoft SAPI and the CSLU Toolkit.

Once lip synchronization has been completed, rules for non-verbal animation are added. Emotions are appended to the animation of speech in two ways: automatically, by recognition of key words and punctuation, or deliberately, by user-defined tags. Additionally, rules are defined for idle-time animation.

Preliminary results indicate that the animated avatar program offers an improvement over currently available software. It aids in the understandability of speech, combines easily recognizable and expressive emotions with speech, and successfully enhances overall enjoyment of the chat experience. Applications for the program include use in cell phones for the deaf or hearing impaired, instant messaging, video conferencing, instructional software, and speech and animation synthesis.

Note: Senior Honors Thesis. Advisors: Lorie Loeb, Hany Farid, Stephen Linder

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   Joseph E. Pechter, "Enhancing Expressiveness of Speech through Animated Avatars for Instant Messaging and Mobile Phones." Dartmouth Computer Science Technical Report TR2004-503, June 2004.

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