Sites get up close persona

Imagine going to your bank's Web site and finding an animated assistant to talk you through the steps of applying for that home loan, or enrolling in an online learning course to find a cyber professor.

Melbourne-based Blaze International has moved beyond the glitz and glamour of animation on the silver screen to bring its technology to large organisations wanting to add a new touch to their CRM systems or e-commerce site.

Using facial animation technology developed by Blaze subsidiary, Famous3D, IMpersona offers 3D animated personas to deliver real-time communications in a fresh approach to humanising text-based instant messaging.

Now available to the 32 million global users of the MSN Messenger network, IMpersona allows ordinary text to be delivered by a talking, animated face in real time. IMpersona allows a user to create a head, either of themselves or someone else or a fantasy figure, and a voice synthesiser vocalises whatever text is keyed in as an instant message.

The faces can be a realistic or unrealistic avatar or, for the price of $15 for the software, can be modelled on your own face.

IMpersona also creates personas that can emulate human gestures such as smiling, frowning, winking or an angry look, triggered by emoticons, such as :-), within the program.

Blaze sales and marketing director Zac Jacobs said it's a free service to MSN Messenger users, which piggybacks on Messenger. He said there are plans to extend it to Yahoo! and AOL.

Jacobs said the technology is suitable for CRM, e-commerce, e-learning, entertainment or call-centre applications.

"It allows a Web site to stream an animated and talking face to users of its site and interact with them while they get signed up, get information, shop or receive customer service. Because the animation is digitally rendered, as opposed to photo-realistic images, we can stream it in real time over existing Internet connections with standard bandwidth."

"An e-commerce Web site may want to have a talking mascot to reinforce its branding and guide customers through making purchases online," Jacobs said.

Tests are being conducted with Ericsson and the GPRS network in Japan to adapt the system to phones that are capable of displaying colour and 3D graphics. Jacobs said the technology is about two years away in Australia.

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