Until recently, if you wanted to create an animated full-body computer avatar of a specific person, the process would take several days to complete. Thanks to a new system designed at Germany's Bielefeld University, however, it's reportedly now possible to whip one up in just 10 minutes.

The technology was developed by a team from the university's Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) group. It's intended for use in CITEC's ICSpace virtual fitness coaching system, in which users receive real-time feedback by viewing and manipulating a photorealistic 3D avatar of themselves performing various exercises.

In the new avatar-creation system, the person is first simultaneously photographed from all sides by a circular array of 40 DSLR cameras. From those images, several million 3D sample points are identified on the subject's body.

Those sample points are in turn used to adapt the shape and appearance of an existing generic virtual human model – that model "contains statistical knowledge about human body shape and movement," and was based on 3D scans of over 100 people. It's the key to the speediness of the process, as it means that the avatars don't have to be designed from scratch each time around.

The end product looks just like the user, and is fully animatable right down to facial expressions and individual finger joints. According to the researchers, this resemblance should help ICSpace users to better identify with the avatar, plus of course there are also other potential applications, such as in the world of gaming.

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