Make no mistake with email

Nov 14, 2002, vol. 25, no. 6
By Ingrid King

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Picture this. You just sent a friendly email that is misinterpreted by the recipient as a hostile attack - even though it was loaded with smiley faces. She responds in kind and soon a professional or personal relationship is ruined.

If Steve DiPaola (left) has his way, that scenario will never again occur. In his vision, you could send an e-mail by speaking into a microphone and an animated computer image of yourself would mirror your unique expressions and tone, so there would be no mistaking your meaning.

“Instead of our current use of text messaging through email, I'm working on the next step - a way to express our feelings much better via the computer,” says DiPaola, an interactive arts professor at Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus.

Before joining SFU Surrey, DiPaola taught at Stanford University. He has been involved in alternative user interface and animation for 20 years, beginning at the New York Institute of Technology computer graphics lab. His current research project is called Face Space.

“We're all experts on how the human face works, but we have very little data to support it. Across cultures, people communicate the same way,” he says.

We all respond to certain cues like facial expressions, pauses in conversation and vocal inflections. It has been impossible to recreate this distinctive human technique in an artificial medium. Until now.

DiPaola hopes Face Space will become a toolkit for computer animation, used by gamers, film makers and computer users.

If anyone knows faces, it's DiPaola. He created the easy-to-use face creation tool FaceLift, for the popular computer simulation game The Sims.

The downloadable tool allows users to create families of 3D heads for the game by selecting and modifying their choices from a menu of random faces.

Face Space will expand to feature more detailed facial characteristics and even an emotive experience.

Users will be able to create any conceivable face, from human to alien, which will then be mapped to a user's voice qualities, reflecting gestures, variations in volume, pace of speech and inflection.

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