Questioning gender, questioning emotions, questioning intimacy, and hosting the web and on-line communities, could only lead Pascale to an encounter with a virtual human...

At LIMSI-CNRS Professor Jean-Claude Martin and his PhD student Matthieu Courgeon address the issue of making virtual humans more believable, more empathic... more human, by focusing on the expression of emotions. Their work associates psychological studies on the facial signals that reveal our deep feelings, with advanced computer graphics for photo-realistic or expressionist face rendering. Their avatar, named MARC, was introduced to Pascale when she made a visit to LIMSI. Pascale showed a lot of curiosity and a deep understanding for him, his emotional world, and the way she could travel inside.

MARC was then shipped to Pascale’s workshop. And as soon as she could begin to “play” with him, Pascale introduced a big teddy bear stuffed with controllers and sensors such as gyroscopes, accelerometers, and microphone to grasp MARC and put him under control... Combining an ambiguous tender relationship with the bear, and deep sorrow for MARC, she was mistreating him, making him react exaggeratedly, as if he would be grimacing with pain and suffering.

Whereas artistic approaches to cyborg and avatars have been traditionally appealed by artificial intelligence, reasoning, and conversation, Pascale explores a new and fascinating territory for our relationship with avatars based on emotional communication and tragedy. In the same line, her future project Beautiful Beasts raises interesting issues about the use of virtual humans in human computer interaction for various purposes (live performance, commerce, education, therapy...).

It is certainly one of the most relevant approaches to date to the use of virtual humans in art. if avatars could only enter our physical world by sensing a wide variety of painful emotions through our distressful control, so that we could believe that, yes, they are also humans, after all.

Christian Jacquemin is Professor in Computer Science at LIMSI-CNRS and University Paris-Sud