If you’re going to go to a lot of trouble to create a 3-D avatar, or virtual character, you might as well spread it around. That’s the point of Big Stage Entertainment’s PortableYou program.
The company uses a facial modeling system to render a faithful version of someone’s face by building a 3-D replica from three photos taken from slightly different angles. The photorealistic product can then be imported into video games, virtual worlds, mobile applications and the like.
Big Stage lets you then take that face from one application to another, as long as they conform to Big Stage’s own applications programming interface, or API. For now, the API is proprietary, but Big Stage hopes to eventually make it standard.
A PortableYou can be created in less than two minutes using three standard digital camera photos of someone’s face, so it actually isn’t all that much of a hassle. It then creates a reasonably realistic 3-D likeness. It would be cool to put your face on your own World of Warcraft character, and even cooler to take that face and use it in a Star Wars game. IBM has started talking to a bunch of virtual world companies about enabling this, but it’s not easy.
Still, the idea could catch on because it fits with the theme of personalization that is taking over everything from YouTube personal video channels to social networks, said Phil Ressler, chief executive of Big Stage.
The first virtual worlds to integrate PortableYou will be Icarus Studios, maker of white-label virtual worlds for other companies, and The Venue Network, which creates 3-D avatars for virtual worlds that can be used for virtual conferences. The denizens who populate these worlds want better fidelity for their characters as well as cheap creation costs.
The Venue Network is using PortableYou in its VenueGen virtual conference product, which will debut in 2009. PortableYou is a follow-up to Big Stage’s first product, The Digital You, which launched in November and lets members create animated 3-D renderings of themselves and then accessorize them with hair, glasses, etc. It’s available on the Big Stage site, Facebook, and MySpace. Ressler said that over time he hopes the company will generate revenue from sales of the accessories people use to decorate their digital selves. In a promotion with the upcoming film The Spirit from Lion’s Gate Entertainment, you can insert your photorealistic self into various video clips or digital content pieces related to the movie. It’s like putting yourself right into a cinematic scene.
Big Stage is based in South Pasadena, Calif., and has 20 employees. Founded in 2007, it grew out of an R&D project at the University of Southern California with funding from the Central Intelligence Agency. Its investors include Mission Ventures, Selby Ventures and Tech Coast Angels. The company has raised $7.9 million to date.