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An 'avatar' is a small image, sized mostly between 48x48 and 150x150 pixels. It is used as a picture of the user in computer forums on the internet or chat programs such as MSN. Avatars are generally positioned next to or under the name (or nickname) of the user. An avatar is a representation of the real person in the real world.

In modern 3D programs and games the 'avatar' of the player is shown as a virtual 3-dimensional figure. You choose an image that you can outfit according to your own taste as in Computer platforms Second Life and Habbo Hotel.

The word avatar originally comes from the Hindu Sanskrit.  In Hindu philosophy it means the incarnation or appearance of a god in the form of a living being in this world. 

Avatar and Sign Language

Within Deaf organizations, avatars can be interesting to use as models for sign language materials. A while back in the Netherlands (in conjunction with a number of other countries)  there were experiments done with the creation of avatars that could sign. Uses included weather forecasts, for example. The movements were all digitally recorded making it unnecesary to have a live signer. The images often looked stiff and the signs looked a bit odd. The facial expressions were also not very good.

Large animated film studios made use of avatar techniques in a different way. They filmed the movements of people using special cameras and then 'pasted' the fantasy figure (an avatar) onto the movements. As a result, the fantasy figure really seemed to move like a person.  It looked just as flowing and natural as a real person. The technique has been developed to the extent that even the facial expressions and eye movements can be copied. Using this method, film makers have created large sections of films such as 'Shrek'.
Interesting for us?
The technique used for making these sort of avatars is conintually being improved and is easier and easier to have access to. It is possible, for example, to record a sign language story and to show it by using an avatar.


Wycliffe is an organization that is working to make Bible stories available in various languages for people groups who do not yet have a Bible. 
They make use of video and DVDs to distribute the translations.
Wycliffe is experimenting with the use of avatar techniques to create Bible stories in sign languages.

The signer is filmed and an avatar is then used in order to view the translation. 
This is an especially important development in countries where the Bible is forbidden. People there don't dare to let themselves be filmed because if they were to be recognized they would be punished.
It is now possible to record sections of the Bible in sign language and to make it viewable without the actual signer being visible.
The series of pictures below give you a bit of an idea how that works.

Even the facial expressions and shoulder moments are natural.

It seems to be gradually becoming a very promising technique.

This is also a result of the fact that there are continually better and more specialized cameras being developed making such applications possible.

In the Netherlands there are plans to make a Bible translation in Dutch Sign Language.

Should we make use of this technique? Or should we simply use a Deaf person who is recognizeable?

Arie Terpstra

Source: Wij Doven (We Deaf), a regional newspaper in Groningen. Used with permission from the writer.


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