Leeds researchers ‘virtually immortalise’ character in world first

A team of researchers at the University of Leeds have virtually immortalised Joey from popular US sitcom, Friends, in the first step towards transforming popular television characters into digital avatars.

The character from the hit show has been resurrected through a set of algorithms that can track body language and facial expressions, whilst simultaneously analysing how each character typically constructs sentences by studying the show’s scripts.

James Charles, Derek Magee and David Hogg, from the University of Leeds’ computer science department, fed the software with 236 episodes of Friends – equating to 97 hours’ worth of footage.

The software used this to formulate new phrases for Joey in his own style and voice in a bid to create a version of Joey that can automatically generate new speech with a moving digitally-generated mouth.

Virtual Joey has so far created several new phrases which include: “Hey Ross, do you want to talk to some lady?” and “I like pizza with cheese”.

The software still requires some refinement, as the digital mouth that is currently superimposed over original footage lacks sufficient levels of smoothing, but the team plan to gradually improve the rendering of the avatar.

They also intend to expand their algorithm and apply it to other characters, to hopefully create a platform where entirely new scenes can be created from scratch.

Beyond the exciting potential for new Friends sketches, the team aim to develop the system to put a face and personality to voice-command assistants such as Siri or Alexa, and to be used as a “natural interface for humans to interact with computers”.

Jonathan Chard

(Image: Bustle.com)

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