Animated Signing Characters (Signing Avatars)


Animated signing characters are a technology for displaying signed communication without the necessity of displaying a digitized video of a human signer. Instead, the systems use 3D animated figure, which can be stored more efficiently than video. The characters can produce movement of the fingers, hands, facial gestures, body movements, and co-signs, in which two different words or ideas are signed at the same time. The characters can be programmed to communicate in either a sign language (e.g. American Sign Language or ASL) or a signed communication systems (e.g. Exact Signed English). Advances in graphics capabilities mean that personal computers are able to produce this animation with much great clarity than in the past, when transitions between the signs were rough and the hands had to return to a central position between each sign.

Points to Ponder 

Questions to ask when considering animated signing characters

  • Is your material suited to a personal or an impersonal medium? Animated characters may be best suited to communicating impersonally such as topics that are less connected and closed. The material does not reveal much at all about what we are feeling or the person we really are. Human signers is the opposite and are usually best suited to communicating personally, for example, topics that are more connected and open.
  • Are there storage and/or bandwidth limitations for your material? Animated Signing Characters are encoded by markup, which uses less storage and bandwidth than digitized videos of human signers.
  • Will your material be periodically updated? Animated signing character systems may be easier to update than video material that must be re-shot with a human signer.
  • Will the appeal of an animated character add/detract to the effectiveness of your material? E.g. Children may find the animation appealing.



Manufacturers of Animated Signing Characters

SNOW does not endorse any of the following software/hardware. These links are provided for information purposes only. 

Vcom3D - Signing Smith, VCommunicator Authoring Suite
Additional useful links

Projects that have used animated signing characters:

University of East Anglia’s eSIGN project (Essential Sign Language Information on Government Networks)
University of East Anglia’s the TESSA Project (Text and Sign Support Assistant) – a project that enabled Post Office workers to communicate with deaf customers
SynFace - A computer that generates pictures of moving faces from speech