Louis Hau 1.9.08
Las Vegas, NV
How would you like to give yourself a starring role in your favorite videogame? Or music video? Or your favorite movie scene of all time?
South Pasadena, Calif., start-up Big Stage wants to help you do just that. The company has developed a technology that will allow anyone with a standard digital camera to create a life-like avatar of themselves. They will then be able to place that avatar on a blog, Web site or social-network page as a fun way of identifying themselves.
Even better: with a little know-how, users will be able to insert their virtual selves into a digital media file–or, say, place a 3D image of Intel (nasdaq: INTC ) Chief Executive Paul Otellini in the music video for Smash Mouth’s 1997 hit “Walkin’ On The Sun,” as Big Stage Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Jonathan Strietzel did during Otellini’s CES keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show on Monday.
Big Stage’s technology has its roots in government-funded research in 3D imaging done at the University of Southern California. The work takes what had been a complex, time-consuming image-creation process and boils it down to a consumer-friendly means to create personalized avatars.
The company’s technology is currently focused on reproducing facial images, but full-body avatars are in the pipeline. Its avatar system will be available to the public in the second quarter of this year.
On Tuesday, Strietzel needed only a few minutes to create a 3D avatar of me and superimpose my face over that of Harrison Ford’s in a scene from Raiders Of The Lost Ark. There I was, in a dank room, slyly replacing a coveted idol head with a small sack of sand. Damn, I was good.
As startling as it can be to see a moving 3D image of yourself, these are very early days for the technology, which is bound to become more compelling as the ability to simulate intelligence improves to create an even more realistic digital you.
What sorts of revenue-generating applications could a life-like avatar have? You don’t have to think too hard to come up with a pack: Videogame publishers could license the technology to give customers the ability to place their avatar inside a game. Similar uses could be attractive to online virtual worlds and social networks. And here’s one of Strietzel’s favorites: Allowing customers to insert themselves into famous movie scenes could give studios a new way of generating fresh revenues from existing film assets.
And then there are the advertising opportunities. Marketers could use 3D avatars of your friends to show you a personalized ad for Sprite, Strietzel suggests. Done the right way, an advertising message would no longer be a mere ad but personalized content, Strietzel contends, one that might benefit both consumers and advertisers.
Big Stage is working on partnerships with media companies. The start-up has kept a very low profile until CES as it locked up partnerships that it will make public in the coming weeks, according to Big Stage’s senior vice president of marketing, Jonas Gray. Helping those efforts has been Big Stages’ new chief executive, Chuck Huebner. He joined Big Stage in December after serving as head of worldwide studios at videogame publisher, Activision (nasdaq: ATVI ).
Big Stage secured $2.8 million in initial financing last February from Mission Ventures, Selby Ventures and the Tech Coast Angels. It also has a $1.5 million debt line from Silicon Valley Bank and expects to raise series B financing within the next month, Strietzel says.
And there was nothing virtual about that.