At the all-digital version of SXSW 2021 today, Facebook’s Mark Rabkin, VP of Oculus, showed off an upcoming new version of its avatar system on Quest.

In his chat with CNET’s Scott Stein, called The Quest Effect: Inside VR’s Next Chapter, Rabkin revealed the company’s next avatar system.

It’s slated to arrive first on its social VR platform Facebook Horizon, and later roll out to the wider Quest ecosystem for other developers to integrate. Take a look below:

Horizon has been in invite-only beta for around a year now, and it appears the company is getting closer to releasing to a wider audience.

Considering Rabkin says this will be rolling out to Horizon and then the rest of the platform, it’s safe to say the results above were obtained by applying many of the advances in AI systems the company has been working on in the past few years, and not by using a separate piece of face-tracking hardware like HTC revealed earlier this month.

Since the launch of Rift in 2016, Facebook has been keen on researching social VR and releasing smaller experiments — that’s of course relatively speaking in comparison to the massive success of third-party social platforms like Rec Room, Bigscreen, and VRChat. Whether Horizon is set to be another such sandbox experiment isn’t clear, however Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is keen on cinching down on “social presence”—the feeling of being physically near someone even at a distance—as the company moves towards its third and fourth iterations of Quest.

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  • Amni3D

    Literally why would I use this. It makes the Xbox avatars look good. We need to go back.

  • sfmike

    At least we see we soon can stop hearing all the complaining about lack of facial hair, but I’m not naïve enough to think complaining will stop, see below.

    • Amni3D

      The whole selling point is the avatars, so indeed if there’s an issue, people should let their thoughts out.

      It’s not a charity. Either they listen to feedback, or lose to Recroom, VRC, Altspace, and Neos.

  • sfmike

    Did you ever think maybe to cartoony style is used to try and avoid the uncanny valley?

    • Hivemind9000

      I think they chose the cartoony look so it runs ok on the Quest. I don’t think they could get anywhere near uncanny valley with their CPU/GPU performance… yet.

    • blue5peed

      I’m comparing these avatars to the ones we currently have. I hope they are not planning to replace them with these horizon avatars because these look ridiculous. If they exist along side the ones we already have then that is alright I guess options are always a good thing.

      Last time they revamped they avatars they said it was because they felt the previous ones where too opinionated, too Sci-Fi or something and they wanted to add the eyes. Alright, but now they are making an even more opinionated avatar with this exaggerated cartoony style. They don’t have the neutral stature that the current ones have and their animation is ridiculous.

      They might suit Horizon but Imagine these muppets in all the other apps like venues, around poker tables or the Upload podcast. They may well be technically superior to the current ones with all their AI whizz-bang but the proof is in the eating, we gonna be a laughing stock.

    • Amni3D

      Having a cartoony style doesn’t mean the uncanny valley is gone. See The Polar Express, which is the classic histortical example for uncanny valley. It’s this weird middle ground of generic Disney proportions and mocap facial animation. It’s genuinely unsettling.

      The little “mouth open mouth close” worked with the Mii designs and Xbox avatars. Those were handled with a lot more nuance of “how much of these are we actually going to animate by hand”.

      I feel if we’re going for “facial tracking for social VR”, you need to give the people making the 3D rigs some kind of API. In other words, VR Chat is better suited for this, than just slapping the feature onto a rig.

  • ale bro

    why does facebook hate legs?

    • Blaexe

      Because they’re not tracked and avatars with legs stumble awkwardly and look strange?

      Even the arms still look awkward and we have lots more information around that body part.

      • ale bro

        VRChat works fine without leg tracking. Yes some people have it but it’s not necessary.

  • Cragheart

    It’s disappointing that the graphics and animation isn’t better by now. And what about lower body?

  • guest

    These avatars need to fix their dentures and get a neck-job!

  • I would suggest, if the hands go below a certain elevation, just let the computer take over with Idle poses. People shouldn’t have to have their hands in front of themselves all the time like that. I know tracking will fail at a certain point, so let the computer take over posing the avatar when the player isn’t raising their hands, or tracking is lost.

  • The AI-driven blendshapes system…… still needs a lot of work. It looks okay like 10% of the time, and the rest of the time it’s EXTREMELY exaggerated phoneme mouth postures, like 400ms after those sounds have already been said. Also yeah, it’s very ugly. Each version looks worse.

  • Ardra Diva

    EverQuest 2 had pretty decent face mapping like 15 years ago.