In this unit we’ll talk about character design, modeling, and rigging through the lens of the avatar as representation of a user/player.

Avatar is a concept within Hinduism that in Sanskrit literally means “descent”. It signifies the material appearance or incarnation of a powerful deity, goddess or spirit on Earth.

Since the 80s the term has been used in sci-fi (Avatar the movie), online communities (the avatar pic), online worlds (the character representing the player), and games (the playable character), with slightly different connotations.

The earlier metaverse, Second Life

Second Life and the avatar marketplace



Family role-play in second life from The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future
Becoming Dragon by Micha Cardenas is a mixed reality performance questioning the one-year requirement of ‘Real Life Experience’ that transgender people must fulfill in order to receive Gender Confirmation Surgery, and asks if this could be replaced by one year of ‘Second Life Experience’ to lead to Species Reassignment Surgery. For the performance, I lived for 365 hours immersed in the online 3D environment of Second Life with a head mounted display, only seeing the physical world through a video feed, and used a motion capture system to map my movements into Second Life.
Artist Skawennati uses SL to imagine aboriginal futures. See She falls for ages
Virtual performance artist Gazira Babeli accelerates their avatar to the limits of the graphics card
Since 2008 Avatar artist Laturbo Avedon has performed within game engines questioning notions of physical identity and authorship. Club Zero – live collaboratory creation of NFT avatars


Manuel Palou documenting the creation of his free to download avatar
Nikita Diakur using cutting edge machine learning to train his avatar to make backflips
Lu Yang’s sophisticated motion capture performances involving various representations of the artist


Sketch a full body humanoid avatar for:

1- A particular mood. Pick one

2- A particular circumstance. Some starting points here

3- A performance art (parody?) using a mixamo mocap animation

Post 3 or more sketches on Discord.

Speed Project 1: non normative base mesh

Base meshes tend to represent “ideal” body types: stereotypically masculine or feminine, athletic or muscular, young, often distinctly Caucasian.

Video games and popular media (ie superhero movies) also tend to center unattainable standards of beauty even at the expense of realism (ie female warriors looking like pin-ups).

Create a base mesh for a non-normative/conforming/stereotypical body type.
-It should be somewhat realistic, not too fantastic or too cartoony.
-Keep it minimalistic: no distinct facial feature, no clothing and anatomical details, just the anatomical volumes.
-You can (should) start from an existing base mesh
-It has to be riggable and animatable: use mostly quads, pay attention to the edge flow and joints, keep it under 3K tris. 

Standards of beauty change over time, they have very little basis in biology and evolutionary psychology: they are culturally determined.

The Changing Body Shapes of Women Throughout History

The Changing Body Shapes of Men Throughout History


You can find a lot of studies and references for aging bodies, 2d, 3d, photos, sketches.
Just search for x + anatomy.

Body shape

Body Talk: Fun scientific tool connecting language descriptors with visual parameters.

The most athletic bodies actually have a wide variation, rarely represented in pop culture. 

Body variations across athletic disciplines. Open in a new tab.


MakeHuman pursuit of the universal mesh topology, genderless, ageless, raceless, the HoMunculus.
The reification of all these features into sliders is weird but probably better than all the alternatives.

Gender, caricature and stylization

The famous case of sexual dimorphism in Disney characters. Can you make a fun cartoon caricature without hypemasculizing or hyperfeminizing the bodies? A thread with interesting images here.


The open source afro hair library by A.M. Darke. Updates here

“Any conversation about black hair is, at its root, about more than the follicles growing on a given body”
The Natural: The Trouble Portraying Blackness in Video Games by Evan Narcisse.


Watch this intro

Base Meshes file here


(Maybe part 2) Human movement beyond the human form

(All made at CMU!)

All prerendered and simulation heavy, but mind what is possible in pre-render CGI usually becomes possible in real time after 5 -10 years.

Low tech but effective


Speed Project 2

Sketch a non-human character to be animated by mocap data. Pick one of the approaches:

1- Made of rigid things parented to bones (as in random access character)

2- Particle system emitted from mesh

3- Deformed by a humanoid skeleton (advanced: it will likely require weight painting)