While it might be a while before we can project our minds into engineered alien bodies a la "Avatar," you can play with a twist on the typical digital avatar right now thanks to an app called Nito.
Nito (pronounced "neato") works by using the front-facing camera on an iPhone or iPad (sorry, no Android version yet) to map your face using markerless face-tracking technology much like FaceRig. This means that it is capable of recording the features of your mug without the use of sensors applied directly to your skin. Instead, you position your face where directed by the app, tell it where your eyes, nose, and mouth are located, and voila -- you can watch yourself onscreen transformed into an animated character that blinks when you blink, looks around when you look around, and talks when you talk.
The app creates 15-second-long videos that you can share via email or popular social-media platforms, and you can choose from nine included characters such as a pig, monkey, alien, shark, or, um, "red berry cream." Three 99-cent add-ons let you project yourself into a mummy, "space cat," or "candy corn kid." Additionally, you can morph your voice to better suit your chosen character -- although I'm not quite sure what red berry cream sounds like.
In addition to the video sharing, there will be a Nito messaging platform where your avatar can talk to your friend's avatar. The developers also hope to work with other video chat services to get them to incorporate their avatar animation technology.
Along with the mass-market app, the Nito developers are also working on a pro version of the software for animators and corporate clients.
"Nito will never replace Pixar's work in film or Nickelodeon's TV productions," Hoyt D. Morgan, Nito's CEO and co-founder, told Crave, "but we hope they will use Nito to create content for social media and the Web to promote and merchandise their characters, and more importantly to engage with their fans. It is cost- and time-prohibitive for them to create engaging animation for social [media] and the Web now -- Nito is the game changer that will fix this for them."
Whether companies end up biting or not, you can dip a toe in the animated avatar waters yourself now, as Nito is available free in the iTunes store.