There’s no shortage of channels for brands and celebrities to stay in touch with their customers, followers and fans in these socially connected times — whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, you name it. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for something more. Today’s addition to the mix is the launch of a broadcasting and animation platform for smartphones called Headcast which lets brands and celebrities record and push out short voice messages to their audience — accompanied by an animated, virtual avatar which lipsyncs with the voice recording and can also mimic hand gestures and facial expressions.
The company behind the tech, HeadcastLab, describes these broadcasts as “visual tweets” since they are limited in duration to 60 seconds, so have the same bite-sized character as a tweet, but are also designed to be watched, thanks to the avatar component. There’s no getting away from the uncanny valley phenomenon here, but presumably in an effort to make that effect comic rather than sinister, the avatars have a cartoonish air, rather than going after exact photo-realism.
The cartoonish air can also be explained by HeadcastLab’s CEO’s background as a designer and builder of puppets and characters. Chris Chapman also ran the animatronics team at Spitting Image Projects and went on to join the creative team. HeadcastLab was founded in 2011, after Chapman had also co-founded smart interface business ElekSen.
British actor and tech lover Stephen Fry is the first to launch a Headcast-powered app, called Fry, on iOS. Fry is also a small investor in Headcast, holding a sub-one per cent stake in the company. Other investors are David Gilbert, former chief operating officer of Dixons, and Charles McGregor, founder of Fibernet, along with CEO Chris Chapman. Headcast’s total funding to date is £340,000, through two separate funding rounds.
Here’s how the technology works from the presenter side:
Headcast performers, such as Stephen Fry, simply speak into their tablet device in ‘self-animator’ mode to record the audio, their character auto-lipsyncs and the in-built technology then animates the character, faster than sending a Tweet. Extra animations, such as trademark gestures, shrugs and topical images within the background, add extra life to the Headcast and can be included at the touch of a button. The followers receive the Headcast within a minute and can interact through the use of polls to gauge fan opinion, tapping the character, and adding sequences into the Headcasts.
Following its iOS launch, with Fry as the first celebrity on board, Headcast’s platform is due to launch on Android in July.
Headcast CEO Chapman said Fry is “just the first of many” brands and celebrities that will be launching on the Headcast platform. “We are looking forward to shortly revealing many other global stars, in particular from the sport and music industries,” he said in a statement.