Animated signing characters (signing avatars)

Animated signing characters are a technology for displaying signed communication without the necessity of displaying a digitized video of a human signer. Instead, the systems use 3D animated figure, which can be stored more efficiently than video. The characters can produce movement of the fingers, hands, facial gestures, body movements, and co-signs, in which two different words or ideas are signed at the same time. The characters can be programmed to communicate in either a sign language (e.g. American Sign Language or ASL) or a signed communication systems (e.g. Exact Signed English). Advances in graphics capabilities mean that personal computers are able to produce this animation with much greater clarity than in the past, when transitions between the signs were rough and the hands had to return to a central position between each sign.

Questions to ask when considering animated signing characters


  • What signing languages does it support?
  • Does the character use facial expressions and subtle movements to communicate additional meaning?
  • Will the appeal of an animated character add/detract to the effectiveness of your material? E.g. Children may find the animation appealing.


  • Is your material suited to a personal or an impersonal medium? Animated characters may be best suited to communicating impersonally such as topics that are less connected and closed. The material does not reveal much at all about what we are feeling or the person we really are. Human signers is the opposite and are usually best suited to communicating personally, for example, topics that are more connected and open.
  • How is the signing provided? (e.g., software, web-based) Is this format appropriate and compatible for the system and network you are using?
  • Are there storage and/or bandwidth limitations for your material? Animated Signing Characters are encoded by markup, which uses less storage and bandwidth than digitized videos of human signers.
  • Will your material be periodically updated? Animated signing character systems may be easier to update than video material that must be re-shot with a human signer.


  • How will you get support if you need it? (e.g. a technician in the school, a local vendor, by telephone, by email, remote access, etc.)


Manufacturers of or Projects Using Animated Signing Characters

This list includes various research projects have used animated signing characters for translation to or from text or speech, as well as some manufacturers who create products using animated signing characters.

Links are provided for information purposes only. SNOW does not endorse any of the following software or hardware.

American Sign Language Avatar Project at DePaul University

The LATLab (Linguistic and Assistive Technologies Laboratory)


Motion Light Lab – creating storybooks narrated by animated signing characters – Sisi (Say It Sign It) translator of speech into British Sign Language


SynFace – A computer that generates pictures of moving faces from speech

University of East Anglia’s eSIGN project (Essential Sign Language Information on Government Networks)

University of East Anglia’s the TESSA Project (Text and Sign Support Assistant) – a project that enabled Post Office workers to communicate with deaf customers

Vcom3D –  Sign4Me, Signing Science, and additional resources