Building a Character for Microsoft® Agent 2.0

 I thought you might be interested in what it took to create a character like John Z, so here is a little bit of the story.

 Most of the tools you will need are available, and many are FREE. Most of the hard stuff has already been done for you! If you want my suggestions on web browsers, check Dr. Bob's Bookshelf!  

First you need to draw some images. I just used Microsoft® Paint that came with Windows® 98! I started with a JPG scan of a photo and used paint.exe to convert it to a 256 color BMP file. I painted out the background and set it to a solid blue, which would become the 'transparent' color. I resized the image using ImageForge (which you can download free) so it was a bit smaller than 128 pixels x 128 pixels.


The starting JPG

Converted to BMP

with transparent background

Next, you need to make the BMP images into a character for Microsoft Agent, using the Microsoft Agent Editor (ACE.exe). You can down load it from Microsoft's Agent web site. It will help you piece together BMP and GIF files to create the character's animations. If you supply it with overlays for the mouth, the Character Editor (ACE.exe) and the text-to-speech engine will take care of making the mouth movements match the sounds!

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The basic body was put together with tires and eyes to form the individual frames of an animation. There are 7 different mouth positions, from closed, to "oohh", to wide open. Each mouth position overlay is in its own file. The Agent "server" takes care of selecting which mouth position goes with each syllable or sound.


The overlay pieces

The pieces fit together

An assembled frame

Finally, once you have your character, MASH, the Microsoft Agent Scripting Helper will let you test out your creation, or to generate scripts in javascript or in VBscript.

Much more information is available on the Agent Web Ring or on the Agent newsgroup, microsoft.public.msagent. There is also a Group on Yahoo!®, agentcharacters


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