Tuesday 12pm, 27 November 2018

Smith neff

Communication Behavior in Embodied Virtual Reality

Jesse Smith and Michael Neff

PhD candidate and Professor - UC Davis


This talk will present our recent paper with plenty of time for discussion. Embodied virtual reality faithfully renders users’ movements onto an avatar in a virtual 3D environment, supporting nuanced nonverbal behavior alongside verbal communication. To investigate communication behavior within this medium, we had 30 dyads complete two tasks using a shared visual workspace: negotiating an apartment layout and placing model furniture on an apartment floor plan. Dyads completed both tasks under three different conditions: face-to-face, embodied VR with visible full-body avatars, and no embodiment VR, where the participants shared a virtual space, but had no visible avatars. Both subjective measures of users’ experiences and detailed annotations of verbal and nonverbal behavior are used to understand how the media impact communication behavior. Embodied VR provides a high level of social presence with conversation patterns that are very similar to face-to-face interaction. In contrast, providing only the shared environment was generally found to be lonely and appears to lead to degraded communication.


Jesse Smith is a Ph.D. candidate in the Computer Science Department at the University of California, Davis. His research focuses on character animation, nonverbal communication, and the way these fields can be leveraged to create more enjoyable and efficient social virtual reality experiences. In the past few years, he has pursued these interests alongside experts from Army Research Labs, Snap Research, and Oculus Research (now Facebook Reality Labs). He is a member of the Davis 2018-2019 Leaders For the Future Cohort and an ARCS Northern California Scholarship recipient.

Michael Neff is a professor in Computer Science and Cinema & Digital Media at the University of California, Davis where he leads the Motion Lab, an interdisciplinary research effort in character animation and embodied interaction. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and is also a Certified Laban Movement Analyst. His interests include character animation, especially modeling expressive movement, nonverbal communication, gesture and applying performing arts knowledge to animation. He received an NSF CAREER Award, the Alain Fournier Award for his dissertation, two best paper awards and the Isadora Duncan Award for Visual Design. He is past Chair of the Department of Cinema and Digital Media.