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How to Become a 3D Avatar Meme

Once you’ve translated your physical self to polygons, the potential is limitless.

by Manuel Palou
Mar 22 2019, 12:46pm

Image: Manuel Palou

Ever since I played Grand Theft Auto III for Playstation 2 at the tender age of 11, I wanted to be a digital avatar. Driving down the streets of Liberty City in a stolen Rhino armored tank playing a beautiful opera act on Double Clef FM, I couldn’t help but wish the character model I spent so much time with looked a bit more like me. Later GTA games would introduce new characters with customizable features, but still the desire to literally be in the game seemed like a pipe dream.

In the future, our smart phone’s cameras will be powerful enough to digitally recreate our bodies as 3D avatars from a video or a set of photos. Until then, I’ve been experimenting with a few ways to digitize and upload myself to the cloud through as many platforms and mediums as I can. The following three step tutorial will be my most up to date method of self digitization that you can follow to make yourself into a native digital avatar.

At the end of this tutorial, you should have a digital 3D asset file representing yourself that you can leverage to create unique forms of visual content. The type of content you can make is limited only by your imagination, your level of 3D expertise and your willingness to learn. Ultimately, you will become a puppet master and your 3D avatar will be your marionette.

Step 1 – Choose your digital recreation method

You will need a 3D model of yourself in a universally recognized format such as .obj, .dae or .fbx in order to used by 3D applications such as Cinema4D, Maya, or Blender. There are several ways to create this file, and after experimenting with dozens of methods I found the following to be most approachable, accurate, and successful:

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Doob scanner. Image: Hannah Kaplan/YouTube

Doob3D – A 3D scanning and printing company whose main business is to sell 3D printed figurines of clients in their preferred outfits and poses. They also offer a “digital avatar” service where they will scan you in an “a-pose” and give you a fully ready to use rigged and animated model of yourself. As a bonus, they’ll even cut out the eyeballs of your model so they can be independently animated. For those privileged enough to afford the service ($550) and visit one of their locations, this is the easiest option that provides the highest level of realism.

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Image: Manuel Palou

When doing a real life scan, make sure you choose an outfit that you’re comfortable representing yourself with in the metaverse. Personally, I wanted a “default character” kind of a look so I chose to do it in my underwear. I didn’t want to be a free billboard for any brand, so I got custom underwear with my username stitched in the waistband made off Etsy for the 3D scan.

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Image: itSeez3D/YouTube


Structure Sensor + itSeez3D – Using itSeez3D’s iPad scanning app paired with occipital’s Structure Sensor, a 3D scanning camera for mobile devices, allows you to capture people and other objects simply by recording and walking around the subject. As you walk around the subject pointing the Structure Sensor at the subject, an overlaid 3D representation of the subject gets filled out in real time. The experience feels very futuristic and impressive until you get the final output back. Unless you use it in a perfectly lit, empty studio with an excellent model the results are fairly imperfect and might require touching up in a 3D modeling application. This is the most expensive option at $500 for the sensor and at least $399 for an iPad mini, so I would only recommend this if you already have 3D modeling skills and a space to scan in.

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Image: Fiverr

Fiverr – Unless you already have 3D modeling skills, any other methods are going to be too difficult for you to produce a good full body avatar. Save yourself the headache and hire a professional! There’s tons of 3D modeling freelancers on Fiverr and even a specific section for “animated characters and modeling”. These artists will usually just require a few source images for them to reference while they custom sculpt a recreation. Realism may vary, but this is definitely the most economical option as most character gigs on Fiverr range from $50-$250.

Morphin – If you have a smart phone with iOS or Android, many apps will create a 3D representation of yourself from a selfie. The best app in this space in my opinion is Morphin, which is a mobile based computer graphics studio that puts you in the center of your favorite memes. By simply uploading a well lit frontal selfie of your face the app will do the magic of compositing you as a 3D model rigged with the exact animations and effects of popular gifs you know and love. Download Morphin for iOS and Android here.

Step 2 – Create your digital avatar

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Image: Mixamo/Manuel Palou

This is the part where you receive your digital avatar and add any animation or additional customizations. If you’re like me, you probably don’t have any 3D rigging or animation skills. Luckily, the folks at Adobe bought mixamo.com, the web-based 3D character and animation creation tool, four years ago and have since made the service completely free. Just make an Adobe account and head on over to mixamo.com, upload your 3D model, and instantly get access to thousands of free, tweakable animations! As you explore the site you may recognize some animations as the mixamo library is one that I and many 3D artists leverage constantly, like the “bellydance”. Unfortunately the site hasn’t been updated with new animations in a while so the most recent cultural reference is probably “Gangnam Style”.

Step 3 – Distribute your avatar

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The various platforms and tools your digital avatar can integrate with. Image: Manuel Palou

This is the longest and truly never ending part of this project. Almost any platform that allows you to upload custom content can be touched by your digital avatar. Personally, I’ve made an JavaScript module that allows you to render me inside of HTML, a Chrome extension that uses said JavaScript module to overlay the 3D model on the browser, a Unity Asset that makes it easy to add the model to video games, and web portal to house it all. However, the most efficient method of avatar distribution has definitely been integrating with Giphy which makes it easy to spread gifs of the 3D model across the internet. By applying and being accepted to their verified artist program, Giphy will make your content available in all the third party apps that have a Giphy powered search feature. Right now, this includes Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Twitter, Slack, Tinder, Instagram, Discord, HipChat, iMessage, and more. Basically the entire modern internet will be able to pull up your gifs on demand by searching your Giphy username. This can lead to some fun and unexpected results:

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Slack / giphy searches that match my digital avatar. Gifs made with Morphin
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Instagram story, twitter upload of instagram story, twitter DM of snapchat message

Now that you’ve translated your physical self to polygons, the potential is limitless. Learn a 3D modeling pipeline, get into game development, or just pan around your 3D self analyzing your body composition. To make yourself available to others, consider open sourcing or selling yourself as an asset. Ultimately, how you navigate the metaverse and choose to represent yourself is completely up to you and your creative ability.

Follow Manuel Palou on Twitter.