Put the Zoo in Zoom with these horrific 3D animatars

A picture’s worth a thousand words, but this image of Zoom’s newest feature can be summed up in just one: what?

Zoom is introducing a feature today that lets you show up to your work meetings as a bunny rabbit (or a dog, a fox, a panda, a horse — you get the point). The Avatars feature recognizes the shape of your eyes, nose and mouth to mirror your head movements and facial expressions, but Zoom is quick to note in its announcement that the feature does not use facial recognition, nor does it store biometric data. That would’ve really put them in the dog house.

These avatars are intended to give the Zoom fatigued among us a way to communicate body language and facial expressions without actually appearing on camera. On the flip side, imagine you’re a high school teacher and you log on to teach, but instead you find a sea of 25 bunny rabbits staring back blankly at you as though you’re a character in a pandemic-era reimagining of “Donnie Darko.”

Avatars will be available on both Windows and macOS desktop devices, as well as iOS mobile devices, so long as you’re running Zoom version 5.10.0 or higher (sorry, Android users who want to be horses). To use the feature, click the caret (^) symbol next to the start/stop video button. If you select either the “Choose Virtual Background” or “Choose Video Filter” option, you’ll see a tab that says “Avatars,” which will help you complete your inter-species transformation.

Avatars are compatible with virtual backgrounds. Importantly, your talking animal avatar can wear either a hoodie or a t-shirt.

At launch, animals are the only avatars available, but it’s easy to imagine other kinds of avatars that might get added (putting this completely unfounded prediction in writing now: Zoom partners with Universal Pictures, your boss turns into a Minion).

Zoom suggests that this feature may be useful for virtual pediatric appointments, children’s science classes, or “[breaking] the ice during virtual events.” That last one might be a stretch. But if Zoom wants to cure our Zoom fatigue as we enter year two of a global pandemic, we have a few suggestions for how to spice things up:

  • Incorporate a voice modulator. Intimidate your colleagues by speaking to them as though you’re Darth Vader.
  • Gamify Zoom by adding points. What do the points do for you? I don’t know, I’m not a product designer.
  • Add an HP bar to time-limited Zoom rooms. As you approach the end of your time, flames appear on the side of the screen, then erupt into an explosion gif once your meeting is over.
  • Give the user base an adrenaline rush by informing them that one in every 100,000 Zoom callers will be sucked into the computer, “Tron”-style. The only way to regain control of your corporeal form is to send that email you’ve been putting off.
  • Fishing mini-game. Everything is better with a fishing mini-game, even enterprise software.

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