To better explain and illustrate Comic Chat, we have included a sequence of panels on the left that will be described here. However, one of the best ways to learn about Comic Chat is to watch the introductory video.
Panel (a) shows the Comic Chat application (click on it to see a larger image). On the left of the application appears a scrolling canvas of graphical panels. Mugshots of the chatroom's participants appear in the upper right (in comics form of course!). Below that we have a self-view (the Tiki character), and an "emotion wheel" that makes it easy to select a pose for the character.
A larger version of the self-view and emotion wheel appear in Panel (c). The circle at the bottom includes a number of emotions at its periphery (laughing, happy, coy, bored, scared, sad, angry, and shouting). At the center of the circle is the neutral expression. As the user moves the selector from the center of the circle towards an expression at the periphery, the character's emotion becomes more intense. For example, here an intensely angry emotion is chosen on the emotion wheel, and the self-view of the character reflects this. When the user next types a chat utterance, their character will be drawn in a panel with the same gesture and expression as in the self-view.
Comic Chat also looks for specific words in the text that is typed to help determine a gesture and expression. For example the emoticons, :-) and :-(, make the character happy or sad, respectively. Chat acronyms LOL (Laughing Out Loud) and ROTFL (Rolling on the Floor Laughing) make the character laugh. The character shouts when a message is sent in all caps. Greetings, such as "hi", "hello", bye", and "goodbye", make the character wave. Self-references, such as I (at the start of a sentence), I'll, I will, I'm, I am, etc... makes the character point at itself. Other-references, like You (at the beginning of a sentence), Are you, Will you, Did you, etc... make the character point at the other. These rules were chosen by studying chat room texts and comic book iconography. When the user does not specify an emotion and one cannot be inferred from the text, Comic Chat cycles between multiple neutral gestures and expressions.
In Comic Chat, as in regular comics, there are multiple types of word balloons. Panel (d) shows a word balloon, thought balloon, and whisper balloon. Whispered messages are directed towards a subset of people in the chat room, and then the whisper balloons appear only on the display of the privileged few. Comic Chat also supports action/narration boxes that appear at the top of the panel. Users can choose a particular type of utterance, but messages default to regular word balloons.
As Hugh The Cat attests in Panel (e), there's a lot of non-obvious computer work going on behind the scenes. In addition to choosing gestures and expressions based on the emotion wheel and the text that is typed, Comic Chat chooses a position for the characters in the panels, and a direction for them to face based on comics layout rules. Each balloon is algorithmically generated to appear hand drawn. Heads and bodies are composited together to create greater combinations of art. And more! To learn more about all of this, please read the SIGGRAPH paper. Some cool ideas in the initial prototype never made it into the final project. For example, in Panel (f), the background is adjusted according to the words that are typed.
Panel (g) explains the moral imperative behind the use of Comic Chat. Comic characters are real and self aware. People that do not use comic chat subject the characters to an unconscionable (and unethical) rift in the fabric of their being. Put another way, you have a moral obligation to keep these characters, which were created through no fault of their own, extant, vital, sentient, and replete with life. You will not, cannot, fail them! What are you waiting for, an invitation? OK, check out Panels (h) and (i) for formal permission. Learn how to get started through this "Getting Started" page, or one of the other links in the "Also See" section below.