In mid-January 2000 Paul Hoffman (VRML content creator extraordinaire) posted an evaluation of the current state of Avatar Authoring Tools. In addition Mike Fletcher (HANIM and VRML guru) extended Paul's categories (category 3).
Following is Paul and Mike's posting reproduced here with their gracious permission (I've added the formatting):
Spazz3D -- If you import a figure from some other program, it has a tendency to add Box nodes all over the place -- you've got to delete or hide them before you can see the geometry. If you want to build an avatar from scratch, you've got a lot of modeling to do to get some- thing relatively humanoid (but I could be wrong -- I haven't tested a lot of "start from scratch" stuff in this program). But at least this program can create good H-Anim structures.
blaxxun Avatar Studio -- does a great job if you want a blaxxun avatar for MU in their community. They do something a little strange with the overlying PROTOs that makes the avatar hard to load into other programs to adapt it or place as a permanent character in a world. And I don't think they conform to H-Anim (was built by the Canal+ folks in France).
Sven Technology's Avatar Maker (old program) -- This program predates H-Anim, and is no longer available or supported, but it's by far the most fun to work with (similar interface to Avatar Studio), though it doesn't provide as many clothing options as Avatar Studio. There are non-human shapes available, and you can mix-and-match body parts. (My aliens in part 2 of "On an Alien Moon" have snarling dog/wolf heads, robot arms, human female torsos, and dog hind legs.)
Metacreation's Poser4 -- patch to output H-Anim is incomplete. Holes in bodies; joints all centered on 0,0,0; figures are too small (about 1/2 standard scale). If someone ever puts more money into it, it's going to be one sweet way to generate H-Anim avatars.
Cosmo Worlds -- *NOT* an option in most cases, since it does/did not support PROTOs. Figures created with Avatar Maker can work in it (since they don't have PROTOs), but H-Anim spec avatars will not load.
Ligos' V*Realm Builder -- this program *DOES* handle PROTOs, and I have successfully loaded H-Anim figures and added animations to them. One plus here is that V*Realm Builder makes re-centering parts of the avatar pretty easy (for fixing Poser4 output, for example). It will also load the non-H-Anim Avatar Maker output. But, getting your hands on this program could also be a problem. The demo version is still available from the Ligos site (under the demos link in their menu) -- but no word whatsoever about being able to purchase it anymore.
ParallelGraphics' Internet Character Animator -- just in an early Beta, but shows great promise. I have not been successful in creating a new Animation for any figures, either those supplied with the program or other figures I load (both H-Anim and not). The program relies on some special PROTOs, and the samples are inconsistent in regard to what is needed.
blaxxun's Avatar Studio -- this is great for creating/adapting the gestures that go along with blaxxun avatars. I had no trouble making my avatar do a pirouette on the word "cool". Now if only there was a way to generalize the output so it wasn't specific only to blaxxun MU.
Spazz3D -- The animation interface is pretty good -- I was successful at loading my Alien and making him nod his head. Fortunately the Avatar Maker output has body part centers positioned correctly for good rotations. I have not been able to find a way to re-position the centers of Poser4 output, however.
SkeletonBuilder 1.1 (Python script) -- Currently used (internally) with 3DS Max, Alias PowerAnimator and Maya output. The idea is to easily create "simple" H-Anim avatars (such as are used with Holodesk Communicator) from the output of common (mid-end) modelers Requires that you be able to:
a) export a hierarchic set of Transforms
b) determine the name of nodes in VRML 97 output (you can get around this, but it would require considerable work)
c) export centers of rotation for the Transforms (either as explicit centers or through translations). Again, you can work around by manually configuring rules for your avatar.
d) displacer support in the current (internal) release is only available for Max (just because an assumption I'd made about Maya's export of parented geometry was incorrect). I'm working on making alterations to support Maya for authoring displacers.Upshot is, you do 99% of the work in your modeling program setting up the hierarchy either as linked geometry (Max) or as a bones-and-geometry hierarchy (Max, Maya, or Alias), export to VRML97, run SkeletonBuilder, click "Process" and a minute later out pops an H|Anim 1.1 humanoid (assuming you got the hierarchy correct).
There are all sorts of extra bells and whistles, but that's the basic idea. I am hoping to get SkeletonBuilder released (hopefully under BSD license, legal hasn't gotten back to me yet) before Web3D 2000. The 1.1 version of the script can include a displacer-capable Holodesk Communicator wrapper for the Humanoids. The regular Holodesk Communicator wrapper supports (shared) basic Joint animations on any raw H-Anim humanoid. For those who are wondering, SkeletonBuilder 1.0 is what was used to convert all of our current avatars. 1.1 is a rewrite of my original script paid for by TPresence Inc.