Meet Karena, your virtual newsreader

She's a successful model and mother-of-three, and now she's become the world's first custom-built internet newscaster. Carina West, from Thorpe Marriott, Norwich, was picked from hundreds of models and actresses, to become the new face of internet news on the EDP's award-winning website.

She's a successful model and mother-of-three, and now she's become the world's first custom-built internet newscaster.

Carina West, from Thorpe Marriott, Norwich, was picked from hundreds of models and actresses, to become the new face of internet news on the EDPs award-winning website.

Using a combination of state-of-art TV technology and advanced graphic computing skills, the award-winning team at Norwich's Televirtual MediaLAb, have transformed Carina into the high-tech Karena. The technique which Televirtual boss Tim Child calls videogrammetry, involves splicing and blending taped TV sequences of Carina, with reconstructed still images of the 35-year-old Thorpe Marriott housewife. Reconstructed, because, because individual features such as eyes, mouth, nose and eyebrows, have all been captured piecemeal to allow interactive computer control of the assembled image.

Karena will replace Brian who came online on March 14 as part of a unique project pioneered by three Norwich companies and a national sports information service.

He is the front end of Newsfast - a system that has taken about a year and a half to develop and is now under trial on the EDP24 website with WeatherQuest and PA Sport providing additional information.

For Carina, the process of becoming Karena, began with a five hour filming session at the former Anglia TV studios which are now Norwich's EPIC - or East of England Production Innovation Centre. It was the first time EPIC had used the new High Definition (HDTV) cameras, acquired as part of its £2m modernisation.

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But what does Carina think of Karena. "Absolutely great! - but also strangely bizarre. I mean: it's me, and yet it's also, not me." The next big approval hurdle for Carina, will be her three sons, aged nine, eight and almost two. "I expect they'll be fine about it", she said. "They're boys, and as its on computers, they'll just think its cool."

As Karena, the end result will replace Brian, who was the EDP's first virtual newsreader. Brian launched the first RSS-based instant news-reading service from Archant a month ago. RSS stands for rich (web)site summary increasingly its the place where breaking news is stored first by most news gathering organisations.

Brian, who unlike Karena, was not based upon any one real person, won't be retired, but will revert to his original designed role, as an emergency services information announcer.

"Brian was never really intended as a general newsreader", Tim Child explained, "but he's been an able stand-in while we perfected the techniques to transform Carina into Karena".

In finished form, Karena will not speak with Carina's voice. Instead, Karena is completely computer-operated. Her synthetic voice, or text-to-speech engine, has been developed by speech experts Nuance, and involves more than 30 hours of recording a real voice artist, after which the "voice" is spliced together using a technique similar to that used to assemble Karena's video image.

Since Brian was launched, nearly 15,500 individual visitors have logged on to the EDP24 Newsfast page.

Patrick Prekopp, EDP24 Web Editor said: “Brian has generated quite a bit of interest - not all in terms of his broadcasting talents, it has to be said. However, Karena is much better looking, closer to the real thing and it's hard to see the joins. The technology is just amazing and we're thrilled to be part of the action.”

t To see and hear Karena in action, go to www.edp24.co.uk

CAPTIONS:

[KarenaBrian] Karena prepares to take over from Brian.

[KarenaMapping.jpg] How Carina's face was mapped for digitalisation.

[Carina_West.jpg] Carena West at rehearsals.

[CarinaWest.jpg] The real Carena West

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