PhD position in Generating Interactive Multimodal Virtual Humans (1.0 FTE)

PhD position in Generating Interactive Multimodal Virtual Humans (1.0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
14 Mar 13 Apr Utrecht

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PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in collaboration with the Department of Information and Computing Sciences at Utrecht University.

Job description

Virtual humans are becoming part of our daily communication practices as in social media, instructional videos, in health care etc. However, their communicative abilities, especially regarding the use of visual features of communication are far beyond ideal. The aim of the PhD project is to simulate communicatively efficient and believable multimodal language use in interactional contexts in 3D virtual humans - building on findings in human multimodal language research. PhD student will investigate how 3D virtual humans can communicate with humans using speech and gesture (hand gestures, facial expressions, eye gaze) in conversational interactions and in believable ways. To do so it will use state-of-the-art motion capture and virtual reality technologies, statistics and machine learning, computational modeling and experimental design. The project will break into new grounds on the one hand on how human like multimodal interactive communicative behavior can be simulated with 3D virtual humans and on the other hand will investigate whether such features enhance their realism, facilitate and ease humans’ interaction with them (e.g. whether the appearance and animations of the virtual humans lead to intended perception of the gestures, facial expressions and communicative intent).

Project will be led by an interdisciplinary team, by Prof. Asli Ozyurek (, an expert in human multimodal language use and processing at the Multimodal Language Department of Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Dr Zerrin Yumak (, an expert in synthesizing 3D virtual humans’ social and emotional behavior at the Human-Centered Computing group at the Department of Information and Computing Sciences, Utrecht University. The candidate will share his/her time at both institutes benefiting from the excellent state-of-the art research facilities and expertise of multidisciplinary staff.


Utrecht University


We are looking for a candidate that meets the following criteria:

  • A master’s degree in Computer Graphics/Animation, Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction, Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, Linguistics, or related fields (or graduation from one within the next months).
  • A strong interest in conducting research in the area of multimodal language production and visual communicative behaviors of 3D virtual humans (i.e. gesture, eye gaze, face).
  • Experience of computer graphics/animation, statistics, machine learning and design of human-computer communicative interaction experiments.
  • Comfortable with prototyping experiments using motion capture and virtual reality devices, 3D animation software and relevant programming languages (e.g. Unreal Engine, Maya, Motion Builder) and with human participants.
  • Interest in interdisciplinary research with multiple methodologies.
  • Willingness to engage in activities in the Computer Graphics/Animation, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, and Human-Computer Interaction research communities and relevant industries.
  • Willingness to publish in top Virtual Reality/Graphics/Animation and Human-Computer Interaction conferences/journals as well as Language and Cognitive Science journals.
  • Good communicative skills in English, both in writing and speech.
  • Good critical thinking and collaboration skills.

Conditions of employment

You will be employed by the Max Planck Institute (MPI). Please visit the MPI website for more information about their terms of employment: PhD MPI.

The institute provides research facilities, technical support, as well as a conference and travel budget. PhD students participate in the International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences, which involves core and individually chosen coursework to complement the PhD research and training in soft skills such as writing and presentation. The PhD candidate will also be registered at the Graduate School of Natural Sciences at Utrecht University. They will receive appropriate training, personal supervision, and guidance for their research, which will provide an excellent start to an academic career. The promotion of the PhD degree will be done by Utrecht University.

All research staff have access to state-of-the art research facilities, including High-Performance-Computing systems, state of the art Vicon Motion Capture Lab (to be installed end 2023) and VR labs, training facilities and a generous conference and travel budget. 

Preferred start date is on 1 September 2023.


The Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen is an internationally recognized, leading research institute, with a stimulating environment and excellent facilities and resources for linguistic, psycholinguistic and multimodal language research. The Multimodal Language Department at Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen provides opportunities for training in a range of, frequent research and public engagement meetings, and support from an excellent team of researchers in multimodal linguistics and psycholinguistics. The department also benefits from close connection to the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior and AI Department at Radboud University. Cross-departmental projects and interdisciplinary work are strongly encouraged.

Human-Centered Computing group of the Department of Information and Computing Sciences (led by Prof. Judith Masthoff) at Utrecht University is composed of researchers who are experts in various areas including virtual humans in VR/AR/games and human-robot interaction. The group has a fully equipped Motion Capture and Virtual Reality Lab. For more information, see here:

The Department of Information and Computing Sciences is nationally and internationally renowned for its fundamental and applied research in computer science and information science. In our constantly changing (digital) society, the department of Information and Computing Sciences is looking for new, realistic ways to push the boundaries of both science and social applications. Utrecht University is a friendly and ambitious university at the heart of an ancient city. We love to welcome new scientists to our city – a thriving cultural hub that is consistently rated as one of the world's happiest cities. We are renowned for our innovative interdisciplinary research and our emphasis on inspirational research and excellent education. We are equally well-known for our informal atmosphere and the can-do mentality of our people. This lively and inspiring academic environment attracts professors, researchers and PhD candidates from all over the globe, making both the University and the Faculty of Science a vibrant international and wonderfully diverse community.


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • max. 39 hours per week
  • max. €2721 per month
  • University graduate
  • 1207232



Padualaan 8, 3584 CH, Utrecht

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