Expect to see increased use of animated, speaking characters as guides, customers and colleagues in elearning this year and next. The tool are becoming more powerful, more approachable and more pervasive.
Output to Flash SWF format makes it much easier to incorporate these characters into elearning, whether you use Authorware, Breeze, Captivate, Dreamweaver, Flash, Lectora Publisher or Toolbook.
A year ago I posted about Animated Talking Characters for Elearning mentioning Oddcast and Sculptoris. Recently, the actionscript Hero (ash) linked back to my post and mentioned another tool along those lines from CodeBaby.
Vcom 3D also has tools for interactive characters that I really want to learn about. I look forward to seeing (and hearing more from them later this month at the AICC meetings in San Diego.
I saw a really impressive demo of Vcom characters during a NATO panel meeting at UCLA last Fall. Multiple virtual communicators interact with each other and use culturally-specific gestures (yea/nay nods or head motions) synchronized to their speech while presenting or responding to learners. The demo was part of a prototype for training soldiers who need to have dialogs with diverse cultures at checkpoints and in other situations.
It was really cool to see spouses glance at each other while speaking, or catch a child showing deference to a parent (if only it were so consistent in real life). I can't wait to see how this has advanced since then, and how it might be attainable for more mainstream elearning applications.