Talking virtual characters are graphical simulations of real or imaginary persons that enable natural and pleasant multimodal interaction with the user, by means of voice, eye gaze, facial expression and gestures. This paper presents an implementation of a 3D virtual character animation and rendering engine, compliant with the MPEG-4 standard, running on Symbian-based SmartPhones. Real-time animation of virtual characters on mobile devices represents a challenging task, since many limitations must be taken into account with respect to processing power, graphics capabilities, disk space and execution memory size. The proposed optimization techniques
allow to overcome these issues, guaranteeing a smooth and synchronous animation of facial expressions and lip movements on mobile phones such as Sony-Ericsson's P800 and Nokia's 6600. The animation engine is specifically targeted to the development of new "Over The Air" services, based on embodied conversational agents, with applications in entertainment (interactive story tellers), navigation aid (virtual guides to web sites and mobile services), news casting (virtual newscasters) and education (interactive virtual teachers).