Rapid technical advances in the field of computer animation (CA) and virtual reality (VR) have opened new avenues in animal behavior research. Animated stimuli are powerful tools as they offer standardization, repeatability, and complete control over the stimulus presented, thereby "reducing" and "replacing" the animals used, and "refining" the experimental design in line with the 3Rs. However, appropriate use of these technologies raises conceptual and technical questions. In this review, we offer guidelines for common technical and conceptual considerations related to the use of animated stimuli in animal behavior research. Following the steps required to create an animated stimulus, we discuss (I) the creation, (II) the presentation, and (III) the validation of CAs and VRs. Although our review is geared toward computer-graphically designed stimuli, considerations on presentation and validation also apply to video playbacks. CA and VR allow both new behavioral questions to be addressed and existing questions to be addressed in new ways, thus we expect a rich future for these methods in both ultimate and proximate studies of animal behavior.
Keywords: animal behavior; animated stimulus; computer animation; experimental design; virtual reality; visual communication..