I met an old acquaintance at the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) in Edinburgh last week.

He was naked as a jay bird. Not a virtual hair on his luminous body. Even his head was creamily shiny, like a hard-boiled egg. His eyes were a bit off-to-the-side too and, disconcertingly, he kept scratching his chest. His name was Avatar.

Avatar spoke only occasionally. When he did, it was in the manner of a gushy awards acceptance speech. Something to do with The Sims Online. As his speech ended, the voices of Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli singing Time To Say Goodbye filled the lower gallery in a soaring gush. I felt sorry for the other, less lively, exhibits. Avatar may have his quiet moments but he knows how to commandeer attention.

I last saw Richard Phillips-Kerr's creation at Edinburgh College of Art's degree show last May during a whistle-stop tour of four of the five Scottish degree-awarding art schools. Not far from Avatar, there's another familiar sight, this time in the shape of Gray's School of Art's Kirstin Clark. For New Contemporaries, Clark has reprised and revised her degree show performance in Aberdeen by filming herself in the RSA building walking 588 laps of a small square of flour. The film is showing above the floured square, still marked by her bare feet. It's simple and it works.

All five art schools in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Elgin are represented in the annual RSA New Contemporaries exhibition. Showcasing the work of 72 graduates, this carefully curated show offers a calmer experience than the average degree show. Almost a year later, it's also an opportunity to see the work of the 'ones that got away', in the shape of 15 outstanding graduates from Glasgow School of Art (GSA).

Last year, following the fire which ripped through GSA's Mackintosh Building on the eve of the undergraduate degree show, all 102 students from the School of Fine Art were invited to display a single uniformly-sized digital image to represent their work collectively. It made it difficult to pick out the ones who were likely to go on to bigger and better things, but I was pleased to see at least two exhibiting at New Contemporaries (Katy Hassall and Alex Kuusik) who caught my eye based on their single image.

The importance of a launch-pad platform like this for emerging artists can't be underestimated. Not only to they get visibility for their work, this year, the total value of the awards on offer exceeds £40,000. There are some real 'biggies' in the mix. Gray's School of Art-trained sculptor Ben Martin, from Aberdeen, is the inaugural winner of the £10,000 Glenfiddich Artist in Residence Award, while Duncan of Jordanstone (DJCAD) graduate Edward Humphrey received the second Fleming-Wyfold Bursary (£10,000 plus a £4,000 bursary and a year's worth of mentoring) on the strength of his powerful film work, Another Fiction. Another innovation this year is the fact a selection of exhibitors from New Contemporaries will be invited to present work at the Fleming Collection's Mayfair gallery in London for two months from May 12.

There's a very real sense of theatre about this amazing William Playfair-designed building which is well used by the artists and expertly installed. Before you even enter the building, you'll hear an ominous clap of thunder via Deborah Marshall's (ECA) sound installation, Kairos I. Another haunting work by Marshall (whose sound installation in one of the old ECA casting rooms I remember from her degree show) is playing in the landing upstairs.

Her thunder claps might alarm passers-by on Princes Street, but if it hooks them into the building, that's a good thing. As you walk up the stairs, past Tess Vaughan's (GSA) sperm-like beastie and under Erin Fairley's (DJCAD) impressive Orange Rope Mountain installation, which stretches into the furthest corners of the rafters, Emma Smith's (ECA) Transposition (Red & Gold) ushers you into the space. A pair of red velvet curtains drawn theatrically, but facing inwards shows that less is definitely more.

Of course, the minute you have that thought, something sprawling catches your eye to contradict it. Caitlin Hynes from Gray's has created a bizarre yet beguiling psychedelic narrative on the idea of pilgrimage using tinsel, crocheting, cardboard, wool; in fact anything she can get her hands on. Meanwhile Seamus Killick has notched up 83 'premium fingernails' (as opposed to thumbnails) paintings. The devil is in his detail.

Other names to watch out for include Gray's Catherine Ross, who paints icy outposts on an epic scale and DJCAD's Ellis O'Connor who treads a fine line between representing scale and delicacy in nature in her large drawings, photographs and prints.

And I haven't even mentioned Emma Kelsey's (ECA) massive Scotch Egg. Tasty. Examine it thoroughly and you'll get the yolk...

RSA New Contemporaries 2015, RSA Building, The Mound, Edinburgh (www.royalscottishacademy.org, 0131 624 6556) until April 8