Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

This time, the sudden popularity of the virtual human race track is more like a scum, rather than a new thing.

“Recently, after the virtual Teresa Teng took the stage on New Year’s Eve, there were a lot of visitors,” Tang Jiaxian, CEO of Digital Domain’s Xugu Future Technology Co., Ltd., walked into the conference room quickly. “We think this is a break from the circle.”

On December 31, 2021, at Jiangsu Satellite TV’s New Year’s Eve concert, a program featuring the interaction between virtual Teresa Teng and real people was broadcast. The already lively virtual person once again caused heated discussions.Digital Domain is the production and operation company behind the virtual Teresa Teng.

In fact, throughout 2021, this “extremely segmented track” in the entertainment, film and television industry will suddenly take advantage of the east wind of the Metaverse to go straight to the sky: on Weibo, Douyin, Xiaohongshu and other social platforms, AYAYI, Liu Yexi, Virtual human idols such as A-SOUL have more than one million followers; almost all industries such as catering, clothing, real estate, and the Internet have launched brand virtual spokespersons; popular shopping malls in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou can also be seen everywhere. .

And the virtual Teresa Teng, who was once in the top three hot searches on Weibo, gave people a new understanding of how far this technology has progressed.

“‘She’ came up from that lift!” Netizen AkiSang shared with “Jiazi Guangnian” how she felt when she saw “Teng Lijun”, “When I watched her rise little by little, I got goosebumps all over. Pimple, it’s real, a little too real.”

Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

She shook her arms as she spoke, as if she was still overcoming the discomfort at that moment, “It would be more acceptable if she fell from the sky, but she came up from the elevator just like a human being! I didn’t slow down until the end of the show. It’s true, I’m a little moved.”

At the same time as the virtual people are on fire, capital is also running in. According to incomplete statistics, from July 2021 to the present, there have been about 30 financing events in the virtual human track, with an average amount of RMB 10 million. First-tier funds including Sequoia, IDG, and Shunwei Capital have entered the game, and the total financing amount reached nearly 800 million yuan. Among them, Wei Ling Times Technology completed the B round of financing at the end of December 2021, setting a record for a single financing amount in this field with a total amount of 400 million yuan.

Behind the breakout and financing boom, what is supporting the lively track of virtual humans? At first glance, the time is not ripe – the Metaverse is hot again, and it is still in the conceptual stage in a short period of time; virtual idols seem to have a reasonable business model, but the audience size is always small; although the “superstar IP” has successfully broken Circle, I will get tired of watching too much…

“The recent enthusiasm is more like the emergence of scum, rather than a new thing.” Chen Junhong, a former game producer and founder and CEO of Black Mirror Technology, told “Jiazi Guangnian”.

In this article, “Jiazi Guangnian” interviewed a number of virtual human practitioners to reveal another layer of logic behind the popularity of the virtual human industry.

“Having a Child” and “Raising a Child”

“I now have more than a dozen ‘children’ in my computer, which can be further adjusted at any time according to the needs of different parties,” a senior practitioner in the animation industry, Panda Hero, told “Jiazi Guangnian”, “Our production-side business model It’s already very clear, the problem is that the people on the operation side didn’t think about it.”

Based on the precipitation of the film and television special effects industry for many years, the virtual human has formed a fairly complete industrial production process and business system on the production side: According to the “2020 White Paper on the Development of Virtual Digital Humans” issued by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, the infrastructure layer of virtual human Including display, optics, sensors, modeling, rendering engines and other parts, mainly controlled by overseas giants; the platform application layer mainly includes the specific functions of making virtual people, including motion capture, intelligent speech, natural language processing, etc.

Cost is the first threshold that virtual human production needs to cross. Panda Hero prefers to take orders from hyper-realistic avatars, that is, the style of painting that is infinitely close to real people, “Now the production of avatars requires the perfect fusion of technology and art, and the cost of producing only one avatar is about 500,000 to 600,000.”

Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

But the production side makes the image of a virtual person appear on the computer screen, just “bringing the child”, and “raising the child” – to make the virtual person generate value, it needs to rely on follow-up operations. However, at this stage, what cannot match the continuous iterative and increasingly mature technological productivity is that the domestic virtual human character soul construction system is still backward.

At present, the operation of virtual human is more about how to quickly realize it .

“Fashion and beauty are easy to monetize, and knowledge sharing will increase fans quickly,” Xiaoya, a former virtual idol agent, told “Jiazi Guangnian”. This is also the main direction that most virtual people are currently doing. “It’s the same as the Internet celebrity.”

Carrying goods can even be called the “main business” of many virtual people. For example, Taobao already has a lot of live broadcast rooms for virtual people; Li Jiaqi, the head anchor, has also introduced Luo Tianyi as a “secondary coffee” – an auxiliary role in the live broadcast room.

Fan base is the premise of virtual human commercial realization. “There are three steps for digital people to build a real business model. The first step is to create digital people. The second step is to amplify their influence through value amplifiers such as content, peripherals, and activities. The third step is to realize the real money. IP creation and follow-up operations are the second step. ” Li Ningti, general manager of Sunac Culture’s virtual production business, told “Jiazi Guangnian”.

Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

In November 2020, Lehua Entertainment and ByteDance cooperated to form a virtual girl group A-SOUL. There are five members, Bella, Jiaran, Nailin, Jiale and Xiangwan, with an average age of about 18 years old. Several singles have been released. At the Guangzhou Firefly Comic Exhibition during May Day in 2021, A-SOUL’s performance was placed in the golden performance period of the comic exhibition – 11 to 12 noon. What makes the fans even more enthusiastic is that A-SOUL’s surrounding area was sold out long before the performance.

Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

Behind the popularity, Lehua Entertainment, the operator of A-SOUL , has a very mature system for idol creation and character operation : five members, one group, six Weibo accounts, and one station B account, which are posted on a daily basis. Weibo, releasing singles, participating in brand activities, participating in live broadcasts, etc., almost maintain the frequency of new content released every two days, the same as real idols, which also requires a business team and an operation team.

Xiaoya is very familiar with the field of advertising and marketing. “The brand side will have a certain budget to do PR every year. After the popularity of A-SOUL under Lehua this year, it has achieved a small-scale breakthrough in the advertising industry.” In her opinion, ” select virtual people to do promotion. The project , which is cheap, novel, caters to the tastes of young people, is more suitable for ‘upward reporting’.

There are still a few virtual people who have successfully broken the circle like A-SOUL. Most of the time, when Panda Heroes makes a virtual human, the first party, usually some brand parties, also hopes that the production team can “arrange” the follow-up operations.

“I can’t do this either.” As the representative of Party B, Panda Hero is very painful when he encounters such a list, and this kind of pain is normal. Panda Hero hopes that his team can continue to cultivate in the field of virtual human production with peace of mind, and the operation should be handed over to more professional people.

Li Ningti said, “For Sunac Culture, there is a whole process of incubation, amplification, and realization. But we also hope that there will be more cooperation in the industry, so that everyone can further cultivate in their respective fields.”

The current question is, when the operation is in the early stage, can the virtual person not be able to live without IP and filling the soul? For example, is it necessary to create a special IP to improve the audience’s acceptance for a virtual person who just “praises” Li Jiaqi?

“It depends on the application scenario of this AI virtual anchor.” Tang Jiaxian gave the answer. “Tool-type” virtual anchors can be employed in the early stage of human design to generate benefits. For example, during the rest time of live anchors, especially for mid-waist brands, virtual anchors can make incremental contributions – consumers who enter the live broadcast room have an impact on the brand. It is already known that it is possible to make a purchase decision only by knowing the information such as products and discounts.

Of course, the virtual anchor still needs to conform to the brand’s tonality. The clearer the personality, the clearer the audience, and the higher the acceptance, the better the effect of bringing goods. ” Tang Jiaxian said.

Lil Miquela may be the most recognized hyper-realistic avatar in foreign countries. She is a 20-year-old Brazilian-Hispanic girl living in Los Angeles, a model and singer, with self-awareness – support for black rights, hate Donald Trump, and a boyfriend Angela Boi, who is also a virtual person.

Since 2016, Lil Miquela’s team has gradually “raised” her through social networks. In 2018, Lil Miquela was selected by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential Internet celebrities, and her cooperation with luxury brands such as Chanel and Prada made her soft. Now, netizens are very accustomed to seeing Lil share her life every day: recording songs, posting daily love affairs, and participating in brand activities. She has accumulated more than 1 million followers on Instagram.

Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

In most cases, the input and output of operating a virtual human are proportional. “Like foreign Lil Miquela, who posts materials on Instagram and participates in various activities every day. The input cost behind this is tens of millions of dollars for each project.”

Xiaoya said. But I haven’t seen a company in China that has deployed human resources and resources to create a virtual human. “This wave of craze (in 2021) just makes virtual human seem to be stuck in the ‘business to B business’. stage.”

Go, go to the “2.5” dimension first

In 2012, the IP Hatsune Miku, the originator of virtual idols, successfully held a concert with more than 10,000 people. The virtual villain with long legs and long hair on the stage is in high spirits, and countless light sticks under the stage are uniformly doing “support” (a way of interaction between fans and performers in live performances, which requires fans to learn in advance to know when and what to do) Actions, what slogans to shout), the scene is full of shock.

Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

For Hatsune Miku fans who are willing to pay a high price to go to concerts and spend time learning support moves, if they can see Hatsune Miku up close with a device, will their purchase intention not be high?

In fact, in 2017, Japan launched a Hatsune Miku VR. Buyers can enter the virtual world through the VR device, date Hatsune Miku, and let her sing the songs they want in front of her. It is reported that at one point buyers lined up in front of the distribution store.

Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

Putting on glasses, you can date Hatsune Miku at a coffee shop

At that time, the concept of “Metaverse” was not yet popular, and Hatsune Miku’s fans just stepped into the gate of the Metaverse first ignorantly with the feeling of wanting to be closer to their idols.

Under the epidemic, the Metaverse is almost like a perfect dream – people who are separated from different places can meet at any time, people are no longer satisfied with seeing and hearing, but also want to touch and feel. “Hope to see virtual human to C” is more like people’s instinct.

“Why do human beings want to go to the Metaverse? Emotional connection is the most important factor, and virtual human is a connection point for human beings to truly lead to the Metaverse. ” Liu Yexi, co-founder and CEO of Chuangyi, a behind-the-scenes IP incubator, Liang Zi Kang said in a sharing session. This gives human beings a reason to enter the Metaverse, and also provides a new opportunity for the virtual human industry.

“In the Metaverse era, everyone will have a digital avatar, which is an important application scenario for virtual humans in the future.” All virtual human practitioners who communicated with “Jiazi Guangnian” hold this view. As a result, “face pinching” has become a new profession. Players who have played the game “Swordsman Love” have already experienced it for a long time: by adjusting various subtle parameters, the face, facial features, body and so on of the characters are designed. A good-looking face shape parameter will be popular among netizens. For example, if you search for “Liu Yexi pinching your face”, parameter data suitable for different face pinching platforms will appear.

But to further achieve the level of interaction in the ideal Metaverse, current technology is still far from it. He Zhan, head of Omniverse in NVIDIA China, once said in a public sharing that the current computing power level is still 10 times the sixth power (million times) from reaching the real-time immersive rendering effect that everyone expects. The computing power of the path tracing algorithm with real experience will not be realized until 2035.

In addition to the underlying infrastructure, the production technology of hyper-realistic virtual humans has developed by leaps and bounds. Tang Jiaxian introduced that Digital Domain started to build the 1.0 version of the virtual Teresa Teng in 2014, and it took a year and a half. The technical difficulty at that time was mainly due to the lack of sufficient data for reference. “The artists spent a lot of money to create the virtual Teresa Teng’s face, posture and charm. a lot of energy.”But now, it only takes a few months to make a virtual human of the same caliber.

“As the implementation-driven technology system of the virtual human self-developed by Digital Domain becomes more and more mature, the time and cost of producing virtual human has been greatly reduced,” said Tang Jiaxian. But even so, it is still too expensive for many brands, and most of the virtual human anchors seen on the market are relatively cheap cartoon-style images.

Although it is far from the ideal Metaverse depicted in “Ready Player One”, the market’s willingness to pay for the Metaverse and virtual humans has risen. Therefore, it is becoming more and more common to create virtual people in the “2.5-dimensional” of the Metaverse and the real world.

This seems to be the main storyline behind the explosive Liu Yexi: she is a beauty expert who can travel between the real world and the virtual world. Liu Yexi’s team hopes to create “China’s Marvel”, but it really wants to be on a par with Marvel to create a world-class IP, whether it is storyline, world view setting or character modeling, there is still a long way to go.

Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

“Virtual humans are still more suitable for streaming media, short videos, long-term operations, and idol cultivation to accompany growth. It is best not to make movies directly. It is too difficult to make movies without IP foundation.” The animation film industry system Filmmaker Hansen told “Jiazi Light Years”.

That is to say, in the next period of time, the virtual people we see may be more built on the platforms of Douyin, Kuaishou, and Station B.

The fake will also “collapse”

Xiaoya switched from an artist agent to a virtual person agent, and the work content has not changed much. MCN company mainly cultivates Internet celebrities and stars. “In the early stage, it is necessary to take them to classes and create a set of people for them. The investment cost is high, and even a top Internet celebrity may be poached by others.” Xiaoya Said, “As long as your traffic is in place, the amount of liquidated damages is not a problem.”

But virtual humans don’t have these risks. For the company, the virtual idol is completely controllable, and the security is greatly improved.

Some fans will jokingly call virtual idols “paper people”. Real-life idols may not always make choices according to the fans’ wishes, but “paper people” are completely under the command of the operation team behind them. The connection between them and fans can be It is 100% built according to the wishes of fans, and there will be no “collapse” of real stars.For example, the fire of the mobile game “Love and Producer” has made many people see that “virtual boyfriends” can satisfy all kinds of fantasies about beautiful relationships. Compared with real people, it seems to be more suitable for emotional sustenance.

But it’s not easy for virtual humans to completely please fans. The Douban group “Douban Soul Group” is one of the groups established by fans of the virtual idol group A-SOUL, with nearly 18,000 members. Fans communicate very actively in the group, such as drawing pictures and writing articles for their favorite characters, and sending the best wishes to them in the virtual world, hoping that “they will be free and happy forever”.

There have been arguments in the group. “The Man in the Middle” is a real actor who uses motion capture technology to complete the actions and performances of the virtual human behind the scenes. Not all fans can accept that the “Man in the Middle” behind the virtual idol is exposed, and even some fans will be exposed because of the “China Man”. The image of “the person” and the idol he plays is far away and “off the fan”. In addition, “Man in the Middle” has a tenure, and if it is replaced, keen fans can tell at a glance. Fans also have different degrees of acceptance of this matter: those who can accept it think that “if you like virtual idols, you should distinguish her from the people behind her”, those who can’t think that “the taste has changed”, and will be disappointed and disengaged because of this. pink.

In addition to completely fictitious virtual people, there are also “face-changing” virtual people. In June last year, the Department of Computer Science of Tsinghua University launched the country’s first virtual student, Hua Zhibing. With a ponytail and a handsome face, she can dance, compose, write poetry, and paint. But soon after, a video of Hua Zhibing playing and singing was questioned by netizens, thinking that it was a face change for the video of the up master Caviar Sauce of station B. “Have you seen the texture of her clothes and hair? These are the most difficult technologies to achieve now, but in Hua Zhibing’s video, it’s so real. Isn’t this just a face change?” Hua Zhibing Below the video, some netizens expressed anger and thought it was a deception. Later, the Xiaobing team responded publicly, “The body video template in Huazhibing’s singing video comes from the video of Xiaoice team member Caviar Sauce, and the source is marked from the beginning, and the technology used is not only AI face changing, but also other new product technology.

Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

Almost the same video as up main caviar sauce

Compared with creating a virtual human from scratch, it is much simpler if it is just an AI “face change”. Some people questioned that this cannot be called a virtual person. This leads to another more realistic problem- there is no cleardefinition in the industry for the definition of virtual human . Tang Jiaxian once mentioned in an interview that there are three standards for a virtual person: an image that exists in the virtual world; a distinctive character and a complete “personality”, so that people will think it exists even when they are not exposed to it ; Have the ability to interact with the audience in two ways, and even be able to match actions and express emotions freely.

“Virtual Teresa Teng” received mixed reviews. Some people were moved by “technology brought her back”, but others said, “Why did Teresa Teng talk to Pang Bo (a talk show actor)? I don’t want to see her talk to Pang Bo”.

Behind the controversy is that people have not yet had a rational understanding of virtual humans. Virtual people are becoming more and more like real people, and things like “fake the real” have already happened: in April last year, NVIDIA held an online press conference, which included a 14-second video, and Huang Renxun, who talked eloquently, was actually a synthetic virtual person. , After more than three months, the whole world has not found this “easter egg”.

Are virtual people here to love you or to make money?

People worry, will the technology be misused? “As technology develops, regulations and policies will certainly keep up,” said Tang Jiaxian, CEO of Digital Domain’s Xugu Future Technology Co., Ltd. Now, her team hopes to create a new world for the “virtual Teresa Teng” – “We hope that the ‘virtual Teresa Teng’ is not just a replica of Miss Teresa herself, she is a new character in a new cosmology, and she may make Some things Teresa Teng herself wouldn’t do, but it makes sense in her world.

Digital Domain has also produced virtual Anita Mui and virtual Leslie Cheung. Popular singers Lin Junjie and Nicholas Tse were also interested in new technologies and asked Digital Domain to make their own “digital clones”. Is the virtual human equivalent to the real person it recreates? How should the income created by what the virtual person do?

To reproduce the image of a deceased star, Digital Domain needs to obtain the consent of the relatives of the other party first, and the proceeds will be distributed proportionally through the foundation. Digital Domain has fully obtained the copyright of “Virtual Teresa Teng”. The relatives of Miss Anita Mui hope to cooperate with Digital Domain by signing a contract for each performance, but Mr. Leslie Cheung’s family did not agree to the authorization. At present, the image of “Virtual Leslie Cheung” has only appeared once at Mr. Xiang Huaqiang’s birthday party. Mr. Xiang Huaqiang himself was moved to tears when he saw his old friend standing on the stage again.

As early as 2013, Digital Domain used foreign advanced virtual image reconstruction technology to shape “Virtual Teresa Teng” and let her and Jay Chou sing duet on the “2013 Ferris Wheel World Tour”. At that time, it was difficult for people to imagine that virtual idols ushered in an explosion after 8 years. Now, “Virtual Teresa Teng” will regularly hold Teng Lijun virtual person concerts in Haikou on a regular basis. According to the information that can be found on the Internet, the ticket price for a single performance is 59 yuan. According to the staff, as long as the attractions are open, the concerts are almost full.

“The virtual human industry will continue to explode in 2022, and in 2021 we will see a lot of input from participants,” Li Ningti told “Jiazi Guangnian”, and then he drew a wavy line on the whiteboard, “but then I will definitely It will sink, which is an objective law. There is a bubble now, and we may see hundreds of virtual people in 2022, but only a few will survive in the end.”

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