Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first

The popularity of virtual digital humans has attracted a number of startup companies and large companies.

Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first

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“One leaf blindfolded? Maybe it’s just a mirror image.”

Recently, Liu Yexi updated the video content in his Douyin account. In the video, this virtual makeup artist who can catch demons draws his mouse makeup and travels through multiple time and space. After seeing through the conspiracy hidden in the brain-computer interface, he uses a cosmetic pen to collect the “chip” that controls human consciousness, and then returns to The rooftops of the high-rise buildings in the Metaverse sighed like this.

Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first

Liu Yexi video screenshot

Source: Douyin

The Metaverse may still be a mirror image, but the virtual digital human has already been reflected in reality.

On the university campus, virtual students have enrolled. On June 15, 2021, the Department of Computer Science of Tsinghua University announced that the virtual student Hua Zhibing has officially enrolled. Hua Zhibing, who is wearing a ponytail and wearing whiteboard shoes, will start his study and research career in the laboratory of the Department of Computer Science of Tsinghua University.

When you walk into the art gallery, you can visit the art exhibition of virtual art students. On July 13, Xia Yubing, a graduate student of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, a virtual digital human, held a solo exhibition of “Alternative Worlds” at the Central Academy of Fine Arts Art Museum.

Open the music player, you can hear the music of the virtual singer. In July 2021, virtual hip-hop singer HAJIANG has formally signed a contract with Whet Records, an Asian electronic music label under Warner Music, and became its first virtual digital artist. He released his first solo single “MISS WHO” on September 29.

At the upcoming Winter Olympics, there will be an elegant and friendly virtual sign language anchor “to overcome the barriers of sound with technology”. On November 24th, CCTV News and Baidu Smart Cloud jointly created the first AI sign language anchor for the main station.

Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first

Hua Zhibing, virtual sign language anchor of the Winter Olympics

Source: Hua Zhibing THU Weibo, CCTV News Weibo

Open short videos and other social platforms, you can even see many virtual digital bloggers. The imitation challenge of Liu Yexi’s mouse makeup on Douyin attracted more than 14.823 million people to watch. Oriental aesthetics and surreal KOL Ling __LING grew grass in Xiaohongshu, and fashion blogger AYAYI posted an employee card for Ali on Weibo. The images of virtual spokespersons of major brands have appeared one after another.

2021 is considered to be the “first year of the Metaverse”. The concept of Metaverse is hot, but it is still in the layout stage. In contrast, virtual digital humans, an important part of the Metaverse’s future, have entered people’s lives.

Why are virtual digital humans so popular?

In fact, virtual digital humans are not new words. They came into being before the rise of the Metaverse concept and can be traced back to the beginning of computer animation technology.

In the 1980s, the virtual singer Akemi Lin appeared in the Japanese animation “Macros”; the virtual person Max Headroom created by the British also participated in the shooting of many movies and commercials; and “Avatar” and “Spiderman” “Venom” and other blockbuster movies, these virtual IP created by means of motion capture technology and AI synthesis technology have been deeply rooted in many film and television works.

With the gradual maturity and popularization of technologies such as digital twins, deep learning, and AI audio and video recognition, virtual digital humans are no longer limited to film and television works, and are entering people’s lives in more fields, with more life experience and interactive functions. For example, in 2017, Bilibili launched the “Virtual Dimensional Plan”, creating the first generation of virtual UP masters Xiaoxi and Xiaotao in China; in 2019, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank and Baidu jointly released the digital employee “Xiaopu”.

The epidemic can be said to be an important watershed in the development of the virtual digital human industry. Under the background of normal prevention and control in the real space, people tend to seek more social interaction scenarios in the digital world. Therefore, the construction and discussion of the virtual world has gradually increased, and relevant technologies and elements have begun to be gradually constructed.

Especially since the beginning of this year, the discussion about the Metaverse has ushered in unprecedented heat. As the concrete manifestation of human roles in that world, virtual digital humans have also taken this opportunity to usher in more attention.

Liu Yexi, a virtual beauty blogger who has recently been popular on Douyin, has been on the hot search for 3 consecutive days since the first video update was released on October 31, and a video has gained more than 2 million fans. Currently, there are only 4 videos under Liu Yexi’s account, and the number of fans is close to 8 million.

A-SOUL, a virtual idol girl group jointly launched by Lehua Entertainment and ByteDance, had a live broadcast income of 2.49 million yuan at station B in November. On December 11th, A-SOUL launched a new song “Legendary World” in its first anniversary live broadcast, co-produced by Xu Song and Fang Wenshan, featuring “the fusion of national style and poetry”.

Capital also rushed into this track. According to Tianyan Check, as of November 2021, there have been 13 virtual digital human-related investments, concentrated in virtual digital humans, virtual idols, and related technology companies in the pan-entertainment field; a total of 10 related investments in 2020 will be completed in 2019. A total of 6 related investments were made in the year.

Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first

In fact, since 2016, virtual digital humans and related industries have been quite active in Europe, America, Japan and South Korea.

Lil Miquela, a freckled girl from Los Angeles, USA, and virtual idols such as Shudu Grum, a black supermodel created by a London photographer, are as popular on social networks as real idols; a dual ponytail virtual singer Hatsune Miku from Japan , Has been hot since its debut in 2007 and has held concerts in many places around the world; South Korea’s virtual idol Oh Rozy has earned more than 1 billion won through advertising endorsements.

Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first

Lil Miquela, Shudu Grum, Hatsune Miku, Oh Rozy

Source: Weibo

The virtual digital person that most young people in China first came into contact with may be Luo Tianyi, the virtual idol who became popular in 2017 because of the holographic concert held in Shanghai.

Luo Tianyi, who has a huge fan group “Jin Yiwei”, was designed and launched in 2012. At present, the number of Weibo fans of this two-dimensional girl with green eyes and gray hair has reached 5.127 million. On August 21, 2020, Luo Tianyi and her partners, Yanhe, Le Zhengling, Le Zhenglongya, Zhengyu Moke, and Mo Qingxian brought fans an unprecedented virtual singer online AR concert meeting.

Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first

Luo Tianyi

Source: Weibo

At present, virtual digital persons in China are mainly divided into two categories: identity type and service type.

Identity virtual digital person is the concrete expression of real person’s image in the virtual world. This type of virtual digital person can be used as an ID for consumers to enter the virtual world, and is the first to be used in the field of games and pan-entertainment. It is manifested in the design of game player characters and the generation of personal virtual digital human images on social platforms.

The service-type virtual digital person is replacing human beings in various public service role-playing. Currently, virtual anchors and virtual idols with IP attributes are active in the fields of fashion, music, and advertising. For example, virtual idols bring emotional companionship to consumers through their individual appearance, multiple interactive methods, and characteristics such as not easy to “collapse”, and have attracted a lot of young people.

The “2019 Virtual Idol Observation Report” released by iQiyi National Creative Planning Center shows that in 2019, 390 million people across the country are paying attention to and paying attention to virtual idols. Public data shows that the core market for virtual idols in China will be 3.46 billion yuan in 2020 and is expected to reach 6.22 billion yuan in 2021.

Who is “concocting” virtual digital humans?

The popularity of virtual digital humans has attracted a number of startup companies and large companies.

In terms of start-up companies, companies including Chuangyi Technology, Mofa Technology, Next Generation Culture, Ranmai Technology, and Manfushe have launched virtual digital people with content creativity and image characteristics, and have gradually established an emotional relationship with consumers. connect.

Content creation, technical support, and business operation are the three key elements of virtual digital humans. Behind this requires the cooperative operation of multiple teams of technology, art, and operations to create virtual humans with unique personality settings and growth paths. Means to achieve various forms of interaction, allowing characters to show a dynamic image close to real life or even beyond reality.

Content is the most critical factor that determines the success of a virtual digital person. It is specifically manifested in the appearance, clothing, actions, personality, etc. of the virtual person, so it is usually used as a point of force in the creation process.

For example, Liu Yexi, created by Chuangyi Technology, appeared in ancient costumes. A beauty brush that can paint blue and green colors can see another world when painted on the face, positioning a beauty blogger who can catch monsters; The virtual digital person AYAYI launched by Mai Technology takes the route of fashion manager. After joining Ali, he became the digital manager of the Tmall super brand day; the oriental aesthetic KOL Ling__LING jointly created by Mofa Technology and the next-generation culture, likes Peking opera and writing brushes Zi and Tai Chi are KOLs who convey the charm of national style and culture.

“Just like writing a novel has character settings, when we create virtual digital humans, we will first write a short biography. On the one hand, the characters are very three-dimensional, and on the other hand, the characters have specific behavioral logic.” The founder Zhang Jiamin told EqualOcean.

Hajiang is positioned as an idolized hip-hop singer. In the character biography, she is a hip-hop singer who is patriotic and wears fashion. She is familiar with popular music and is passionate about traditional culture.

According to Zhang Jiamin, the design inspiration of Hajiang came from the love of generation Z consumers for hip-hop culture and national tide culture in 2019. In order to make its image closer to the real and more recognizable character characteristics, the team studied and compared all hip-hop singers at the time. Appearance features, including single eyelids, thick lips, blue hair and other details.

Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first

Liu Yexi, AYAYI, Ling __LING, Ha Jiang

Source: Weibo

Technology determines how strong the sense of reality that virtual digital humans can exhibit when participating in interaction. Generally, virtual digital humans can be divided into two types: real human-driven and computing-driven.

Unlike some virtual idols, there are real people acting behind them, the image of Hajiang does not exist in the person, that is, there is no dubbing behind, but through technology to achieve further AI intelligence. As a “professional” hip-hop singer, according to Zhang Jiamin, Hajiang is based on Microsoft’s AI intelligent synthesis sound customization technology, deep learning music song elements and outputting original hip-hop rap music. He is currently a contracted singer of Whet Records under Warner Music.

The operation aspect is more complicated. Although Metaverse and virtual digital humans have already taken the lead, there is still uncertainty about how Chinese people, including young people, will accept it. And just as the creation of a real idol requires “time, place and people”, virtual idols also need a long time and a large investment to operate out of the circle.

In Zhang Jiamin’s view, compared with Lil Miquela and Imma, who are popular on YouTube and Instagram abroad, the popularity of virtual idols in China is still in a relatively small range, and there is no real virtual idol “top stream”. .

Compared with start-up companies, Tencent, Baidu, NetEase and other large companies have more resources and funds, as well as software and technical capabilities related to the Metaverse concept, and have the strength to give virtual digital people more usage scenarios.

Virtual digital humans based on celebrities are becoming intelligent clones of spokespersons. In August of this year, Baidu launched the virtual digital person “Jun Jun” of Baidu spokesperson Gong Jun, performing “Nocturne” singing and dancing. The voices of Gong Jun’s digital person singing and speaking are synthesized by AI technology. Subsequently, the digital person added the real-time interactive function in the App. It was launched on the Baidu App on November 29. Users can have face-to-face real-time conversations with them during voice search. On that day, the “Gong Jun Digital Man” on the Baidu App had over 2 million fans.

At the same time, Baidu is also developing the Metaverse social software “Hirong”, which will also become a Metaverse activity space for virtual digital humans. It is reported that the product will be unveiled on December 27, when the Baidu AI Developer Conference will be held in “Greece.”

The virtual digital person has also opened up more Metaverse interactive play methods for the company’s major events. When NetEase Cloud Music was launched on December 2, “Ding Lei”, 29, in 2000, and “Ding Lei,” 50, in 2021, appeared as virtual digital persons through the immersive activity system “Yaotai” developed by NetEase Fuxi. At the “Metaverse Listing Ceremony”, he knocked the gong at the same time as Ding Lei in reality. Guests participating in the ceremony in “Yaotai” can control their virtual human characters, interact with “Ding Lei”, take photos, dance and other interactions.

In addition to the simulation and extension of reality, virtual digital humans can also enter the surface of Mars that humans have not yet set foot on. In April, Baidu Smart Cloud created the Mars rover digital person “Zhu Rong”, which sent back Mars data and photos; in October, a virtual digital person Xiaohan jointly created by Tencent Games’ NExT Studios and Xinhua News Agency, which also has “digital reporters” “, “The world’s first digital astronaut”, working in the “Xinhua News Agency Mars Branch”, instead of a real reporter to send reports from Mars.

More than the identity token of the Metaverse

The upsurge of virtual digital humans is inseparable from the drive of the Metaverse, and the future development of the two is also closely related.

According to estimates by the Yiou Think Tank, the global Metaverse market will reach 6 trillion US dollars by 2030. Some analysts believe that virtual digital humans will be the “first fast-developing and large-scale income-generating industry” in the metaverse field; by 2030, the overall market size of virtual digital humans in my country will exceed 270 billion yuan.

The business model of virtual digital humans mainly revolves around ToC and ToB. There is a lot of room for imagination in these two aspects in the future.

In terms of ToC, virtual digital humans are currently the first to land in gaming and pan-entertainment social scenes, and their audience is mainly concentrated in young consumers such as Generation Z groups. The Z generation group grew up in the era of the rise of the Internet, and has formed a payment habit in the virtual environment, such as buying game skins and live streaming rewards.

To some extent, virtual digital humans are the game skins for future consumers to enter the Metaverse world. Companies that run through the virtual idol track can launch ToC’s virtual digital person identity customization service based on their technology and operational capabilities in the future. Zhang Jiamin revealed that Manfu Society has such considerations.

At the same time, well-known brands can also achieve sales in virtual communities by launching virtual goods. For example, at the end of November, South Korea’s virtual social platform Zepeto, which received a $150 million financing from SoftBank’s fund, cooperated with Gucci to create a dream villa. Users can put on Gucci series of clothing, handbags, shoes and other items for their 3D avatars. , Carry out a variety of interactive sharing.

In terms of ToB, virtual digital humans have begun to be applied in all walks of life. Zhang Jiamin believes that virtual idols are the first to land and are the easiest for consumers to pay attention to. In addition, there are virtual hosts, virtual teachers in AI education scenarios, and virtual customer service in financial services. “An AI program is cold, and if you give it a more realistic and friendly appearance, it will be more acceptable to consumers in terms of communication.”

More and more brands use virtual digital people as image spokespersons to enhance brand influence. According to Zhang Jiamin, the advantage of virtual digital humans lies in their ability to resonate and yearn for consumers based on precise crowd positioning, expressions that conform to character settings, and consumers’ ability to generate emotional links , thereby trusting the brands and businesses they recommend. .

For example, KFC has launched a young version of Colonel Sanders based on CGI technology on Instagram. It is an internet celebrity who has a KFC catering business, knows how to live an innovative lifestyle, can dazzle abdominal muscles and take pictures with tattoos; Watsons launched the AI ​​brand spokesperson “Que” “Chenxi” as a beauty consultant; Nestle Coffee launched a brand virtual spokesperson named Zoe to star in a brand promotional film; Huaxizi launched an exclusive virtual spokesperson image “Huaxizi” and so on.

Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first

Colonel Sanders, Qu Chenxi, Zoe, Hua Xizi

Source: Weibo

Zhang Jiamin introduced that Hajiang is also based on its own hip-hop singer idol positioning, and has cross-border endorsements with many national trend brands, including Li Ning Fanwu, Dingding, Harbin Beer, PONY, Wuya, LPL E-sports League, and Fruit and Meat Cooperating with other brands, at the same time as the first virtual public welfare promotion ambassador of Shanghai Transportation Administration. He said that Manfushe is still incubating its virtual digital human product matrix.

Online activities can also join virtual digital humans to add more digital interactive experience under the heat of the Metaverse. For example, in the process of NVIDIA’s new product launch in August this year, Huang Shixun only appeared in a 3D simulation image for 15 seconds. The desk rings the bell.

While the identity-based virtual digital person helps people express and interact better, the service-based virtual digital person is also outputting productivity for the society. This type of virtual digital person can help humans share specific job functions. It has been applied in e-commerce, cultural tourism, finance, etc., acting as shopping guide, narrator, psychological counseling, and customer service. It leads people with a highly anthropomorphic image. Come for a more intimate, caring and immersive interactive experience.

For example, many TV stations have launched virtual digital human anchors. Xiao Yang, the digital host launched by Hunan Satellite TV in October, has assembled the efforts of more than 30 digital artists and engineers, and has a youthful and vigorous image. He will appear as an intern host in various variety shows and evening shows on Hunan Satellite TV.

Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first

Xiao Yang

Source: Weibo

In the “14th Five-Year Plan for Scientific and Technological Development of Radio, Television and Internet Audiovisual,” issued by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television in October this year, it was specifically pointed out that virtual anchors and animated sign language should be widely used in the production of news broadcasts, weather forecasts, variety arts, science and education, etc., and innovative programs Form, improve production efficiency and intelligent level.

What cannot be ignored is that the domestic virtual digital human industry is still in the incubation period at this stage, and it faces many challenges in technology, capital, and supervision when it is launched.

Technically, whether a sufficiently natural and realistic experience of getting along can be provided is an important criterion for whether virtual digital humans can replace real humans in various scenarios and complete the upgrade of voice interaction methods. At present, related technologies are still in the process of continuous iteration; in terms of funding, Due to the high cost of technology and content creation, and it takes a long time and investment to operate out of the circle, start-up companies or teams need certain financial support in the early stage of development; in terms of supervision, Metaverse and virtual digital humans are both emerging concepts and related laws The relative blankness of regulations will also add a certain degree of uncertainty to its future development.

Under the hot development trend, players in the industry have accelerated their actions.

For example, NetEase Yunxin and NetEase Fuxi Lab launched the “RTC+Virtual Human” integration SDK in November to form a real-time interactive solution for NetEase Yunxin’s virtual image in response to the real-time interaction needs of virtual digital humans. In December, the program was upgraded to an “IM+RTC+Virtual Human” solution that adds instant communication capabilities.

In addition, Xiangxin Technology, Chaiyi Technology, Zhongke Shenzhi, Volcano Engine, Xiaoice Company, Black Mirror Technology, HKUST IFLYTEK, Baidu, Sogou, etc. have also entered the game.

The relevant person in charge of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology stated that the “Action Plan for the Development of Integration of Virtual Reality and Industry Applications” will be compiled to dig deeper into innovative applications with potential commercial promotion value, cultivate various advantageous industrial clusters with characteristics, and improve virtual reality standards and evaluation systems to build Industrial public service platform, foster leading enterprises with leading and leading role, and support the accelerated development of innovative small and medium-sized enterprises.

Concluding remarks

Before the Metaverse arrives, virtual humans go first.

“The digital human is the basic interaction unit of the Metaverse, which will provide basic technical support for the interaction between the Metaverse and the physical world; the digital human is a virtual avatar, helping each individual in the physical world to establish a digital image of the Metaverse, and releasing the true heart bound by the physical world ; Digital people are also content carriers, giving full play to the advantages of digital foundations, fully demonstrating the advantages of integration and immersion, constructing digital content and digital culture more three-dimensionally and visually, and realizing a comprehensive presentation of individual culture and knowledge.” Che Jia, analyst at Yiou Think Tank Wei concluded.

It is foreseeable that the commercialization of virtual digital humans will become wider and wider.

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