It’s not the Metaverse that ignited the virtual human

Virtual life is born with mission.

Recently, Yu Liang, Chairman of Vanke Group’s board of directors, expressed his congratulations to Cui Xiaopan, the winner of the 2021 Vanke Headquarters Best Newcomer Award in a high profile in the circle of friends, and announced the real identity of the newcomer award winner-a virtual person.

The outside world has been discussing virtual humans for a long time. From the early Hatsune Miku and Luo Tianyi to the recent explosions of Liu Yexi, Axi, and Hua Zhibing, this kind of digital existence has human appearance, characteristics, and behavior. , Virtual images that rely on technological display are sought after. Prior to this, many Internet companies such as Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, Byte, and B Station deployed virtual people. NetEase has invested in virtual people-related companies 6 times this year.

Virtual humans are always labeled with the two-dimensional and Metaverse. From a distance, they seem to be full of bubbles. However, after contacting several companies that have received attention in the industry and investors who are following this track, we found that they have a more realistic thinking and layout about the market and demand after peeling off the public opinion that surrounds them.

01Virtual  life is born with tasks

In 2009, Liu Huai, the founder of the virtual film industry, entered the animation industry and produced popular original works such as “Super Seminary” and “Xiong Binglian” with his team. The first virtual actor in the virtual film industry “Virtual Crane Chase” is among the above works The “actor” of the sun goddess “Lena”.

From the perspective of the virtual film industry, diversion of film and television works is the initial mission of virtual actors.After the launch of the “Super Seminary” series, Liu Huai found that fans’ love for individual characters in the animation works far exceeded the work itself, which inspired the team. Virtual actors are the most critical element to help the audience build an emotional bridge with the characters. If the audience can ignore the “dimension wall” and directly establish an emotional connection with the characters represented by the virtual actor, then the vitality of the work can be activated.

So the team gave “Tina” a virtual life in the three-dimensional-virtual crane chase. Since then, the virtual Crane Chase has “participated” in animation works such as “The Wind and Cloud of the Long Sword”, and pre-heats the new work on social platforms like a real actor. “Long Sword Storm 2”, “Mountain and Sea Meeting”, and “Blue Net Upgrade Plan” are the animation works that the virtual film industry plans to launch in the next two years. Virtual Crane is also constantly promoting new dramas.

It's not the Metaverse that ignited the virtual human

Image source: Weibo screenshot

Virtual human ecology company next-generation culture also has a clear purpose for creating virtual humans. Before founding Next World Culture, Chen Yan had more than ten years of working experience in Taihe Music, Light Media and first-line advertising companies. He hoped to find a new carrier to carry the entertainment products and content creativity he was good at, and finally chose “Cross-dimensional” content that is scarce in China.

In 2016, Chen Yan led the team to produce a cross-dimensional network drama “The Hidden Jianghu”. This work that combines two-dimensional, three-dimensional, real-life + animation interaction, dynamic comics and other animation production methods quickly attracted the Jiaxing Reba team. The two parties quickly finalized the cooperation to create an avatar for Dilraba “Dili” Cold”.

Chen Yan’s expectation for this cooperation is to enhance the company’s case awareness and obtain replenishment in the capital flow, but since then, step by step, a multi-type virtual person matrix has been established such as celebrity clones, brand customized virtual humans, and original virtual human IPs. For example, Huang Zidao’s avatar “Taosman”, IDo jewelry avatar “Beco”, Huaxizi virtual spokesperson “Huaxizi”, super-realistic virtual person “Ling-Ling” and so on.

The development of the industry does not happen overnight. Since the twentieth century, with the innovation of motion capture and artificial intelligence technology, the industry has grown from start-up, exploration and development to the current growth period. Every company has a very realistic experience when entering this track. Considering it, it’s just that mistakes and collisions have been wrapped up in the upsurge of the Metaverse.

Similarly, although investors have the courage to imagine Metaverse, they treat virtual human projects very practically, and market demand and landing scenarios are indispensable.

Nie Dongchen, a partner of CCV, the founding partner, invested in projects such as the virtual human ecosystem company “Next World Culture” and virtual human technology provider “Yunship Technology” in the virtual human track this year. He said that in fact, CCV has been in the field of virtual people for five or six years, and has not been shot until he saw the sharp changes in the B-end market and the C-end market:

In the B-end market, internationally renowned luxury brands have allocated part of their advertising budgets to virtual humans. According to the statistics of the Huali Think Tank in 2020, in the previous four years, the global cooperation with virtual characters covered 110 virtual characters, 100 luxury goods, fashion, beauty brands and fashion retailers.

In the C-end market, virtual anchors at station B have surged. In the keynote speech on the 12th anniversary of Station B in June this year, Chen Rui revealed that virtual anchors have become the fastest growing category in the live broadcast field of Station B. In the past year, more than 30,000 virtual anchors have started broadcasting at Station B, a year-on-year increase of 40%. .

Investor Liucheng took a fancy to the role of virtual people in improving efficiency, and therefore invested in a virtual anchor company. “Live broadcast can only work 8 hours a day, but the rest of the time is not without the audience. , This part of the traffic is wasted, and the use of virtual anchors can continue to serve the audience and improve the user experience.”

Chen Zhe, vice president of Fengrui Capital, also found that the live broadcast industry’s acceptance of virtual idols is higher than expected. “Taobao live broadcast has basically nothing to do with the second element. This year, I have given a lot of virtual idols to carry goods. Supported by the traffic. One of the virtual idols started broadcasting for 4 hours on the first day without any market awareness, attracting more than 1 million users online.”

02  based on people rely on the virtual track

For the start-up companies that are pouring into the virtual human race track, technology, operational capabilities, and commercial realization are indispensable.

Most of the invested companies in the past two years are technology providers and midstream content and IP operators in the upper reaches of the virtual human industry chain, including MCN, entertainment brokerage companies, and marketing companies.

The technology providers Zhongke Intelligence and Yunbo Technology, which received investment this year, initially provided motion capture, AI and other technologies for game animation. Later, because of the same technology, they expanded their business to the field of virtual humans. In Liucheng’s view, this type of company “can attack, retreat and defend.” They can join the army of the metaverse, and they can also come back and continue to do games and animations.

Operators in the midstream are similar. For example, Lehua, a joint stock company of ByteDance and Ali, created a virtual girl group A-SOUL at the end of last year. The company’s advantage lies in the operating experience of artists, and it has a wealth of talents in singing and dancing. The next-generation cultural team has the genes of advertising marketing and entertainment economy, and the team’s advantage lies in the insight of needs and the cognition of business.

The virtual person maintains long-term vitality, and the amazing appearance is one aspect. For example, the national style virtual person “Ling-Ling”, the “Liu Yexi” that integrates national tide and punk elements, and the fresh and healed digital person “Axi”… … What they have in common is that they are technically at the forefront of the industry, adopting a super-realistic style, giving the audience a more stunning visual experience, and their styles have their own characteristics.

The connotation of virtual humans is the key factor. Liucheng believes that part of the connotation of virtual people comes from the person in the middle. The person of Bella in the virtual girl group A-SOUL was a professional ballerina who was forced to quit the ballet due to a waist injury. Later, he insisted on rehabilitation training and joined A-SOUL. Fans are very touched by Nakaren’s experience. The feelings for Bella are actually the feelings for Nakaren.

It's not the Metaverse that ignited the virtual human

Image source: Weibo screenshot

In the view of Wikie, the co-founder of the virtual film industry, the image of a virtual person should match the persona, and at the same time, it can become more credible by continuously outputting content that can enrich the personage and worldview. Virtual Crane Chase has its own personality characteristics, and through multiple works and time precipitation, it has established an emotional link with fans. “In 2016, the “Xiong Soldier Company” animation enabled virtual Crane Chase. It has been more than five years now. Time is up, so the audience has been growing up with this character.”

“Virtual people can’t just be regarded as a simple image, but a high-strength combination of art and technology,” Nie Dongchen analyzed. “This requires the team behind it to be capable of not only content aesthetics, but also technical integration and application. , It’s not easy.”

Commercialization capabilities are also a topic that cannot be avoided. Although virtual humans do not have a particularly clear and mature business model, with the increase in market attention and the richness of application scenarios, everyone is also looking for a more suitable commercialization path. .

The commercialization path of virtual people can be divided into C-end and B-end. For the C-side, the fan economy is the mainstay, such as IP peripheral sales, brand advertising, live broadcast rewards, etc. The shortest commercial path is live broadcast. According to Bilibili’s virtual anchor revenue data in November of this year, the total revenue of virtual anchors that month reached 54.66 million yuan, and the number of paying users reached 255,000. The number one virtual anchor “Carol Carol” set a single record. Monthly income of 2.14 million yuan.

The B-end market focuses on providing enterprises with virtual human technology, incubating operations and other services. For example, next-generation culture’s star avatar product line, brand and IP customized product line, virtual person IP operation and other services. According to reports, the virtual film industry has also received requests from Internet companies, consumer brands or banking institutions to create virtual human images. For example, its AI virtual brand official AIYA for Baixin Bank AIBANK has been launched recently.

03Explore the way forward  for virtual humans

Although virtual humans have broad application prospects in the future, they still face some challenges and factors restricting the development of the industry.

On the one hand, the influence of virtual humans is still very small, and we need to continue to increase public acceptance; on the other hand, there are too few application scenarios in the virtual human industry, and the business model remains at the level of virtual idols.

“Shopping” is a simple and direct method. Nie Dongchen observed that this is also a major trend in the virtual human industry at this stage. The virtual person company hopes to cover more application scenarios and influence users subtly.

A further idea is to create an IP matrix and launch a virtual IP suitable for users of the subdivided track. This is what the Chuangyi culture behind Liu Yexi is doing. Liu Yexi faces the beauty track. The company’s CEO Liang Zikang recently stated publicly that it will launch 5-10 different tracks in the next six months to one year. , Virtual humans and digital humans in different fields. This is also the idea of ​​next-generation culture. In addition to “Ling-Ling” with the label of “national style and national tide”, next-generation culture has also recently launched a virtual DJ Purple for the electronic music and trend culture market.

It's not the Metaverse that ignited the virtual human

Image: Virtual DJ Purple

Platformization is also a direction that Next World Culture is exploring. It has created a localized virtual avatar platform Genies. “Next World Culture will release a new virtual person project plan at the end of this year, which can be understood as a project that can be both to B and to C. The new tools and platform-based products make it an incubator for more original virtual human IP, allowing a wider range of consumers to have access to virtual humans and virtual items, thus truly moving towards a more intelligent virtual reality interactive era.” Chen Yan introduced.

The reason for the lack of virtual human application scenarios is the imperfect industry infrastructure. Nie Dongchen explained that this mainly includes two parts, technology and virtual ecology.

AI technology is still relatively basic. Although the appearance of virtual people is very close to real people, they still feel “out of sync” when speaking. In addition, AI’s perception of emotions has not been a better solution, and there are still various problems with multiple rounds of dialogue with AI. So in fact, technology limits the breakthrough in many scenarios, such as emotional companion virtual people, virtual doctors, and so on.

The domestic AI team is already experimenting with technological breakthroughs. Last year, the Microsoft Xiaoice team launched a small-scale test of the Avatar Framework, an artificial intelligence framework, to provide human users with a group of emotional companionship female lovers. In the end, the average number of single conversations between Xiaoice and the user remained at 23. According to Zeng Min, senior technical director of Microsoft Xiaoice, this requires the support of two key components: empathy and social skills. The empathy model used by XiaoIce is a dialogue engine based on a generative model, which can further improve XiaoIce’s control over the content, domain and rhythm of the dialogue, from “equal dialogue” to “dominant dialogue”.

The construction of virtual ecology is also very important. “In fact, when we can truly regard the virtual world as a part of our lives, the energy of virtual humans can be maximized,” Nie Dongchen said. For example, the virtual face-squeezing software ZEPETO was once popular, but it did not provide users with more motivation to interact and soon died.

Next-generation culture is trying to create a virtual entertainment scene. Chen Yan believes that simply generating virtual images is not enough. In the future, users will need a virtual scene that can satisfy entertainment experience and interactive social interaction. Only in this scene can users drive more virtual behaviors, such as creation and trading. “There are better scenarios to complete virtual identity recognition, and virtual products will become more valuable.” Creating a virtual casino is the next step of the next-generation culture.

From Wikie’s point of view, the virtual human industry is still in the early stages of development. What can virtual images be used for and how to operate in the future are still being explored. The virtual film team has always been holding the mentality of working hand in hand with everyone, and will also do some linkage with other virtual people to promote each other. Because many participants bring more variety of presentation methods, “when the content is richer, the audience’s acceptance will be higher, which is actually a good thing.”

Regarding the competition that may be encountered, Wikie also treats it with a normal heart. She believes that the virtual human track may not be a particularly strong competition in the future. It still requires everyone to work together to build the industry’s infrastructure and cultivate the audience’s concept.

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