Netease bets heavily on virtual humans five times a year.

In October, NetEase successfully led the investment in the next-generation culture of the “virtual human” ecological company.

Grabbing the “Meta Universe” track is nothing new in leading Internet companies, but this is already NetEase’s fifth investment in the field of virtual humans this year.

“NetEase is ready for the technology and planning of Meta Universe. When the time is right, NetEase may run faster than anyone else.” Recently, NetEase founder and CEO Ding Lei said.

Recently, with the excessively beautiful interpretation of the meta universe by technology dreamers, many people have had an allergic reaction to the term “meta universe”, coupled with the passion of capital, making the “meta universe” look more like a ” “Scam”, although part of the current technology has touched the nerves of the meta-universe, it is still difficult for people to intuitively perceive, what exactly is the meta-universe?

As a result, virtual humans, this future technology that has already penetrated into real life, are regarded as the entrance to the meta-universe, and become a “pig” flying on the tuyere of the meta-universe. However, not all virtual human projects have become “pigs”. Lucky.

False entrance to the meta universe

In September, a singing audition show “Alter Ego” was launched on Fox TV. It still used the old routine of focusing only on singing and not looking at appearance. But this time, the real singers don’t need to be on stage at all. They sing on stage. Virtual avatar.

Netease bets heavily on virtual humans five times a year.

It should be noted that this show, with 20 virtual avatars as the protagonists, is rendered in real time on the spot through the Unreal engine and recorded with an AR virtual image superimposed at the same time.

It is conceivable that this kind of real-time rendered virtual AR stage requires strong technical support. According to a report from “Rolling Stone”, the program team spent at least a year on technology research and development, and at the same time added new technologies to enhance the sense of interaction, such as accurately capturing and simulating player expressions (real people crying, virtual avatars will also shed two lines of tears ), and the effects of reflections, shadows on the body, and shadows on the ground can also change with the movement of the position or the change of light.

Obviously, the program team is trying to create an ideal world. No matter what the singer looks like, whether he is tall or short, male or female, he can recreate his own avatar. TA can be of any skin color and gender. It doesn’t even matter if you look like an alien, as long as you like it.

During the period when the meta universe was blown to the sky, the appearance of “Alter Ego” seemed to provide some evidence for the meta universe. It was like a “model room”, giving the meta universe floating in the sky a trace of “soul”. : It reveals a truth-in the meta-universe, you can become anyone and lead a completely opposite life, just like Alter Ego’s Latin meaning: another me.

This is the greatest magic power of the meta universe to mankind.

Netease bets heavily on virtual humans five times a year.

However, the audience did not pay for the massive amount of “Alter Ego”. Public data showed that the premiere of “Alter Ego” only won 2.93 million viewers, and the audience rating was only 0.65, which is higher than the sixth season of “The King of Masked Singer” broadcast on Fox on the same day. The debut was 0.46 lower. On YouTube, “Alter Ego” has only about 40,000 views a week.

“Ugly desperate”, the “Guardian” comment can be described as hit the nail on the head, “Watching “Alter Ego” is to watch a row of PS2 with dull eyes, shaking NPCs singing the most easily forgotten in the past 15 years song.”

This is reminiscent of the VR conferencing software Horizon Workroom just launched by Facebook in August. It is also embarrassingly suffocating, with a slightly lagging movement rhythm, even if its original intention is to allow people to work at home. It feels immersive, but the style of the entire conference room still makes people laugh, so can the meeting really become serious?

Netease bets heavily on virtual humans five times a year.

Is the virtual human who can complete real-time interaction the entrance to the meta-universe? The answer is obviously no. People seem to be not interested in this “non-mainstream” style of painting.

The true entrance to the meta universe

The time goes a bit further. One month after the launch of “Alter Ego”, the Douyin account “Liu Yexi” released the first short video, which skyrocketed 3 million fans in 4 days. The virtual person Liu Yexi has indeed become the outlet of the meta universe. The flying “pig”.

This “virtual beauty expert who can catch demons” instantly reduced the comment area to a “large-scale worship scene for video technology”.

Netease bets heavily on virtual humans five times a year.

Regardless of the video effects for the time being, just talking about the realism of this virtual person is worth 100 praises.

With the continuous advancement of technology, people’s requirements for virtual humans are becoming more and more demanding. From the early Hatsune Miku, Luo Tianyi, to the popular Lil Miquela in 2016, to the sexy college endorsing KFC, virtual humans have experienced From the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional advancement, the appearance is becoming more and more realistic, and now it has penetrated into various aspects such as skin, expression, sound, movement and so on.

In contrast, the failure of “Alter Ego” is reasonable.

Last year, Samsung also released a mysterious project Neon. Their application of virtual “real people” technology can be described as the pinnacle, but it has triggered a new round of human anxiety-the uncanny valley.

Neon can’t broadcast the weather or search for songs for you like siri, but they can have conversations like real people. They have memory and learning ability, but they have no physical performance.

Neon is not an artificial intelligence assistant. Neon is more like a human being. It is an independent but virtual creature and belongs to an “artificial human.”

Netease bets heavily on virtual humans five times a year.

It looks a little scary. Such “people” who look indistinguishable from humans are not humans, but they actually have the ability to remember and learn? Although they don’t have a physical body, their sense of fear has not diminished in the slightest.

The so-called Uncanny Valley theory was put forward by Japanese robot expert Masahiro Mori in 1970. It is a hypothesis about human perception of robots and non-human objects: in the first wave, because robots and humans are similar in appearance and actions, humans will have positive emotions on robots; in the second wave, when robots are similar to humans When the level reaches a certain level, humans’ reactions to them will suddenly become extremely negative and disgusting; in the third wave, when the similarity between robots and humans continues to rise, it is equivalent to the similarity between ordinary people. The emotional response to them will return to the positive again, creating an empathy between humans.

Judging from the current technological achievements, Liu Yexi is in the first band, and NEON is in the second band. As for the third band, it is difficult to find out among the existing virtual humans, but super-realistic virtual humans driven by real humans. It may become the optimal solution for the third band.

A real person-driven virtual person means that a real person wears a sensing device to form a one-to-one anchored relationship with the virtual person, and presents the real person’s facial expressions and actions on the virtual digital person’s image through the motion capture collection system. And hyper-realism refers to the artificial human being “made out of nothing”.

For example, the digital astronaut Xiao Yu of Xinhua News Agency, her image is the original painting drawn by the Xinhua News Agency team and the NExT team superimposing the faces of hundreds of journalists and aerospace workers. If driven by a real person, she is a perfect reality-driven super-realistic virtual person.

Netease bets heavily on virtual humans five times a year.

This is what Metaverse really wants to embrace, a real human image, driven by a real person wearing a sensing device at the same time. It is equivalent to allowing a real person to regain a human identity in the virtual world, with your thoughts, thoughts, touches, and feelings, but not necessarily your face, body, and gender. In contrast, virtual humans that are not driven by real humans, even if they look realistic, innocent and lovely, and lifelike, are still regarded as products of “dehumanization”, either without thinking or creating terror.

However, if you look closely at Xiaozhen and Liu Yexi, you can still see the traces of virtual humans. Even if Xiaozhen’s face has been planted with more than 100,000 hairs, it still cannot be compared with real humans at a certain angle or detail. No difference.

Because to complete a real person-driven hyperrealistic virtual person, it requires the blessing of many technologies such as modeling, intelligent synthesis, motion capture and rendering. At the same time, the higher cost has also become a constraint on technological development. It is said that a video of Liu Yexi burned nearly 1 million, so the entrance of Metaverse is still the entrance of capital. Those who claim to build their own virtual human software in a few minutes are not enough. It is a combination of “two-dimensional” and “non-mainstream”.

What are virtual people doing now?

Although many virtual people want to fly by the wind of the meta-universe, they can easily be abandoned by the public without real materials. Today, when hyper-realistic virtual people driven by real people cannot be popularized, the entrance to the real meta-universe seems to be far away. We still have some distance, but this does not prevent more virtual people from being born in this real world with “tasks”.

Hatsune Miku has more than 600 million fans all over the world, and the 1,280 yuan concert ticket was sold out in 3 minutes.

Luo Tianyi has reached cross-border cooperation with Pizza Hut, KFC, Master Kong, Nestlé, Hushubao, L’Occitane, and realized commercial realization very early.

Lil Miquela, the marketing team behind it, single-handedly planned her to take pictures with real stars, receive advertisements, release albums, accept interviews, and even fall in love with real people, and successfully sent it to the 2018 Time Magazine “Most Influential” Twenty-five of the people” on the throne.

The animation virtual character, the little monk Yichan, has been stationed on the video account for five months. The maximum playback volume of a single video has reached nearly 300 million, and the first live show of the video account has been carried out.

Internet giants such as Tencent , Alibaba , ByteDance, iQiyi, and Xiaohongshu have also created their own virtual IP images and conducted commercial performances and other activities.

Netease bets heavily on virtual humans five times a year.

Luo Tianyi

Netease bets heavily on virtual humans five times a year.

LilMiquela on the right

Who will pay for the virtual idol? This question seems very simple, who else? Those young people, those Z generations, but we may underestimate their energy.

According to data from iiMedia Consulting, 80% of netizens spend less than 1,000 yuan for virtual idols. In 2021, it is estimated that the core industry of virtual idols in China will reach 6.22 billion yuan, driving the industry to 107.49 billion yuan.

These people who spend money on virtual idols are concentrated in the post-95s, and the post-95s account for a quarter of the world’s population. In my country, the post-95s group has exceeded 250 million people, accounting for 52% of the total netizens. Among them, the penetration rate of two-dimensional users from post-95 to post-05 is as high as 64%, and young consumers of the Z generation will account for half of all consumers.

The future is theirs, and the future of the future is the next generation who have been educated by the “meta universe” at birth.

Commercial value is the essence of most virtual people being created. Those who really explore the meta-universe and use their strength to create a second parallel space are rare.

But when the freshness brought by technology fades away, what will be left to humans?

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