Recently, a hot search on Weibo brought people's attention back to virtual idols. A virtual anchor from the United States attracted 1 million yuan in just two hours. He has been active on foreign platforms before, and this is his The first live broadcast on the bilibili platform.

  Virtual humans are not something that has only recently become popular.

As early as July 2012, the first Chinese virtual singer Luo Tianyi officially debuted, and fans could use its independent sound library to create their own songs, opening a new world for countless grassroots creators.

Since then, the virtual idol Xingtong has participated in the special program "Winning the Ice and Snow" during the Beijing Winter Olympics with two professional figure skating players Pang Qing and Tong Jian as guests; virtual fashion blogger AYAYI put on jewelry and fashions to show everyone's popularity. The endorsement of the product "planting grass"...

  Over the past 10 years, with the advancement of 5G, VR, speech synthesis, motion capture and other technologies, avatars such as Jiyuanmei, Liu Yexi, Ling Ling, and A-SOUL have emerged one after another. , enterprise services and other fields have been continuously expanded, and China's virtual idol industry has gradually opened up.

According to iiMedia Research, the scale of China's virtual human-driven industry market and core market in 2021 will be 107.49 billion yuan and 6.22 billion yuan, respectively. It is expected to reach 640.27 billion yuan and 48.06 billion yuan in 2025, showing a strong growth trend.

  However, industry insiders said that virtual idols are still at a relatively early stage. With the improvement of audience acceptance, the advancement of hardware technology and the improvement of relevant laws and regulations, virtual idols will generate more possibilities.

But it is undeniable that this new outlet based on the animation and game industry is gaining more and more attention.

  Not really human, but his feelings for her are real

  When it comes to virtual idols, many people still have doubts: why do some people like digital virtual people formed by a bunch of "0" and "1"?

  Among them, the beautiful appearance played a big role.

According to the "2022 Virtual Human Industry Research Report" released by Sutu Metaverse Research Institute in June this year, the three major factors for users to become virtual idol fans are virtual human image, content quality and character setting. The proportion of the population is 72.8%, 62.3% and 59.7%.

The "2022 China Virtual Human Industry Development Research Report" released by iiMedia Research also shows that nearly 70% of users like the appearance or sound of virtual human images, followed by the works of virtual human.

  And virtual people who "live" in the virtual world can also bring more possibilities to fans with the blessing of technology.

  At present, the main target groups of virtual idols are still young users.

Liu Zhipeng, deputy general manager of Tencent Interactive Entertainment Content Ecology Department, told reporters from China Youth Daily and China Youth Daily that the younger generation of users grew up in the era of the outbreak of science and technology, and had a higher degree of acceptance of many new technologies. At the same time, they grew up in a world with rich audiovisual environments Therefore, the sensitivity to different picture styles and the application of new technologies is higher, and the perception is deeper.

"Compared with real idols, the world in which virtual characters live is not real. Different from the rules of the normal physical world, such as fans made of water, such items cannot be realized in the real world, and are often only available in film and television works. Seeing such a picture also brings a broader imagination.”

  Virtual idols may not have the emotions and thoughts of real people, but virtual idols have high plasticity and can be carefully planned according to the needs of fans to meet the imagination of fans to the greatest extent.

According to Chen Jianwen, a professor at the School of Information and Communication Engineering at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, the diversity of virtual idols is one of the sources of their charm.

"Young people today have different needs for different aesthetics, different hobbies, and different value orientations. From this perspective, virtual idols actually provide the possibility to meet everyone's needs."

  It is worth noting that the satisfaction brought by virtual idols in the emotional needs of users should not be underestimated.

The "2022 Virtual Human Industry Research Report" shows that 30.6% of users pay attention to virtual idols because of social needs.

  A fan who has been following virtual idols for many years believes that the charm of virtual idols is not limited to beautiful appearance and gorgeous special effects. The character of "under the skin" greatly affects fans' feelings for idols. A smile leaves traces in the hearts of fans, and finally accumulates their appearance in real life. Although vague, it is real.

  Some fans expressed their feelings: "The structure of a virtual idol is not to superimpose a cute leather cover on a real person, it is the kind of feeling that is presented to us truthfully - such as a cute, hard-working, straightforward, arrogant, pull A 20-year-old girl who wants nothing more than that."

  Earlier, foreign media reported that a man from Japan and virtual singer Hatsune Miku had an unofficial wedding in 2018, when they had been "dating" for 10 years.

The man said his relationship with Hatsune Miku had brought him out of his depression and that he knew his wife - a 16-year-old girl with turquoise hair - was not a real human, but his feelings for her were real .

  Some underlying core technologies need to be improved

  While virtual idols bring more possibilities to users, they also bring more challenges to related technical capabilities.

  Chen Jianwen introduced that the development of virtual idols benefits from the continuous progress of technologies such as speech synthesis and virtual character simulation.

In recent years, the industry has been gradually upgrading itself. Unlike traditional virtual idols that use relatively low-cost and mature motion capture and facial capture technology to render virtual characters in 2D or 2.5D, the industry is also exploring new technical routes to achieve Real-life virtual idols.

"The core technologies involve computer graphics, computer vision, deep learning, optimization algorithms and many other fields. The subdivision fields also include character feature modeling, identity-action feature decoupling, feature driving, and high-precision drawing."

  Different from real-life idols, virtual idol characters, lighting, stage, etc. all need to be produced, and this process is a test of cost and technology.

In Liu Zhipeng's view, there are still a lot of core underlying technologies related to virtual idols to be improved, and it will take time to gradually solve them.

  Taking space alignment technology as an example, a large number of objects and people in the virtual world need to be aligned with the spatial coordinates in the virtual world. Due to the related technical difficulties that have not been completely solved, there will be inaccurate calibration coordinates and delays in moving calibration. It cannot keep up with the actual position, the calibration is lost due to environmental influences, etc., which affects the subsequent series of operations.

"In addition, there are many problems in graphics rendering, which will be affected by factors such as hardware device performance and software rendering efficiency, which also take time to solve gradually."

  However, not all virtual idols are high-cost, big-budget productions.

At present, the virtual idols on the market have different forms, and there is also a large gap in the cost behind them.

  The threshold for entering virtual idols can be very low. Some platforms launch live 2D models with prices ranging from a few hundred yuan to tens of thousands of yuan; in addition, there are face pinching software such as VRoid Studio and Ready Player Me on the market, which do not understand modeling. Ordinary people can also create their own avatars, and with the help of 3D software, they can capture their faces and launch unique virtual idols.

  In addition, some platforms have successively launched the most basic virtual human solutions for the C-side. For ordinary people, they can spend less money to open their own virtual human road, live broadcast or shoot videos.

  For virtual idols with high investment costs, modeling, animation, rendering and other technologies need to be continuously invested, and the cost of well-made products can reach thousands to tens of thousands of yuan per second. The ceiling is high and the difficulty is great. Visible.

  But it can be seen that no matter how the technology develops, the real competitiveness of virtual idols is more reflected in the control of content and operations by the team behind them.

  The IP-based virtual idol business model still needs to be explored

  Like real-life stars, virtual idols also have their own "personality". The problems that may arise during the operation of real-life idols are also applicable to virtual people.

  Among the reasons for the "dropping fans" of virtual idols, the decline in content quality, the image of virtual people, and changes in settings are the main reasons.

The "2022 Virtual Human Industry Research Report" shows that the two major factors for users to "remove fans" are the decline of content quality and the change of image, and the proportion of the population is 65.3% and 42.1% respectively.

  Some people in the industry told reporters from China Youth Daily and China Youth Daily that in the operation of some virtual anchors, the main reasons that affect the removal of fans and profits are the shortage of production capacity, the lack of content output, the inability to frequently reach users, and the content deviation. Humanity collapsed.

In addition, the content cannot be continuously innovated, and users feel fresh at first, and will gradually lose interest after watching too much.

  The virtual idol is driven by the initial technology, and now it has gradually become an IP culture.

  In this regard, Chen Duan, director of the Digital Economy Integration Innovation Development Center of the Central University of Finance and Economics, pointed out that in addition to the cost of research and development, the more important thing is the later IP creation.

"Including IP, traffic, operation of the fan community, etc., these different dimensions can jointly support the social vitality of a virtual person. There are actually many virtual people on the Internet, but most of them are waist and tail. This is not a simulation It is not a question of beauty or beauty, but a question of whether the entire operation team can produce a high degree of coordination and optimization."

  "It is a combination of high technology and art. Although it appears to be a digital human on the surface, it is actually supported by a whole set of modern scientific and technological forces based on artificial intelligence." Chen Duan believes that as a virtual idol, once The IP operation is relatively successful, forming a large circle-breaking effect, gold-absorbing effect, and traffic effect. Then, if new functions are continuously injected into the IP, it may mean that the social vitality of virtual idols can enter a state that is close to immortality. .

"It has a social vitality that transcends time, and of course it also requires continuous investment of a lot of follow-up resources."

  But on the whole, the virtual idol industry is still in a relatively early stage.

  For ordinary users, the most common way to get in touch with virtual idols is live streaming.

Today, there are tens of thousands of virtual people active on the bilibili platform to conduct live broadcasts from time to time, and their main monetization method is the flow of gifts generated by the live broadcast interaction. The more famous ones have gradually extended the monetization method to endorsements and peripherals.

  In Liu Zhipeng's view, the main profit models of virtual idols in the current market are relatively similar, mainly the brand's business cooperation, IP image authorization, peripheral derivative sales, and live broadcast gift income.

"It seems that the income model is relatively simple at present, because the income model is relatively simple, and there is no stable market and fixed consumption habits, so the fluctuation of income will be relatively large."

  He believes that the main problem of virtual idols is still at the commercialization level. How to enter a virtuous business cycle for virtual idols directly determines the upper limit of the development of the virtual idol industry. Good business operation can bring more stable and continuous investment. Investment can bring about better technology applications, and technology applications can bring better picture quality and more users, resulting in better business income, forming a virtuous circle.

"Now I have to say that this virtuous circle has not been fully opened up, the virtual idol's own hematopoietic ability is relatively weak, and the industry is still in a relatively primary exploration period."

  Technology iteration can be expected in the future

  For virtual idol teams of all sizes in the current market, how to operate and monetize is still the main problem, and many people are still "crossing the river by feeling the stones".

Except for some virtual idols in the head, a large number of waist and tail products have weak commercial realization ability, and the input and output cannot achieve a good balance.

  But at the same time, the commercial potential of the virtual idol To B side is slowly emerging.

The virtual human team in the industry is not limited to the virtual idol itself, but extends its business around related content such as animation production, AI applications, and visual effects.

  "Take the virtual anchor Xingtong as an example, the current business model will focus on the cooperation of brand merchants, live broadcast reward income, and IP image authorization cooperation. Although good results have been achieved, compared with the high live broadcast cost, There is still a lot of room for growth." Liu Zhipeng said that for his team, the sale of technical solutions is also one of the sources of income, and through the display of virtual idols, technical capabilities and solutions can be seen.

  When it comes to the future, he believes that the new form of virtual idols in the future is likely to follow the development of new hardware experience situations such as VR, AR, MR, etc. "It is difficult to judge what will happen in 10 years. The iteration of technology is too fast. But if I predict the next five years, I believe that virtual idols will gradually change from CG (computer animation) types to more real-time rendering types of virtual idols."

  At present, CG-type virtual idols are mostly processed offline and require a long rendering process in the later stage. Such virtual idols can interact with things in their own world, but cannot interact with real users in real time.

In contrast, virtual idols of the real-time rendering type can process rendering immediately, enabling real-time interaction with the real world.

  "The future form of virtual-real integration is still uncertain as to what form it will ultimately be. We will not use a word to represent it. But what is certain is that this form must require interaction, and this interaction process requires massive amounts of data to be processed. Whether it's a single person's body movements, expressions, or the physical rules of the world, they all need to be processed in real time."

  There are endless discussions about the future development of virtual idols. Some voices believe that with the continuous iteration of technology, "people who go to China" ("people in China" originate from "中の人" in Japanese, generally refer to the actors behind virtual anchors— - Reporter Note) may be one of the directions.

  "The early stage of virtual idol development must be based on cloud technology. The actors behind can collect a lot of information in the process, and then continue to optimize and customize through the interaction." In Chen Jianwen's view, the current situation is more like Pre-training allows the system to better understand users, but so far there is no complete and huge database to support various personalized needs, which requires a process.

The key to completing this process lies in the collection of early data and the import of user information.

"If there is no pre-training and interaction, the so-called virtual idol personalization probability is actually relatively low, so I think the actor must still exist for a long time."

  In addition, Chen Jianwen reminded that all data collection should also consider the data security and other issues behind the protection of personal privacy.

"The personal information protection law has been implemented. How to ensure that there is no problem with data and how not to violate national laws and regulations are issues that need to be considered."

  It is undeniable that virtual idols, as an emerging industry, have broad space for development.

With the continuous exploration of commercial value, more and more industries are associated with virtual idols. Compared with 10 years ago, more and more virtual images have appeared in media, finance, e-commerce, services, education, advertising, etc. industry.

It is worth looking forward to who will stand out on this new track under the sand.

  China Youth Daily, China Youth Daily reporter Li Ruoyi Wei Wan Source: China Youth Daily

  July 05, 2022 Edition 05