This audition show made me “panic” and there were no people on the stage.

The lighting and the dance were ready, the music sounded, and a blue-skinned virtual person stood in the center of the stage and began to sing with a deep, magnetic voice.

She wore a seaweed-like metallic dress, her hair wiggled up and swayed slightly, and she looked confident. The whole scene is weird and psychedelic. If you are not careful, you will think you are watching the sister version of the movie "Avatar".

This scene is from the recent singing talent show "Alter Ego" on Fox TV.

What is projected on the stage is an AR virtual image, and the real performer is wearing a motion capture costume, hiding in the background to complete every gorgeous transition.

What is the style of a group of avatars going to the show?

The word "Alter Ego" comes from Latin and means "another self."

This singing talent show was launched in September of this year. Like "Good Voice" and "The King of Masked Singer", it also hopes to put aside the appearance and other conditions, and choose the "next American superstar" from the singing aspect. . In the end, the winning player will get a prize of 100,000 USD and the chance to make an album.

Compared with the rotating stool and the headgear mask, the method of "Alter Ego" really relieved the fears: real people do not need to be on stage, and the AR virtual image will take all the stage pressure for you, and you can just sing and perform in the background.

So under the spotlight, avatars with skins of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and purple sang on stage. They all have their own stage names and flamboyant shapes.

With the support of motion capture and real-time rendering technology, every wink of the performer, every tweak, fluffy hair or tears inadvertently, can be vividly expressed through the AR virtual image.

▲ Click on the video to experience this magical style in the front row

The blue-skinned player mentioned at the beginning of the article is named "SEVEN". The live-action performer behind her, Kyara, was mocked as a boy because of her low voice. She lacked self-confidence in real life. After the singing, she shared her story with the judges:

Since I was young, people have been pointing to my appearance and voice…Standing here, I can be who I am. I don't need to be afraid anymore.

After all, Kyara cried backstage, and two lines of tears shed on SEVEN's blue-green face.

Last year, iQiyi also launched a virtual idol audition show "Super Dimension Rising Star".

My colleague Sizhen’s afterthought was “emergency awkwardness” : the modeling effect of the contestants is similar to “fraud”, and there are various problems such as performance freezes, blurry pictures, and sudden downtime in the middle of the programmer asking the programmer to fight the fire in the background. .

▲ Last second: Exploding the audience

▲ Next second: Kakaka is stuck

In contrast, the overall effect of "Alter Ego" looks much more natural and smooth. According to a report from "Rolling Stone" , the technology used in the show took at least one year to develop.

The 3D image performed on the stage was produced with the assistance of Silver Spoon Studio and AR company Lulu.

The program will ask the contestants to fill in a form in advance, stating their expectations and imagination for the virtual avatar, and after designing the basic image, they will adjust and choose the clothes together with the contestants. It takes 4 hours to design a cool-looking skirt every minute.

The stage is equipped with 14 cameras, 8 of which are equipped with high-end tracking technology. In addition, thousands of infrared light-reflecting marks have been set up on the roof of the studio to help the camera locate. During the performance of the contestants, the Unreal engine will be used for real-time rendering and superimposition of AR avatars.

In the end, they produced 22 avatars in a few weeks and completed 65 real-time rendered AR stage recordings.

Compared with ratings and word of mouth, the discussion caused by "Alter Ego" may be more valuable.

Some believe that this technological innovation will bring new changes to television programs and even the entire entertainment industry. The Internet has mixed opinions on it: some people find it weird and scary, while others think that the virtual image in front of the stage gives more ordinary people the opportunity to shine.

The self and "soul" behind the virtual image

Most of the players attracted by "Alter Ego" are more amateur than you think.

They include mothers who have given up their music careers for their children, bald elderly people who have passed away in their years, large-size girls who have suffered discrimination, and they also suffer from Tourette's disease, fear of the stage, lack of self-confidence, and so on.

▲ The contestant thinks he is ordinary, so he chooses an avatar with smoky makeup, tattoos, and a rebellious boy

Take 60-year-old Matthew Lord as an example. He was originally an opera actor, but now he can only drive a truck to survive because of the epidemic. Compared with the real person, his avatar is younger and thinner, and he has flowing and thick hair, which gives him the confidence to "take another try."

I'm already old. The TV and music industry is an industry suitable for young people, and there is no place for people like me… and this show gave me a chance.

▲ Matthew Lord and his avatar

Although the atmosphere of the show often reminds me of Teacher Wang Feng’s "What is your dream?", the reality is indeed cruel. They may not be outstanding enough in reality because of their age, body shape, appearance, etc. Door.

In "Alter Ego", there are taller, thinner, younger, and cooler avatars that bring a sense of security. The contestants have fun and humor and become "socially awesome", exuding them with voice, facial expressions and physical movements. charm.

It's not just the "Alter Ego" players who actively hide behind the avatar. In recent years, virtual anchors (VTuber) have begun to spread across video platforms such as YouTube, Station B, and Twitch.

They also appear in avatars (the style of painting is mostly towards the second dimension of animation). Real people perform dubbing and motion capture behind the scenes. Through real-time interactions such as chatting, showcasing talents in singing and dancing, and playing games, they bring a sense of companionship to the audience in the live broadcast room. Those hidden real-life actors are generally called "people in the middle".

Many people in "Alter Ego" have similar feelings to the "Alter Ego" players, believing that hiding behind the avatar can accomplish many things that are difficult to achieve in daily life and work.

Lingyuan Yousa is currently the head virtual anchor of station B, with more than 3 million fans. The person in her has a unique timbre and singing ability, and has accumulated a group of iron fans at station B; but because she does not like to appear on the live broadcast, she finally debuted in the image of Lingyuan Yousa in 2019.

▲ Yousa in the live broadcast

Twitch anchor Bunny_Gif occasionally uses an avatar to broadcast live. In her opinion , this method provides a lot of freedom that live broadcasts do not have-you can express yourself in a more comfortable way, for example, you can live broadcast in pajamas, even if you go to battle without makeup or your hair is messed up, don’t worry. Drop powder.

Even if there is a layer of avatars, fans can feel the charm of Nakano and think that they are the real souls behind the virtual idols.

Kizuna AI, from Japan, is said to be the world's first virtual anchor. The original name was "Kasuga Wang". In 2019, the company launched 3 new Zhongzhiren, hoping to avatar Kizuna Ai into operations and marginalize Kasugawang, which once aroused disgust and protest from fans.

▲ Kizuna Ai

Jia Ran is a member of the virtual idol girl group A-SOUL. During the live broadcast, the person in her had a professional performance of 20 house dances in one breath, and she also had the true feelings of unexpected tears when reading a fan essay. These moments have become the reason for Jiaran's fans. So far, she has 1.22 million fans at station B.

▲ The fan’s small essay records his work as a screw in the factory and his hard life. Jia Ran turned around and sobbed after reading it.

According to statistics from User Local, a Japanese data survey company, there are currently more than 16,000 virtual anchors on YouTube. At the 12th anniversary speech of Station B, CEO Chen Rui revealed that 32,412 virtual anchors started broadcasting at Station B. Virtual images not only bring power, stage and more possibilities, but also become a business with great potential.

In the future, everyone can become a virtual idol?

Today, if you want to become a virtual anchor with the image of a "producer" in the second dimension of animation, the threshold is not high.

You only need to find an artist to design an animation image, make a movable model, and use facial recognition, motion capture and other technologies to make a quick debut in the live broadcast room. Open the Internet for a little search, you can also find a variety of free software and tutorials to share.

However, if you want to make a more detailed 3D virtual image and pursue a more three-dimensional effect like the "Alter Ego" scene, it may be a bit tricky.

Take CodeMiko as an example. She is currently one of the most popular virtual anchors on Twitch, with more than 800,000 fans. Her creator/person among them has work experience in an animation studio. After being fired during the epidemic, she decided to go into debt to buy expensive equipment and try Twitch live broadcasts. The clothing for motion capture alone cost $13,500 (still on the premise of enjoying a half-price discount for independent developers).

▲ Twitch virtual anchor Miko

With the development of technology, these costs will inevitably be gradually reduced. To paraphrase the words of Andy Warhol, the father of American Pop Art-in the future, everyone may be a 15-minute idol.

For example, the emergence of avatar creation platforms such as Ready Player Me and MetaHuman Creator have allowed everyone to pinch out their favorite 3D avatars within a few minutes. It is more realistic, more realistic, and more three-dimensional, which is by no means the "photographic" level of "Super Dimensional Nova". It not only saves money and time, but also preserves the hair of the designers.

▲ MetaHuman Creator

Even in the future, your virtual idol can be completely driven by AI, input your insights and settings, and let the artificial intelligence take care of everything else.

▲ Super-realistic digital person AYAYI

Every time I hear capital and brokerage companies say that virtual idols "will never collapse," I always remain suspicious. It is because facts have proved that, from image modeling, rendering technology, the person in the middle to the content planning behind it, every stage of "star making" may lead to overturning and loss.

But if everyone can create their own virtual idol, will the situation be different?

In a report in the Financial Times , senior creative director Jerry Stafford said that the perfect appearance of this celebrity influencer was originally created by plastic surgery and filters; in such an environment, virtual idols are not sought after. It doesn't make sense.

Once we projected fantasies and desires onto stars, maybe in the future, we will project onto our own avatars.

▲ Axi, self-proclaimed as a cross-dimensional digital girl

Maybe there is such a future, everyone can be their own idol, and also their own fan, creating a beautiful for themselves, but also cheering and screaming for themselves.

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