Why the Next Wave of Virtual Influencers Will be Indistinguishable from Real Humans
One of the most in-demand models on the planet today isn't even human-well, not physically human at least. She has released her own pop songs, promoted Samsung's new Galaxy S10 phone, and has more than 1.6 million Instagram followers. Miquela "Lil Miquela" Sousa is a digital human, better known as the leading example of the growing trend of virtual influencers.
As more and more marketing resources go digital and online influencers command wide audiences, the ability to custom-build a model-nay, a personality-is a powerful thing indeed.
The benefits are numerous. Control is the most obvious positive, not only in the sense of a brand being able to mold and shape a campaign with complete flexibility, but also to do so without retaining a human model. Removing the human factor also reduces the possibility of an influencer or spokesperson unintentionally reflecting badly on a brand, whether it's a slip of the tongue, a poor decision, or dirt pulled from the influencer's background. Virtual influencers don't have skeletons in their closets… well, unless you want them there.
Creating digital humans that are imperceptible from the real deal is a difficult, nuance-driven process, and it's our specialty at Cubic Motion. We harness the power of computer vision to capture every intricate detail of the human face and then precisely transfer that onto a digital character, ensuring that nothing is lost in the process. We've animated the faces for PlayStation 4 smashes such as Spider-Man and God of War, and helped bring to life Siren, one of the most convincing digital humans to date (created alongside 3Lateral, Tencent, and Epic Games).
Believable digital humans must replicate every element of the human face as we understand it. We're all experts on what a human face should look like, having seen an uncountable number of them over our entire lives-and if any part of the digital human falters or doesn't live up to the quality level of the rest, the entire illusion falls apart.
Siren, Created by Cubic Motion
The key to delivering better digital humans-and as a result, improved virtual influencers-is computer vision. Our computer vision PhDs have been pushing the technology for more than 15 years, essentially teaching computers to understand an image in the same way that we all do. With the ability to recognize details and movements, a computer is better able to rapidly process the data fed to it and then transfer the result into any medium.
The capture process begins in the studio, with multiple cameras pointed at the actor's face to ensure that every tiny nuance-even the ones we don't notice, but would miss if they weren't there-is recorded and analyzed. Thanks to computer vision, we can quickly record and reproduce complex human emotions and input them into digital humans.
It all begins with the eyes-the window of the soul. We've all seen video game cinematics and low-quality CGI animation with dead-looking eyes, and it completely throws off the effect of the digital human. By capturing blinking and pupil movements directly from the actor, we can ensure that the digital human never reads as soulless or false. Computer vision also captures a spectrum of facial animations to drive the performance of digital characters.
Incredibly-detailed scans of real human beings are used to amplify the effect, to ensure that no detail is left behind in the process. What completes the illusion is rigging: the process of solving the capture data and connecting the tracking of the human face to the computer model. It provides animators the so-called strings of the puppet, letting them drive the performance in any way they see fit. It's also possible to have a real person "perform" the digital human via live motion capture technology.
It's still early days for digital humans across films, games and online culture. The next generation will be less a novelty and much more indistinguishable from the real thing. In 10 to 20 years, we may all have our own near-identical digital doubles that represent us in online worlds and interactions. Virtual influencers are just the first step on that journey, and a fascinating glimpse of how digital humans could transform marketing and many other sectors in the future.
Photographs courtesy of Cubic Motion. Andy Wood is President of Cubic Motion.