These Influencers Aren't Flesh and Blood, Yet Millions Follow Them on Instagram - YEET

By YEET MAGAZINE| YEET MAGAZINE  Updated 0200 GMT (1000 HKT) July 20, 2021

TECH & WEB

For some time now, social media and Instagram in particular, have seen the growth of accounts by strange half-human, half-robot avatars: virtual influencers. A trend that fascinates as much as it worries.

Lil Miquela : 3 million subscribers on Instagram. FN Meka : 9.4 million subscribers and 118 million likes on TikTok. Nobody Sausage : 7.2 million subscribers and 78.7 million likes on TikTok. Hatsune Miku : 2.4 million subscribers on Facebook… We can't stop counting. Influencers followed by millions of people, all that is more mundane. Except that these influencers are not human. They are technological creations, avatars existing only on social networks.

Singers, rappers, models, dancers, they are multifunctional and there is something for everyone. Don't worry, they're not there to control us or steal our lives. Simply make us consume a little more.

Their goal: to highlight brands, products, technologies through posts, photos, videos on social networks . Because it's still easier to manage an avatar rather than an influencer who does what he wants. We find characters of all kinds: humanoids, animals, drawn in 2D or 3D . There's even a pink sausage that waddles on TikTok and Instagram.

A story to tell

"OMG TOO BEAUTIFUL I LOVE YOU TOO MUCH!" (Capitals are important), a comment like so many others that can be found under the Instagram photos of Lil Miquela. Perfect bangs, two side buns, smirk and freckle, she looks like any 19 year old girl, except she doesn't exist. And that's what pleases.

To add more substance to them, these virtual influencers have a story of their own, written by their creators. "We will seek to create a past and it is from this past that we will develop the personality of the avatar", explains Felix Renout who "gave life" in March 2021 to Yasmine Varma, the first French virtual influencer. “We noticed that the personality is often established according to everything that it has gone through, so we take inspiration from that to create it, we also use a little psychology to have something realistic, and we also go think about what will happen in the future ”.

FN Meka, the bling-bling American virtual influencer with green hair and green eyes, told me by email that he "loves rapping, going for walks on the beach and collecting rare and expensive objects like cars, jewelry, games ... ".

IYanda also explains to me what makes her robot soul vibrate: “fashion, dressing up, doing photoshoots with my sister… It's work, but I always enjoy doing it and when I'm not work, I like to relax by practicing yoga ”. Yes, yes, we are still talking about avatars. Who have tastes, hobbies, passions, preferences ... But also convictions: Miquela Sousa, alias Lil Miquela, supports the Black Lives Matter movement , raises awareness of global warming, declares himself part of the LGBT + community, is against the sexism, police violence, and racism.

Even if generally, the causes defended by these avatars are also defended by their creators, one cannot help but think of the instrumentalization of certain fights.

And by seeking realism at all costs, authenticity is lacking. Thus, a vlog video was released in 2019 on the social networks of Lil Miquela who told in detail, in front of the camera, of having been sexually assaulted by a VTC driver. We can imagine the outcry.

By clumsily trying to raise awareness about sexual violence, Brud Inc., the company behind the virtual influencer, has been singled out.

Creating a universe in which they can find themselves is one way to make them more human and more appreciated by the public. Because an avatar that doesn't have a personality doesn't attract the curious.

These virtual influencers also have origins : Yasmine Varma is Franco-Emirati, Lil Miquela, of Brazilian and Spanish origin, iYanda is South African. “Born” in March 2021, the latter is the virtual double of a true South African influencer, model and TV presenter Ayanda Thabethe. “We are constantly developing iYanda.

While she was created to look like me, she still has her own personality, characteristics and honestly, she tells her own story ”, testifies the model. Same brown hair, same black skin, same confident look. With the difference that iYanda walks with lionesses. She has a sense of the spectacle. Like a human, but “always more”.

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Credit: The Avatar Company

The aim of Ayanda, who herself already has over 1.8 million followers on Instagram, is also to explore the possibilities of the virtual world . “I think it is important to look at the possibilities of artificial intelligence, what it has in store for the future and especially for my continent, Africa.

I am very happy to be the first African to create an avatar, which looks like an African like me, made by Africans and who will be able to tell African stories, ”adds the young woman. Through iYanda, she hopes to be able to inspire and offer new content.

A story of technology

But how are these digital influencers created? Behind all these designs, there are companies, companies and agencies that are eye-catching with their technology. Factory New with FN Meka, The Avatar Company with iYanda, Crypton Future Media with Hatsune Miku, Havah Studio with Yasmine Varma , all these companies have developed these avatars using different technologies. FN Meka, Lil Miquela or iYanda were entirely modeled by computer.

Felix Renout used a real mannequin and then modeled a face and harmonized it with the body using Reality Labs, an artificial intelligence software from Facebook. “ We were inspired by the research work of a cosmetic surgeon who established beauty codes. We imported our work into modeling software and from that base we developed a face, ”says Felix Renout. Taking just one of these photos takes her three-person team between five and six hours.

Advantage: having only the face to be made is a way to better control the light in the photo, but also to have a real piece of clothing from a partner brand directly worn by the model, instead of recreating it as a synthetic image.

These virtual influencers need to catch the eye with their semblance of reality and be virtual enough not to scare . We therefore notice the head of Yasmine Varma straight out of a video game mounted on a real human body. Because the goal of these avatars is not necessarily to appear real, but just to offer a limitless universe. This can sometimes be confusing. “I thought it was a normal girl who took a picture of herself and who, each time, inscribed on her real head, her face modeled in 3D. I thought it was just a real person who didn't want to show her face, ”says Chloë, 22, a styling student, referring to Lil Miquela.

There is something to get lost in when you see that the influencer sometimes poses with real people, or wears clothes that exist in reality.

A story of money

Make no mistake, the world of influencers whether virtual or real is all about profit and money .

I was also offered to pay 200 euros for the honor of asking about six questions by email to Nobody Sausage, TikTok's pink knacki.

Proof that this world of virtual influencers is a very lucrative business, paying well enough for those who design and control them. Between collaborations with food brands, clothing, makeup, phones, cars, music production, media coverage, everything is done to highlight the influencer and sell the products or concept . Lil Miquela is going to tell us that she loves driving her electric MINI. Well…

Being a virtual influencer is also a big advantage not only for the company that manages it, but also for brands: “They have more control over the image by calling on virtual influencers. With a classic influencer, we can be confronted with scandals which can degrade the brand image of the company ”, explains Felix Renout. And then, having your clothes worn by a virtual influencer is innovative. It shows that we are in tune with the times and that we follow new trends on social networks.

Another advantage for agencies, a virtual influencer is also a way of reducing costs , between transport, hotels, the team of makeup artists, photographers, which sometimes have to be paid. For Lebo Kambule, co-founder of The Avatar Company (creator of iYanda), it is also a way of showing the extent of a company's capabilities in design, modeling, or photography ...

Why follow a virtual influencer?

So what's the point of following these fake “lab-made” influencers? For the more skeptical, ask yourself a question: what is the difference between following real people like Nabilla on social networks and virtual people like Lil Miquela?We don't know either, their existence comes down to social networks for us, they are famous thanks to these networks, have their lives followed by millions of people… Ok, Nabilla is a real person, but how much of a “character” is she in front of the camera? Lil Miquela has the advantage of being intriguing.

We have the impression of knowing her and being her friend. She takes lots of pictures where she sticks her tongue out, posts videos where she dances and sings, comments on emojis all the time… Like a real young woman of 19 years old. The only thing that differs is his slick video game character face.

“On social networks, we realized that there wasn't a lot of innovation, especially in France,” says Felix Renout. There was a lot of repetition, with classic influencers often doing the same promotional messages. We wanted to inspire and create differently on Instagram so that people discover something new, that their experience is a little different ”. Plus, they're beautiful, they're cool, they're funny, they're cute. Perfect versions of ourselves in fact (and in fake).

They can be, do, offer whatever they want, at will and endlessly. IYanda with his lions, Lil Miquela and FN Meka who sing… Result, Lil Miquela found himself in 2018 in the top 25 of the most influential personalities of the Internet and in 2019, according to the TechCrunch site , Brud Inc., the company who is developing the virtual influencer, was worth more than $ 125 million.

“It really gives the impression that we are developing a virtual parallel world. This is not new, but I have the impression that we have more and more tools to make this world a reality or to give the illusion that it is happening. It becomes more and more realistic, but in the virtual ”, analyzes Chloë.

The young woman studies these phenomena extensively through the field of fashion with, for example, catwalks and the sale of virtual clothes. Has the real world gotten out of date and boring? This is also how Felix Renout justifies the creation of Yasmine Varma: "users were tired of this repetitive content so we wanted to design something that was completely different, original".

Could they replace real influencers? After all, in 2018, black virtual model Shudu Gram was cast as Rihanna's brand of Fenty. Many users have cried foul, wondering why the brand had not chosen a real model. By choosing a virtual mannequin, some consider it to be stealing the place of a very real mannequin, who could do the job as well, even better.

So, tomorrow, will we take the advice of personalities who don't exist? It is already difficult to know if our crush on social networks is not a copycat, should we expect to no longer make the difference soon for our insta followings? Lebo Kambule assures in any case that “we are at the dawn of something normal in the future.

All human beings should have a digital version of themselves who can live in alternate worlds ”. Apparently, real life doesn't seem to be enough anymore.Share

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