Do you remember the cyber singer Adam? In 1998, the first Korean cyber singer debuted. People were fascinated by his appearance, modeled after actor WonBin, and his backstory that he came from Eden to the human world to meet his beloved woman. About 20 years later, in 2020, a rookie called Adam as ‘senior’ debuted. The rookie is a virtual human who introduces herself as a ‘virtual influencer’ named ‘Oh Rozy.’ Let’s find out everything about virtual humans through Rozy and see if they can be new human beings.
Korea’s First Virtual Influencer, Rozy
In July 2021, the Shinhan Life TV commercial was broadcast. In the advertisement, a woman performs a cute dance that seems to be a thing in Tik Tok for 15 seconds. That woman is ‘Rozy,’ a virtual human. SIDUS Studio X produces Rozy as the first Korean virtual influencer at the age fixed 22 forever. Rozy, with a name implying a unique icon, is 171cm tall, and her MBTI is ENFP. Also, she is an MZ generation born in the 2000s and is interested in environmental issues. In August 2021, she opened a new Instagram account and uploaded photos of her daily life, interests, travel, fashion, and beauty. Before she revealed herself as a virtual human, her Instagram followers hit about 1 million within three months, and none of them realized that she was a virtual human. On December 30th, 2020, as soon as she exposed her identity, all of her followers were astonished.
She digs herself as the first local virtual influencer with 12 million Instagram followers. Her Shinhan commercials hit 10 million views, now she steps up in various fields, including singers. In February 2022, Rozy again made her debut in the entertainment industry as an actress by appearing cameo in the TVING original drama ‘Dr.Park’s Clinic.’ Also, on May 8, she appeared on the SBS radio program ‘Escape from 2 o’clock, Cultwoshow’ as a guest, introducing her as a virtual human constructed by 3D technology. People might doubt Rozy being a guest on a radio show since radio is based on voice. However cooperation with Naver Co. Ltd’s Clova AI voice synthesis technology, Rozy gained her voice. They created a voice suitable to the MZ generation’s sensibility and persona, allowing her to communicate freely with radio DJs on-air, without prerecord. On the show, Rozy said, “It’s my dream to invite my fans one day, sing my songs for them as a fan meeting,” and emphasizes her promotion beyond SNS to expansion. Like her ambitious goal, she was appointed as a goodwill ambassador for the 2030 Busan World Expo.
In addition, CEO Baek Seung-yeop, the creator of Rozy, often advocate the infinite potential of virtual influencer in many media. He donated the entire profit of Rozy’s single album in February 2022 to NGO Good Neighbors. Mr. Baek said, “As the first virtual human in Korea, Rozy is trying to establish herself as a being who spreads good influence based on advanced technology and content capabilities, rather than creating profitability but having social responsibility,” adding, “We will continue to expand contents to areas that were only possible in the human imagination, and promising continuous donations.”
All About Virtual Human!
Simply the ‘virtual human’ is another being in the digital world. The early model of virtual humans was computer graphics to model human shape and movement through body engineering analysis in the early 20c. Several models named ‘Boeing Man, First Man, Second Man, Cyber Man’ have been invented, which later became a virtual human studying 3D simulation.
SIDUS Studio X, production where created Rozy, is an affiliated company of contents enterprise LOCUS and is the best producer in the industry of visual effects such as advertisements, games, cinematography, and movies in Korea. They spent half of their 6-month 3D production process planning and designing Rozy’s facial image. In particular, they refer to various celebrities to create a gender-neutral and individual look that appeals to the MZ generation. Then, they began to create an image in the form of a photo and converted it into 3D. First, they put skin texture and planted hairs on the facial image with bodywork. This rendering process is required to convert 2D data into 3D pictures. Since virtual humans are 3D characters, unlike cartoons, producers created about 54 basic facial expressions. Moreover, they made more than 800 facial animations to express facial expressions more delicately, essential for human communication. And the dance movement in the Shinhan commercial uses digital double technology that applies graphics to human dance moves.
Numerous virtual humans have been produced internally and externally, indicating that production technology is already considerable worldwide. However, to become a virtual influencer that attracts huge attention like Rozy of Korea and Lil Miquela of the United States, technology that resembles humans is not enough. The production company of Rozy, SIDUS, intentionally planned to establish the personality and worldview beyond simple virtual ‘human’ but virtual ‘influencer’ by communicating with young generations on SNS. And that is the difference and critical factor of success in the virtual market.
Thinking about communication with the MZ generation, SIDUS set four themes, ‘Fashion, Travel, Environment, and Daily Life.’ Then, they produced photos and videos with stories according to the themes posted on Instagram. Although it has become impossible to travel abroad due to COVID-19, Rozy took advantage of being a virtual human. Because she can go anywhere and upload photos taken from all over the world. She maximized the benefit of going freely above the sky and even under the sea, providing vicarious satisfaction to people who want to travel abroad. Usually, it takes about two days to make one photograph with several artists. Through such efforts, virtual humans recognized as influencers have expanded their activities beyond SNS to fashion pictorials and TV shows. After the Shinhan Life commercials were released, Rozy received more than 70 collaboration proposals from various industries. Still, due to the limited production period, she can only handle one or two projects in a month.
At this point, many people would wonder why businesses are consuming virtual humans as advertising models. That’s because hiring virtual humans can give an image of innovation and pioneer. Therefore, many brands on fashion, mobility, eco-friendliness, and digital management send love calls to virtual influencers. In that context, Rozy’s Shinhan insurance commercials were evaluated as innovative by saying that they were differentiated from general humanistic advertising and can be seen as successful marketing that captivates consumers. It has impacted the field of advertising by renovating the old-fashioned image of insurance.
What Do You Think About Virtual Humans?
‘Uncanny Valley’ is a hypothesis related to a resemblance between objects and humans. If a non-human being resembles more like human increases likeability, but if it reaches a certain level, people provoke uncanny feelings, uneasiness, and revulsion in observers. It was identified by the robotic professor Masahiro Mori, Japan, in 1970. ‘Uncanny’ means doubt about whether an object is alive or it seems to be alive. This is because the higher the similarity of humanoids to humans, the more favorable they are, but at a certain level, the imperfection has emphasized, eventually making people feel ‘strange.’ Speaking of Rozy, some voices blame her for acting in the drama ‘Dr.Park’s Clinic,’ saying, “I was amazed by the technology from her previous video. But, I felt annoyed about her act of being a real human at this time, her expression was scary, and her eyes were empty.”
In contrast, if the object exceeds a certain level of similarity and it isn’t easy to distinguish its identity, the likability will rise again. As an example, before Rozy reveals her identity, the appearance was very similar to an actual human, some people even felt romantic feelings and sent her direct messages to ask her out. They couldn’t distinguish whether she was a virtual human, which caused a ridiculous situation. As of now, the outstanding technology allows exceeding the uncanny valley and amplified likability.
Nowadays, many Korean virtual humans, like Rozy, perform in various fields. As virtual humans are replaced in the human realm, caused media and public induce competitive composition between them and humans. In 2021, Rozy’s profit was doubled from when she shoot the first advertisement in 2020. And she is still making the same amount of profits compare to top-class celebrities. Also, there is a prospect of businesses spending additional marketing expenses to collaborate with virtual influencers, raising concerns about narrowing the field of humans to stand out. As of 2019, companies spent about 9 trillion won on marketing with influencers, but a prospect from Bloomberg in the United States predicts that it will increase to about 17.2 trillion won in 2022. However, it seems meaningless to distinguish ‘real human’ celebrities who meet the public with images created by drama or movie and ‘fake’ virtual humans who communicate with the power of modern sciences. Also, recently, many unexpected incidents have occurred after a company contracts with a model or actor, which damage the company’s reputation. The risk was too high to handle the past privacy problems before their debut. Whereas virtual humans have no privacy issues, welcomed in an industry that values integrity and genuine image, such as finance company. In conclusion, the production and management of virtual humans expand the content industry; we should accept them as a creation of new industries rather than replacing humans. Moreover, virtual humans have developed to another world by addressing humans' practical and physical limitations.
To what extent the realm of virtual human activity will expand? As culture spreads and technology develops, the virtual human industry is being accelerated. Humanity has stepped closer to the endless virtual world. It is time to create contents that deliver one’s individuality without any discrimination of age and gender, in the place of opportunity, the virtual world. From this point of view, isn’t virtual humans a channel that leads humanity to the virtual world?
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