In 2019 a Virtual Being won an Emmy Award, now at the all-digital CES 2021, LG introduced its very own virtual influencer, Reah Keem. Will Reah Keem and other virtual beings ever make it to Hollywood?
In 2019 Wolves in the Walls earned a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Media, an award that recognizes exceptional distinctiveness, inventiveness and relevance in expanding and redefining the conventions of interactive media experiences. Based on a story by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, the title tells the story of Lucy, one of the first Virtual Beings.
The award was is the culmination of a four-year journey for Fable that saw the studio move from its initial goal, Virtual Reality, to the exploration of the concept of Virtual Beings, characters that creators see as fully realized virtual beings who address you directly and interact with you as a visitor in their world.
Lucy, a three part story in VR that is available for free – and should be included in any VR library – was a passion project for so many, says Edward Saatchi, part of the founding team of Oculus Story Studio, in 2014, and currently the CEO of Fable. Lucy is not alone, as artificial people as Digital Deepak, based on the world-renowned writer and teacher Dr. Deepak Chopra, Shudu Gram, a computer generated social media personality and model, or Miquela Sousa, who has over 1 million followers on Instagram also “co-exist” in these bold new frontiers.
Digital Deepak, Lil Miquela and Shudu Gram
Dr. Chopra and the AI Foundation partnered to create an advanced, totally personalized Artificial Intelligence (AI) of Dr. Chopra called Digital Deepak. Joined by their missions to harness the power of human potential and create a better future, they have trained Digital Deepak to have personal, one-on-one conversations with people around the world. Follow the link to know more about the experience of interacting with Digital Deepak. The app is available for all iOS and Android devices.
Popular in Instagram, with over 2.9 million followers, Miquela Sousa, or Lil Miquela, is a character created by Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou. The project began in 2016 as an Instagram profile. The account details a fictional narrative which presents Miquela as a CGI character and model in conflict with other digital projects, while marketing a variety of brands, primarily in fashion. As a marketing tool, Lil Miquela has been featured in product endorsements for streetwear and luxury brands such as Calvin Klein and Prada.
Shudu Gram is a South African model with a Balmain campaign in 2018, a feature in Vogue Australia on changing the face of fashion, and a red-carpet appearance at the 2019 BAFTAs in a custom Swarovski gown. One important note: she is a computer-generated social media personality and model, a “Virtual Influencer” as they are called. The character is considered the world’s first digital supermodel. She was created in April 2017 by the fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson. It’s an interesting note, because, in the July 2020 edition of Vogue, model Sinead Bovell writes one article with a revealing title “I Am a Model and I Know That Artificial Intelligence Will Eventually Take My Job”.
Virtual models and influencers as Shudu Gram or Lil Miquela have one advantage over humans: they are always ready for any session and there is no need to repeat shootings. Also, they represent an advantage for the companies that hire their services: there is no specific regulation for virtual beings… yet.
Virtual beings as those in Blade Runner 2049
More and more studios are developing artificial people. Enhanced by AI, able to create two-way relationships over time, these virtual people are at the heart of the conversations around the Metaverse. They’re leading to questions about how they’ll influence the next generation of the VR world, and the ways they’ll go far beyond games to enhance creativity, create connections between people, host events, engender community, and more.
This month, Edward Saatchi, CEO of Fable, will tackle some of the issues related to virtual beings, in a live VR event, on January 27, under the title “The Metaverse — The Future of VR and Virtual Beings” organized by GamesBeat and Oculus/Facebook. The ultimate goal in developing virtual people, Saatchi says, is reaching the sophistication and self-awareness of virtual beings in movies like Her or Blade Runner 2049. “It’s going to take a lot of different disciplines,” he says, “seeing that there’s a future where we all live with virtual people as well as real people in our lives.”
Last year many people discovered the meaning of the world “virtual”, and they did it the hard way. Due to the pandemic everything moved into a digital world: meetings, classes, family reunions, celebrations and even graduations suddenly all became virtual and today, it feels almost normal. The year that just started is not going to be much different, meaning that for many of us family and friends will continue to be viewable only through a computer or smartphone screen. It’s as if everyone is virtual.
LG reveals its own virtual influencer at CES
Now virtual humans are becoming an example of how extended reality (XR), or the blending of the virtual and the real, are entering our daily digital lives. As the next evolutionary step forward from purely voice recognition-based AI systems, virtual humans bring a more “personal” element to human-AI interactions. As a company rushing headfirst into the AI challenge, LG followed the trend and the company enlisted the help of its very own virtual influencer, Reah Keem, at CES 2021.
The company says that “at LG’s press event during the first all-digital CES 2021, Reah’s natural, nuanced presentation, distinctive personality and honest charm impressed audiences”. Again, a fictional narrative is built to present the character, and Reah introduces herself as a “an artist living in the beautiful, dynamic city of Seoul and making music and having real conversations with people.”
Digging deeper one discovers that Reah Keem started her Instagram account in May 2020 and already has 6,000 people following her. Last Summer, she released her very first song, Comino Drive, which is “about the beautiful, clear-blue beaches of Malta. It’s all based on my own imagination and videos and images, as sadly I had to cancel a planned tour with my friends due to the pandemic.”
One revealing note about Reah Keem’s origins is her assumption that she is looking for a voice. The virtual influencer says that “The voice you heard at the press conference is an evolution of my journey to a final destination. My voice will continue to evolve as I evolve, I’m looking for my own unique voice by exploring different sounds, listening to others and learning. I hope you’ll stay tuned while I discover my own voice, and my own identity.”
Are virtual actors going to Hollywood?
Reah Keem says she wants to expand her creative output beyond just music and hope to collaborate with forward-thinking and socially-conscious individuals and brands in the visual arts and the fashion world. In fact, many of these virtual beings aim to conquer new worlds… or their creators do. Lil Miquela and Shudu Gram are examples of digital creations that work for some of the most well-known names in fashion and they “want” more. Variety revealed in May 2020 that Creative Artists Agency signed Miquela in areas “including TV, film, and brand strategy and commercial endorsements, raising the prospect of a movie or show featuring the character”.
Maybe it is time to ask one important question: are virtual actors about to put Hollywood’s humans out of work? Steve Rose asks the question in one article published by The Guardian where he notes that “You could argue that virtual actors will never advance the arts or capture essential truths about humanity, but they don’t have to. They just have to fake it. And isn’t that what acting’s all about, anyway?”
It’s an interesting article to read, as the industry continues to have to deal with Covid-19 limitations, and companies like LG, forced to move to an all-virtual presentation of their products, as the classic CES show moved to al all-digital format this year, decide to invest in a virtual influencer, Reah Keem.