[Journalism Internship] K-pop idols beware, virtual humans are coming for your jobs

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The line separating reality from the virtual world is blurring, especially in the K-pop industry with technologies advancing to the extent that human-like virtual artists are now collaborating with real artists.

With elaborate graphics, game engines and artificial intelligence (AI) technology, virtual artists are designed to behave like humans with perfect appearances. They can also communicate with the audience just like real artists.

Virtual artists refer to virtual beings that do not exist in reality but are created by digital technology.

“Unlike real artists, virtual artists do not age and change over time, cannot take drugs or cause scandals, and [the creators]can control their actions and words,” said Professor Kenneth Kim from the Cultural Contents Department of Hanyang University, explaining the reason why more and more entertainment agencies are introducing virtual performers.

The girl group aespa and their avatars called ae-aespa that exist in a virtual space called FLAT [SM ENTERTAINMENT]

K-pop girl group aespa under SM Entertainment debuted on November 17, 2020. The label, one of Korea’s biggest, had been planning the group’s debut since 2015. Each of the four members of aespa has an avatar virtual of themselves called æ -aespa that exists in the virtual world, FLAT.

æ-aespa projects each member’s data into FLAT.

“The convergence of the virtual world and the real world is advanced enough that the next area to develop is virtual artists who augment the sense of reality,” said Woo Tak, assistant professor in the Department of Digital Art and Design at Kyung Hee University.

Data for æ-aespa forms a personality and appearance similar to the members of aespa that are used for them [the avatars]to think and behave like real human beings.

Boy group Superkind, which debuted in June, has become the first K-pop boy group to include a virtual human artist among its members. Virtual human Saejin stands side by side with five other human members and involves himself in all events and performances in the real and virtual world.

“With advances in 3D graphics technology and game engines, the technology for creating 3D objects in the shape of humans has become very precise and cost effective. In the case of virtual artists, there is a small risk of exhaustion or scandals, so from the perspective of entertainment companies, there are many factors to invest in,” said Assistant Professor Lee Jung-yeop of the Department of Korean Culture and Content at Soonchunhyang University.

These virtual human artists are loved by fans as well as real artists.

Virtual human influencer Han YuA surprised audiences with her super-realistic looks when she debuted in July. She has her own Instagram account and has posted her profile which includes her date of birth, blood type and even her MBTI type. She signed with YG KPlus in February and debuted as a K-pop singer in May. His fandom has expanded globally and in the past month, so much so that members of his fan club even bought a billboard advertisement at the Lotte department store in Jamsil, southern Seoul. to congratulate her on her birthday.

Professor Lee of Soonchunhyang University says it’s important for creators of virtual human artists to include additional contextual information about what makes them truly human, instead of just focusing on visual or auditory aspects in order to to make virtual beings so attractive. as possible.

Kim from Hanyang University agrees and adds, “For virtual human artists to be successful, audiences need to enjoy their content and interact with them without difficulty.

On August 1, Eternity member Zae-in, which is an 11-member girl group comprised entirely of virtual humans, appeared on a live news broadcast on YTN for an interview. Eternity debuted in March last year under Pulse9.

Using deep learning technology that simultaneously synthesizes her face with artificial intelligence (AI) as her face moved, she could smoothly answer interview questions about herself posed by the reporter. for 10 minutes and perform a choreography.

“It’s so surprising to see a virtual human appear on a live broadcast, talking and dancing. It was hard to believe that this woman was a virtual human,” said Kim Ha-young, a college student who watched the show. interview with Zae-In.

In April, Zae-in also appeared in the Korean web drama “Hello Share,” becoming the first-ever virtual human to have an official role in a drama series.

“I think the effort to create virtual artists in a virtual space is part of the quest for ‘human beings’ itself,” Professor Lee said. “All the arts created by mankind, such as paintings, sculptures, plays, dances, films and games, are primarily about humans and mimic human behavior. In the case of virtual artists, it there is a low risk of getting tired or having scandals, so from the point of view of the entertainment company, there are reasonable factors that are worth investing in their own way.

BY CHAEYOON JUNG, SOYEON AHN, MINYOUNG JUNG, SEOHUI LEE [[email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]]

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