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“In ten years, who’ll know what's virtual and what’s real? What matters will be the quality of the content”, an interview with Hirokuni Genie Miyaji, creator of Japan’s first male influencer

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Meet Liam. A full-time music producer and basketball fan, he attracts thousands of Japanese followers to his Instagram page, feeding them daily snapshots of his glossy life. The thing is: Liam doesn’t exist. Hirokuni, Founder at 1Sec, the agency behind Liam tells us more about Japan’s first male influencer.

Joachim Renaudin: Can you tell us a little bit about 1Sec, your agency and how you came up with the idea of creating Liam Nikuro ?

Hirokuni: Our agency, 1sec is a virtual human production company. We are mainly known for having created Liam Nikuro, the 1st male virtual human in Japan. Our intention was to create Liam as a sample, like a demo to showcase what we can do for corporates. Among the general public and brands, people are not familiar with this concept. Our biggest goal is not to try to get Liam to be big, but to raise awareness and get brands excited to work with us on their own virtual humans.

JR: What about Liam, who is he ?

Hirokuni: Liam is a young music producer who spends his time between Tokyo & Los Angeles. On Instagram he mostly talks about his daily life and posts pictures of him wearing fashion brands. He is in the midst of producing a new song now. He has been quite busy for the past weeks, not too activeon Instagram. His focus is on music right now.

Liam now has 15k followers. He is doing pretty good worldwide, not only in Japan. Virtual humans have no frontiers, as they can easily reach out to the whole world.

Beyond collaborations with brands, we have also created another virtual human, actually a virtual celebrity. His name is Lewis, he is based on a real Japanese celebrity Mizushima Hiro, an actor and model. We made a virtual human out of him, and now we are telling the story of its virtual alter ego on Instagram.

We’re taking virtual influence to a new dimension.

JR: Wow, that’s fascinating, could you explain the creation process and what expertise is required to create a virtual human?

Hirokuni: First, we have a creative production team that designs the persona, defining his profile, his personality traits, the type of content that he’ll share. For a brand, we obviously ask the client what type of persona they want, what values it should embody, and then we come up with a story.

Once this is decided, enters the computer-generated image (CGI) team, which gives the virtual human an appearance. For Liam Nikuro, we had a survey panel on young women, asking them for their favorite personalities. Liam is actually a combination of dozens of faces including Justin Bieber or the k-pop group BTS! This computer generated image ultimately becomes Liam’s face.

Finally, we need an instagram creative team to release that CGI into the world, and share content to its followers.

JR: How do you feel the market is reacting to virtual humans trends ?

Hirokuni: What we want to do at 1sec is to create a trend, not necessarily follow the market. Today, I think we are still way ahead of the market, we are targeting mostly the fashion industry, as they are more mature and innovative. I’m not afraid of being too early. I’m a serial entrepreneur, I have introduced new ideas, created new concepts and created trends before. I believe brands are always ready for innovation and trying something new. Today, brands, newspapers, and the general public are very curious about virtual humans, how a virtual human production company works, we have a lot of interview requests. Yet, A key challenge will be to remain relevant and create virtual humans for brands that are interesting on the long term, and therefore valuable from the brand’s standpoint.

JR: What will Liam be in 10 years ?

Hirokuni: Ten years is a very long time horizon. In two years time, things will already be really different. Right now, what we do is just images or short video clips on instagram, but soon, we’ll enable Liam to communicate via videos, move, in real time. Our next goal is for Liam to incorporate AI, have him be able to have conversations with real people. Right now, his appearance is virtual, but we want to build his personality more deeply, going beyond a simple storyline.

In ten years from now I see holograms everywhere. Liam is a music producer, if he becomes famous he’ll be performing in concerts all over the world, as a hologram. Today we already have virtual pop-stars like Hatsune Miku, that fill entire concert venues, in Japan, but also in Europe.

It’s right around the corner. When artificial intelligence is mature, the fact that such a persona or instagram account is «virtual »  won’t even matter anymore, the line between fictional and reality will become increasingly blurred. Who’ll know what's virtual and what’s real?

What matters will be the quality of the content. Content is King as the saying goes.

JR: Can the Virtual influence market, currently a niche, become mainstream and overtake the influence market?

Hirokuni: I don’t think it’s one or either. One is not going to take over the other. Virtual influence today can obviously create more buzz, but influencers surely are here to stay. We do have an influence business today, we want to have a platform where anyone can use influence; whether virtual or human. Today, virtual influence is a niche market for high-end brands, but in the future I believe mass market brands, Uniqlo, H&M will also rely on virtual humans. If we think long-term, there are many ways in which a virtual human can be used in the fashion industry. I believe sales assistants powered by AI will emerge, and with this, the necessity to give them a personality, a feeling, a natural touch in order to bond with the customer will become important.

You know, today, we already have robots in SoftBank shops in Japan, but they are quite stupid. If they want to ever become mainstream and create great retail experience, they’ll need more than just arms & powerful AI.

JR: Riccardo Tisci, creative director of Burberry, said that Japan is 20 years ahead of the West when it comes to virtual media & fashion. We see Virtual youtubers that have millions of views here, and some of them, like Hatsune Miku, even fill stadiums in the West. Do you think Japan has an easier adoption of virtual humans?

Hirokuni: Japan is a very special country, with a specific culture. I strongly believe Japanese people will be able to adapt to AI and robots much more easily than other countries, because it is part of our cultural references. Whether it’s in anime Manga, in video games, or virtual youtubers as you mentioned, we are used to seeing robots. Most Japanese people aren’t scared of robots or worried about AI, but rather see them as great technologies to solve our problems.

Yet, on the topic of AI, Japan is lagging behind. The United States and China are very much ahead. For our purpose, computer generated images, it’s not an issue as today the technology is very accessible on the market; almost anyone can make an image of a virtual human. Making a moving video of a virtual human is another level. A lot of the added value and differentiation that we want to bring resides not only at the editorial and content level, but at the technical level. And for this part, unfortunately Japan is not paving the way.

Maybe 1 sec and Liam will change the game?