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The Life of Fi

Virtual influencers and artists have captured our imagination for years. Animated characters, sometimes even AI generated, that sing songs, dance and sometimes even perform on stage. A well-known example is the Japanese Hatsune Miku or the American Lil Miquela, who has even made it to Coachella. The team behind Open Culture Tech consists of makers who already have a lot of experience in building avatars and looking for responsible applications of this emerging technology. Building virtual characters involves a lot of technology, but also raises many ethical questions.



Thunderboom Records and Reblika are working in Open Culture Tech on the development of the Avatar tool. During the OATS live show, an initial experiment was conducted with projecting an avatar that copied the lead singer's movements in real-time, and more shows will be testing similar technology in the coming months. But prior to Open Culture Tech, Thunderboom Records and Reblika already built a virtual artist called Fi.


Fi, the fluid artist

Fi is a virtual artist who comes to life on Instagram and Soundcloud. The appearance, life story and music were partly generated with AI and developed by a diverse team of designers. Fi was founded on the idea that the vast majority of existing virtual artists and influencers have little added value - other than serving as a marketing tool for major brands. Most virtual characters also promote a problematic beauty ideal and are stereotypical. This is enhanced by the functionalities of free 3D avatar creator tools such as DAZ Studio or Magic AI avatar apps like Lensa.

 

The default 3D bodies in DAZ Studio are female bodies with thin waists and large breasts and buttocks. Free users can choose from different types of seductive facial expressions, poses & outfits and even customize the genitals. The standard male body, on the other hand, is muscular, looks tough and has no penis. These sexist stereotypes are also reflected in mobile apps such as Lensa that generate avatars from portrait photos. It was almost impossible for a journalist at the MIT Technology Review not to generate sexist avatars.



In response to this status quo, Thunderboom Records and Reblika have attempted to create a virtual artist that goes beyond these stereotypes and makes innovative use of the possibilities of avatar technology. The concept behind Fi is that Fi can be anyone and doesn't have to conform to one type of appearance. Fi is virtual and therefore fluid. As a virtual character, Fi could take different forms, combine different genres and go beyond stereotypes. In addition, it was important that Fi did not become a virtual artist who would replace human artists. Fi must above all work together and help human artists move forward.


DIY

The concept of Fi has been translated into a story about a fictional character who was born as a star in the universe and came to earth to become an artist. This star does not want to adopt a fixed appearance. Fi therefore chooses a different appearance every 3 months that combines characteristics of inspiring artists. The starting point was an AI-driven mix between Prince and Jin from BTS. After that, Fi became a mix between Madonna and Dua Lipa. 


Various techniques are used to create online content for virtual influencers, such as Fi and Lil Miquela. The first step is to take photos of a human body double (actor) to use as base material. The photo is then recreated in 3D and merged with the original into one final image in Photoshop. To ensure that Fi's story was not appropriated by Thunderboom Records or Reblika, the body double became the lead for the story. On the day of the photo shoot, he or she could decide what happened to Fi.



Sustainability

But unfortunately Fi was not sustainable. Regularly creating, posting and maintaining Fi's online content took up so much work that most of the time was spent managing a social media account, rather than creating an interesting story. The added value for human musicians was also limited because the production was too time-intensive and therefore too expensive. The enormous potential of avatars has already been proven by great artists such as Gorillaz or Travis Scott. But it remains a challenge to create avatars that complement emerging artists.



For this reason, Fi no longer publishes online content and Thunderboom Records is working with Reblika on the Open Culture Tech avatar tool with which every Dutch artist can easily create avatar content themselves and investigate the potential. The most important lesson we learned from Fi is that the avatars themselves are not the core, but that it is always about the musician who works with the avatars. In the Fi project, too much time and effort was invested in the virtual character, leaving too little for the human musician.

 

We are currently organizing several live performances with emerging artists to explore the possibilities and added value of avatar technology. An example is Smitty, an Amsterdam rapper who constantly talks to other versions of himself in his music. We will explore how we can use projected avatars of his younger and older selves as projections on stage to emphasize this story. What if he could literally talk to another version of himself?

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