Creating content online has been on the rise ever since the advent of the digital age. So, what exactly is a VTuber, and how do they fit in today’s age of content creation?
VTubers are a new breed of influencers taking online streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube by storm. These influencers substitute their presence by appearing as an avatar instead of showing themselves in their content.
In this article, we take a look at what VTubers are, how they became so popular so quickly, what their influence means in today’s age of digital media, and how you can become one yourself.
What Is a VTuber?
Before we get into how people become a VTuber, we must first find out what it exactly is. So what is a VTuber?
A VTuber (abbreviation for “virtual YouTuber”) is an online persona who entertains any given audience by using a virtual avatar. A combination of computer graphics and motion capture brings the virtual avatar to life, allowing it to interact with audiences.
VTubing, or the use of digital avatars in presenting one’s self to an audience, is a trend that originated in Japan in the mid-2010s. The trend flickered and waned in its beginning years but was eventually able to gain traction in the early months of 2020. Since then, the trend has become an international phenomenon featuring a bevy of virtual celebrities from different nationalities and even computer-generated AIs that can walk and talk just like a human.
Although the term “VTuber” makes it seem like these digital celebrities are only accessible through YouTube, people can tune into these personalities through other streaming platforms like Twitch, Bilibili, and Niconico.
How VTubing Works
VTubers avatars come to life with the help of a webcam and tracking software that captures the user’s motions and gestures. Once the motion has been recorded, the software then maps out how it would translate to a 3D or 2D model. Continuous development of free and premium programs allows this process to be more streamlined. There is also software that can help you track yourself using augmented reality, and some utilize your motion through your smartphone.
History of VTubers
In 2011, a Japanese YouTuber named Ami Yamato was the first to feature a 3D animated avatar in her vlogs. These videos are still up for viewing on her channel. This was the first time the digital world was exposed to the virtual avatar.
Roughly five years later came the emergence of a Japanese virtual idol and blogger by the name of Kizuna AI. She is still known to be one of the very first VTubers to gain international appeal due to the massive popularity of her videos compared to Yamato’s blogs.
Thanks to the influence garnered by Kizuna AI, the hype and demand around VTubers grew. Markets and businesses are now trying to ride the synthetic wave brought upon by VTubers who grew in popularity after Kizuna. Eventually, even agencies that handle VTubers like HoloLive and Nijisanji grew as well since they cater to the growing demand of the digital creative space.
Where VTubers Can Be Found
VTubers or virtual YouTubers have exploded in popularity in recent years. Their presence, once only seen around Twitch and YouTube, has expanded into multiple other streaming sites. The idea was first seen in Japan in 2010. The trend was only able to establish itself as a recognized form of content creation in 2016 when Kizuna AI was able to finally push the presence of VTubers into mainstream online content. Ever since Kizuna’s influence over the sphere, the VTuber landscape only grew exponentially, with more and more faces appearing every month.
While the term seems to only refer to YouTube exclusively, it applies to anyone who uses a virtual avatar to stream with on various platforms, including Twitch. Though others may call the trend bizarre, it’s no different from other regular creators. The only gimmick is that you see an anime avatar as opposed to a real person streaming from their rooms.
How Can You Become a VTuber?
VTubers continue to capture the hearts and minds of many people across numerous platforms, all while keeping their identities a closely guarded secret. Often described by many as modern-day unicorns, these lovable personalities have actual people behind the avatar that allows the character to have a voice, a heart, and a life.
VTubers utilized the same motion capture technology that can be seen in many CGI-heavy films. This technology helps the VTuber capture and track the motions, shapes, and various proportions they may choose to render in their videos or streams.
VTuber Tech Requirements
VTubers or VTubing, in general, might seem difficult and daunting at a glance but with the current advances in technology, the tools to get started are already accessible to the general public. Here is a brief overview of what you might need to kickstart your career in VTubing. Don’t about not having the best of the best when you’re getting started. You can always choose to upgrade as you grow.
- Webcam: Make sure you have a high-quality webcam. The one on your laptop will not suffice, unfortunately, since you will need a dedicated camera to track you while you’re streaming.
- Microphone: Acquire a good microphone. An ideal one would be something that allows you to minimize the noise coming in from your surroundings.
- Motion Capturing Device: Have a motion capturing device at the ready. This can be anything from your smartphone or your setup at home. Just always be sure to be ready with something that will help you track your gestures.
- Avatar: Last but certainly not least, you will need your very own avatar. There are a few ways for you to get your character. If you’re not on the artsy side, you can commission an artist to help figure out a design that you want. Otherwise, if you prefer designing everything from scratch, then by all means, go for it.
We have established the VTubers are not AI themselves. They have people mapping out and creating their designs. These people control their visual avatars through a sequence of motion capturing and other detectors that can help render their motions and map them through the characters.
Ever since the integration of anime in the west, people have become more interested to know about the art style and how flexible it can be. This applies to the design and art form that promulgates in the VTuber community as well. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you if you’re ever interested in trying out things you can do as a VTuber.
Design Your Avatar
The very first thing you have to complete before you can start VTubing would be your avatar. Of course, this method is rather intuitive. You can design a character yourself or you can commission an artist to help you get your vision if you’re not artsy enough.
Once you have a general idea of what you want your avatar to look like, it’s time to code your character to become a functioning model. For beginners, this can be quite a daunting task which can take some time and effort if you prefer doing everything by yourself. Of course, beginners also have the option of making a model with more user-friendly software but do take note that the quality of your avatars would be much lower. The models are not disgustingly bad, merely simple and not complex enough.
Another option beginners might have is getting an artist to make the model they would like to pilot. Take note that when doing this, you’re not just paying the artist for the design, but you will also be paying them for the skills they will need to make sure that your VTuber model is of the best quality and is ready to go.
Bring Your Model to Life with Motion Capture
Now that you have a model to work with, it’s time to bring it to life with the help of motion capture. In its essence, motion capture, or mocap for short, is a camera-based function that can record and render human movement.
With the help of this feature, the avatar will be able to move in sync with the pilot. Special software packages might need to be installed on your setup to fully utilize this feature.
Some common software many VTubers use are FaceRig, Wakaru, VTuber Studio, and Luppet, among many others available for free in the market. Take the time to see how it feels to pilot your model with any of these and figure out which one works best for you.
Make sure to do your homework and look up tutorials on how to get started when dealing with mocap if you are a novice. The better you understand how to work with yourself and your program, the better your content will be. Higher quality content, of course, translates into more views and more views mean more subscribers.
You’re essentially done with 90% of the work once you have a base avatar and after you’ve mapped out your model’s actions. Everything after these would be relevant to whether or not you may choose to stream without an avatar in the future.
Setup a High-Spec PC
Whether you’re a regular streamer or a VTuber, you’ll need a reliable rig when you start making content and as you stream. This is to ensure that you will be able to work with optimal equipment as well as allow your viewers a much smoother viewing experience.
Have a Motion-Tracking Webcam
Becoming a VTuber means that you’ll need to be able to capture and render your face in real-time. To help with this, you will need a dedicated camera that enables motion tracking. Many VTubers often use a DSLR to do the job, but a simple webcam with a respectable feed will be sufficient to get you started.
Install Your Microphone
The models the VTubers typically design automatically move their mouths when they detect sound coming into the microphone. This is known as lip-syncing. You don’t have to worry too much about what you might or might not need for this part. The important thing is to capture your voice loud and clear. A good microphone can help you reduce noise and allow you to experiment with how you’ll operate your voice with your avatar. This gives VTubers more options to captivate audiences as well.
Get a Greenscreen
VTubers, and many other content creators for that matter, enjoy having a green screen in the background. This allows them to manipulate their surrounding in post-production to make it seem as if everything is happening inside an empty environment. Taking the time and money to invest in a green screen will help any creator boost the quality of their videos.
Set Up Your Channel
When it comes to setting up your platform, YouTube is a prime choice for having a good place to grow, but there are also other notable choices like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitch. Of course, that doesn’t mean VTubers just have to choose one. They also have the choice of making an account for all of those platforms then setting up the main channel where other people can tune into them regularly.
Create Your Content
After all the grueling setup and designing, it’s finally time to make the videos themselves. Go wild, explore, and build a community. It’s finally time to be a VTuber.
Keep a Content Calendar
This can be considered somewhat of an extra step. Many VTubers do their best to adhere to a content calendar. A content calendar dictates what type of videos or streams will be released or done for each day, respectively. Having a consistent upload or streaming schedule helps boost the audience and allows VTubers to thrive in the algorithm.
Impact of VTubers on Content Creation
The landscape of content creation in 2020 is not at all what it was half a decade ago. There are hundreds and thousands of VTubers littered around every streaming platform you can think of. At first, VTubers were almost exclusively Japanese, but since the cultural zeitgeist, the community now has personalities hailing from every corner of the globe.
Vtubers as the Future of Content Creation
Many people view VTubing, and by proxy, VTubers, to be the next trend in content creation. This is partly because VTubers are not consigned by the restrictions of physical reality which is oddly timely amid the pandemic. Since VTubers don’t necessarily adhere to real-life restrictions, they then have more freedom to create things in augmented reality.
As people find themselves stuck indoors, VTubers are there to keep the populace occupied. They hosted various forms of entertainment, from playing games to starting conversations about current events. Unlike their human counterparts, VTubers aren’t grounded by physical reality. This allows them to constantly push the boundaries of content creation.
Catering to an International Market
What popularized the phenomenon of VTubers was the high-level fan interactions and collusion with various real-world aspects. Japan was not new to these types of idols ever since the advent of Vocaloid, but the same could not be said for the western part of the world.
Eventually and fortunately, the cultural zeitgeist was able to introduce anime to more people in the US and Europe. Riding the tide of this trend, VTuber agencies are now targeting these very same people. To this end, they continue to introduce new members of their group whom the people from the western hemisphere can relate to.
To expand their roster, HoloLive’s parent company publicly announced that they’re finally accepting applications for their second generation of VTubers. This second-generation catered mostly to their English-speaking audience. The auditions for these roles had very loose requirements. Anyone 18 and above who could speak conversational English and could commit to performing at least three times a week for a year was available to be screened.
The appeal to become a VTuber is not something people should underestimate. Mainly because these types of personalities are not bound by physical restrictions and real-life barriers. The platform has distinct advantages to offer streamers that treasure their privacy. It is also advantageous for people who would rather be free from the viewer’s expectation of how they should look like. Sometimes, it’s just easier to make up an avatar than learn to put on make-up, you know?
The continuous increase in popularity of the VTubing platform has now garnered international attention. The phenomenon is planting its roots upon western creators and many are now trying to mimic the art form to ride the trend.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a VTuber
The unique thing about VTubing compared to regular streaming is that your motion projects into a digital avatar. Now, VTubing and the tools to do it are more accessible than ever before.
Here are some advantages and disadvantages to think about before beginning the journey to becoming a VTuber.
- Almost an infinite number of ways to express your creativity online.
- An overall fun project that will allow you to learn more about business and management.
- Privacy and the right to protect your identity.
- Freedom to choose or design your very own avatar.
- Becoming a member of an inclusive community of streamers who might be conscious of their body image.
- Ability to forge or reincarnate into other characters for more avenues of expression and depth of character.
- Having a Twitter account is a must to better connect with your audience.
- Getting an artist to design your avatar will set you back from 50 to hundreds of dollars. The cost depends on the design you want to achieve and the artist’s rates.
- Lots of drama between creators, so brush up on tactics to dissociate and just mind your business.
- Apart from models and commissions, VTuber creation software and other miscellaneous assets may be expensive, especially for novice VTubers.
Despite these comparisons, the amount of work that goes into every video is the same. The only difference is that VTubers don’t show their faces and keep their identities anonymous.
People may want to get into VTubing for the same reasons people become regular online creators. These reasons may be simply wanting to make content or supporting a cause that makes a difference.
As it is with regular content creation and streaming, VTubing is entirely upon the discretion of a VTuber. These personalities sometimes stick to their usual models. Others sometimes want to go for a different iteration of their models to allow for more avenues of expression.
Notable VTubers and VTuber Groups
Kizuna AI is arguably the very first VTuber to ever have success on any streaming platform. She is a Japanese VTuber who debuted in November of 2016. She is also credited for coining the phrase “VTuber.” Kizuna pushed the boundaries of VTubing ever since her breakout. To this day, she is hailed as one of the most successful content creators of her genre.
The niche of VTubers discovered by Kizuna AI was able to become popular in a short period. The appeal and popularity of this unusual trend can be attributed to the oversaturation of regular webcam streamers and creators at the time. Additionally, many people were fascinated by how unexpectedly relatable the supercomputer AI can be, which only added to her marketability.
Youna Kang, better known for her online personas (The Technician and Code Miko), was able to become an influential personality on Twitch. Her streams often include interviews and chats with other internet personalities on the platform. To this day, she continues to stream as someone who pushes the envelope with regard to online interactivity with VTuber tech.
Code Miko’s innovative ideas and transformative approach to streaming continue to reward her channel. Many of her clips even found their way to Reddit. From there, more and more people began to tune into her. When bigger streamers came upon her clips, she would then invite them to her channel for a chat. This is the virtuous cycle that catapulted Code Miko’s name into Twitch stardom.
One of the very first agencies to grab hold of the rising trend is HoloLive. HoloLive is a Japanese talent agency dedicated to housing and nurturing budding VTubers operating as a subsidiary of Cover Corp. This start-up group was founded by Motoaki “Yagoo” Tanigo who is often hailed as the Father of VTubers.
HoloLive started covering more online ground after the debut of one of their prized VTubers, Tokino Sora. Soon enough, one VTuber turned to two and two turned to four. By the end of 2019, there were dozens upon dozens of creators operating under their banner.
Another notable agency that fosters budding VTubers would be a group by the name of NIJISANJI. This agency also takes budding VTubers under their wing and nurtures them. By doing this, VTubers are more likely to garner a solid fanbase across various platforms.
Formerly known as Ichikara Inc. until May of 2021, NIJISANJI operates as an arm of ANYCOLOR Inc. They were also known as one of the first groups to differentiate their members from already existing VTubers. This shift was pivotal for NIJISANJI because this format popularized the VTuber flow common in many videos today.
How Much Does It Cost to Be a VTuber?
You don’t need to shell out money if you want to become a VTuber. If you have a reliable device as well as software to help you create your avatar, you’re all set. Don’t be afraid to try out different software to figure out which one works best for you.
How Do VTubers Make Money?
The bulk of the revenue generated by VTubers comes from advertisements that they showcase on their channels. Some of their income also comes from hosting Super Chats or collaborating with either fellow VTubers or companies and brands.
Are All VTubers Anime Characters?
Not necessarily. It is true that the VTubers on the rise feature characters that are similar in design to anime. But, other VTubers are much more realistic like AI Angel among others.
Granted, most avatar-creation software is based on anime designs. Hence, it’s not hard to imagine why people would think that VTubers only appear as anime characters.
Start Becoming a VTuber Today!
Since the advent of the digital age, VTubers have been at the forefront, pushing the boundaries of video marketing. These personalities are becoming celebrities garnering a massive following and generating revenue that rivals most mainstream stars.
Will they truly be the future of content creation? Only time will have the answer. For now, VTubing is a special digital marketing trend that entices most brands in the world.
One thing is for sure. The VTuber trend solidifies the fact that we do indeed live in a digital age — an age where digital avatars can gain fame and fortune, all while remaining anonymous.