270 billion market! On the eve of the virtual human “baby boom”, who is running away?

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Text / Gao Xuyang

Source/Snow Leopard Finance and Economics (ID: xuebaocaijingshe)

According to estimates, an average virtual person is “born” every day in the world. They bring goods on Douyin, perform at station B, wear clothes in Xiaohongshu, and even work in big Internet factories. They have a well-crafted appearance, are always energetic, and will never “collapse.”

With the emergence of the metaverse concept, more and more companies have been involved in the wave of virtual humans. In addition to the top Internet companies such as BAT, which have invested heavily in the layout, there are also content production companies such as Digital Domain, tool companies related to modeling, rendering, and motion capture, as well as IP planning companies such as Reading, and players in different links in the industry chain. All admission.

In more and more widespread applications, virtual humans form two branches. In the research report, CITIC Securities divides virtual people into service-type and identity-type virtual digital people. Among them, service-type digital people emphasize functionality, while identity-type digital people are mainly used for entertainment and social interaction, including virtual IPs, virtual idols, etc.

The virtual human industry started from nothing and may grow into an attractive market of hundreds of billions in the future, but it is easy to seize the opportunity, but it is difficult to break out of the darkness before dawn. When the virtual human walks out of the second dimension and takes up the pressure of the real world, can the pioneers who bet on them wait until the moment of profit?

The birth of a virtual person

Under the high temperature of more than 30 degrees in Beijing, actor Xiao Liu was lying on the ground wearing an airtight green suit with a tight-fitting motion capture suit inside, capturing his motion data and transmitting it to a computer not far away. The surrounding cameras are responsible for taking pictures of his surroundings. Not far away, there are two Jinbei trucks pulling the shooting equipment to the scene.

This is the shooting site of a virtual content commercial of the brand marketing company Nine Turns Prism. The founder Guo Xuechun stared at the monitor, constantly confirming the shot with the on-site director.

Through post-production, the green man on the screen will be replaced with the corresponding virtual man.

A person in charge of post-production special effects is also on the shooting site. If post-production is difficult, he needs to discuss with the on-site director at any time to change the shooting method. The work of the field reporter has also become more complicated. In the past, the only data he needed to record was the field number and mirror number of the scene. Now, the data corresponding to the scene has become at least three groups – mirror number, hand capture data and motion capture data.

Sometimes, in order to make the virtual person look more real, the nine-turn prism will also use the XR studio to shoot. The XR studio is surrounded by screens and on the ceiling to simulate the environment the virtual human is in. When the volcano erupts, the red light on the screen will naturally reflect on the actors, and it is no longer necessary for the director to specifically instruct the lighting master to switch the explosion light effect.

The real price is expensive. The virtual human walks to the front of the stage, behind which is the real hard investment.

The price of the basic motion capture suit and supporting software on the actor alone is as high as 400,000 yuan, and the expensive one is millions of yuan. The computer used for post-rendering, the price of only one graphics card is tens of thousands. The price of renting an XR studio starts from 150,000 yuan for 8 hours a day. If you need to rent the equipment for an extra day, the rent will be at most half price. In contrast, a 400-square-meter ordinary studio costs only 5,000 yuan a day.

The pre-shooting of the nine-turn prism commercial took 3 days, working from 4 am to 10 pm every day, and this was just the beginning.

There are two main steps in the later work. The first step is to make the virtual human who has completed the modeling move, and the movements and angles must be consistent with the green man. Technicians will revise and proofread each frame, with 24 frames per second, which can only be advanced for a maximum of 8 seconds per day, and fifteen or six people work continuously for more than a month to complete.

The moving virtual person needs to be put into the environment to replace the green person in the live shooting. This is the second step. This step needs to focus on the fusion of the virtual person and the environment, and the combination of light and shadow to make the virtual person appear more real in the environment. This link is subcontracted to the outsourcing company, and the cost per second is 5,000~7,000 yuan.

Zou Jie, the co-founder of Nine-Turn Prism, told Snow Leopard Finance and Economics that the commercial is expected to last 4 minutes. Taken together, the cost of post-production alone exceeds 10,000 yuan per second.

More expensive than explicit expenses are the trial and error costs brought about by the immaturity of the industry. Guo Xuechun told Snow Leopard Finance and Economics that the biggest challenge in transitioning from traditional advertising to virtual content is that no one can tell you what to do.

When Nine-Turn Prism first started to create virtual content, because the industry was in the exploratory stage, the equipment for creating a virtual person was not a complete set, but independent, and the company needed to try to find suitable equipment by itself. Even everyday computers and cameras need to be updated by trial and error because of the need to render and shoot XR images.

When shooting a mobile phone advertisement, Guo Xuechun encountered a situation where the virtual human’s hand disappeared from the screen as soon as it touched the mobile phone. Only then did he know that the set of motion capture gloves could not touch anything with electromagnetism.

Talent is also a problem. Guo Xuechun believes that to enter the virtual human industry, it takes at least half a year to learn, and experience in participating in projects is also required, but young people “may not be able to stay.”

one step ahead

The virtual human created by the Nine-Turn Prism at a high cost and in more than a month will “live” in various marketing scenarios of Party A’s brand in the future, and assume the responsibility of spreading the brand image. This means that it will have a longer life cycle and higher commercial value.

It’s not the first virtual human created by Nine Turns Prism. Since the end of 2019, the brand marketing company has begun to try to create virtual content, with real-time-driven virtual humans as its core direction, which was earlier than the fire of the metaverse concept.

Mu Lan LAN, the number one virtual person developed by Nine-Turn Prism, was originally born out of an experiment of “playing alone”. Thanks to the company’s accumulated customer resources, she appeared on the proposal submitted by Nine Turns Prism to Party A, and her first work was an advertising film co-produced with Samsung. In April this year, Mu Lan LAN won the “Most Popular Virtual Host with Delivery” award issued by iiMedia Research, and completed the first live delivery on Douyin in June.

Since the concept of the metaverse became popular, virtual people like Mu Lan LAN have become popular one after another, appearing in advertisements, on stage, in live broadcast rooms and even in the workplace.

Liu Yexi, a virtual beauty expert on Douyin, not only can catch demons, but also sings Kunqu Opera in the latest video. The virtual person “Ling”, who debuted in the image of national style, has won the cooperation and endorsement of many brands, and has also appeared on the cover of magazines with real stars. The 2021 Vanke Headquarters Best Newcomer Award is the virtual person “Cui Xiaopan”. Her job is to monitor payment collection, information maintenance, etc., and also send reminders by email when overdue or abnormality occurs. The virtual news anchors include the “AI Crown” when reporting on the two sessions this year, the “Long Xiaojiao” of the Voice of the Yangtze River Delta, and the virtual sign language anchor of the Winter Olympics.

Therefore, even if the cost is high, being a virtual human is still the best choice for a nine-turn prism.

For this small-scale advertising company, being a virtual human is not only a new profit point, but more importantly, riding the fast ship of virtual human, it can be one step ahead of other competitors, and it is more willing to become an advertiser with whom to collaborate.

Data from iiMedia Research shows that more than 80% of netizens are chasing stars, of which 63.6% like to chase virtual idols. Enterprises are also more and more inclined to launch their own virtual people, such as KFC’s virtual version of “Grandpa Colonel” and Watsons’ AI brand spokesperson Qu Chenxi.

In order to get ahead of the emerging track of virtual humans, more and more service providers like Nine-Turn Prism are pouring in, which is driving the continuous expansion of the industry.

The “Virtual Digital Human Depth Industry Report” released by the qubit think tank in August last year predicted that by 2030, the overall market size of the domestic virtual digital human will reach 270 billion yuan. Among them, the market size of identity-based virtual people (virtual idols, virtual IPs, etc.) is expected to reach 175 billion yuan, taking the dominant position; the market size of service-type virtual people (virtual anchors, digital employees, etc.) will exceed 95 billion yuan.

Hot money is also pouring into this outlet that may be on the eve of the outbreak. According to a number of media reports, in less than a month since the beginning of 2022, nearly 100 financings have been raised in the virtual human field, with a total amount of 411 million yuan. One step ahead, it is possible to stand higher and go further.

eve of dawn

The number of gold nuggets going to the virtual human market is growing, but it is not easy to make money now.

Guo Xuechun told Snow Leopard Finance and Economics that there are currently four main types of companies entering the virtual human industry. The first is technology companies that are originally engaged in virtual shooting or related industries, and the second is content companies like Nine-Turn Prism. The core appeal of their virtual people is to receive more business cooperation opportunities, regardless of their own Do it or find a third party, “at least there must be such a case”.

In addition, a small number of film and television post-production companies will choose to enter the game, but more are transitioning to new film and television shooting methods such as XR and real-time green screen. The fourth type is a listed company that is trying to seize the opportunity in the new track, and they need to let investors understand the development direction of the company.

At present, most of the virtual people on the market are technology companies and content companies. They have cooperation and competition, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Creating a successful identity-based virtual person requires not only technical capabilities, but also content capabilities and operational capabilities.

The concept of the metaverse was on fire, and the virtual human “baby boom” appeared, but only a very few were able to get out of the circle. After a large number of virtual people “reported by newcomers” on major platforms, there will be no followings without updating a few pieces of content. There are also some virtual people who live a “life” of fitness check-in and show clothes on the platform, but there are few followers. Even a “top-notch” virtual person like Liu Yexi has to face the dilemma of declining popularity and attention.

Guo Xuechun explained to Snow Leopard Finance and Economics that the continuous output of the core team in terms of creativity and content is crucial to the development of virtual humans. After the virtual human is born, it is necessary to create a human design, and with the support of strong resources, it is necessary to produce a large amount of music, song and dance, comedy and other content, and even participate in offline interaction. If the content operation ability is insufficient, the virtual person can easily become an “abandoned baby”.

iiMedia Research said in the report that at this stage, the production of a single domestic virtual idol single, including arrangement, modeling, image design, stage plan customization, etc., costs as much as 2 million yuan, and the cost of traffic dissemination is not high. Philip. Therefore, virtual idols need to invest more in the development stage than real idols. Once the results are not good in the process of dissemination, it is likely that the funds will not be realized after the production of content.

In Guo Xuechun’s view, the industry is currently in the phase of elimination, and there are not many virtual people who can be remembered. In addition to Luo Tianyi and A-Soul’s relatively strong monetization ability among the head avatars, other persistent monetization abilities are insufficient.

Most of the companies that enter the virtual human are still waiting for profit.

According to Digital Domain’s 2021 financial report, virtual human and virtual reality services brought a total of HK$56.142 million in revenue, a year-on-year increase of only 14.2%, far lower than the 44% year-on-year growth rate of total revenue. In the loss of 780 million Hong Kong dollars, in addition to the impairment of goodwill and intangible assets, it also includes the research and development costs of virtual humans.

The listed company that launched the identity-based digital human “Kong Xiang” said on Saturday on the investor interactive platform in March this year that the digital virtual human is still in the early stage of research and development. of uncertainty.

Nine-Turn Prism, which calls itself the “Metaverse Frontier Company,” also spends a lot of money on virtual content development. Since the company itself does not do hardware development, and the technology cannot keep up with the imagination, how long it will take for this industry without standards to develop and mature in the future is not something they can dominate.

They still believe that the speedboat in the virtual human can be one step ahead of the opponent, but when the speedboat will break through the dawn, no one knows.

This article is reproduced from: http://finance.sina.com.cn/tech/csj/2022-08-18/doc-imizirav8647808.shtml
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