A new generation of celebrities is selling out concerts, starring in commercials, and amassing huge Instagram followings. But none of them exist – corporeally anyway. In recent years, and starting in Japan, technology and social media have spawned a digital demimonde of computer generated stars, ranging from fake musicians and models to company mascots who appear as hologram. When they’re not entertaining you, they’re trying to convince you of their humanity, and even the more cartoonish among them have fleshed out personalities. In a way, it’s the purest expression of celebrities, which has always been an elaborate illusion. CGI starlets, though, “are much easier to control”. says Ryan Detert, CEO of the branding firm influential. Except when they misbehave.
A few examples.
#1 Eguchi Aimi was an AKB48 Kenkyuusei. Entirely made in CGI. She has Maeda Atsuko’s eyes, Itano Tomomi’s nose, Shinoda Mariko’s mouth, Oshima Yuko’s hair and body, Takahashi Minami’s outline, Watanabe Mayu’s eyebrows and Sasaki Yukari’s voice. She was announced as a new AKB48 member who impressed Aki-P in a NMB48 audition. She was featured in Weekly Playboy and appeared in a commercial for Ezaki Glico. On June 19, 2011, it was finally admitted that Eguchi Aimi was a fake.
#2 Lil Misquela. Miquela Sousa, better known as Lil Miquela or simply, Miquela is a fictional character created by Trevor McFedries & Sara Decou, a Spanish-Brazilian American as a Digital Art computer-generated model and music artist claiming to be from Downey, California. The Instagram account, @lilmiquela was activated in 2016; she has amassed more than a million followers as of April 2018 and a cult-like following of ‘Miquelites’. Early in her career she most notably gained attention for controversy regarding whether or not she is a real person, a virtual simulation, or a fictional character. She is not a real person. She has since increased in popularity by entering into a transmedia fictional narrative that spans real life, social media and the internet. The narrative presents Miquela as a sentient digital art in conflict with a fictional AI company called Cain Intelligence and Bermuda a fellow sentient digital art who was created by Trevor Mcfedries and Sara Decou at their company Brud. The fictional narrative raises interesting questions about identity, reality and storytelling and resembles science fiction and fan fiction.
#3 Shudu has been called the world’s first digital supermodel. Shudu has caused a fair amount of controversy, hinging around the fact that she’s not actually real, but a project from photographer Cameron James-Wilson. Wilson says he wants Shudu to inspire more “diversity” in the fashion industry.
“Shudu is a digital supermodel, a very glamorous and amazing woman. But she’s 3-D,” says Cameron-James Wilson, a 28-year-old British fashion photographer who has shot the likes of Gigi Hadid and Pia Mia and is making a name for himself as Shudu’s creator.
Wilson made Shudu in the beginning of 2017 using a program called Daz 3-D. The model was just one of many creations he made — “aliens, planets, everything” — and in April of that year he shared her first Instagram post. Shudu now has more than 120,000 followers, up from 60,000 in March; Wilson himself has more than 14,000.
Shudu isn’t the first digital model to walk the Internet, nor is she the only virtual creation on Instagram. With Lil Miquela making her editorial rounds, the buzz around virtual influencers has already begun. Who are they? What do they do? Shudu is, though, the first digital creation to so accurately resemble a breathing, feeling woman — so much so it’s debatable whether Fenty Beauty knew she wasn’t one. The brand has since taken down its repost and representatives declined to comment.
Shudu is, among other things, ageless, beautiful and fascinating — all of which make her perfect for fashion. Right now, the Kendall Jenners, Kaia Gerbers and Bella and Gigi Hadids of the world reign over the runways. But could the “It” girls of tomorrow be Shudu and others like her? And what would be the ramifications for fashion houses and retail?