Virtual Being World 2020: “New Play Together!” in SIGGRAPH BoF

This is my VR international pitch event.

Hi, my name is Liudmila Bredikhina. I’m a virtual intern at GREE VR Studio Lab, and I’m a Master’s Degree student at Geneva University. I’m currently majoring in Asian Studies, and I research Japanese Virtual Beings, such as VTubers. In this article, I would like to report about Virtual Beings World Showcase 2020 “New Play Together.” It was the first time I co-organized an international pitch event in the virtual space.

[Digest] Virtual Beings World Showcase “New Play Together” in SIGGRAPH 2020 https://youtu.be/mO3GBzXeBzw

Introduction

Virtual Beings World Showcase 2020 “New Play Together” was the 2nd Birds of a Feather (“BoF”) workshop to showcase the rapidly growing phenomena of “Virtual Beings” (AI-driven storytelling, virtual humans, VTubers, virtual influences, digital doubles, virtual idols, and virtual entertainers). The event was held in Hubs. In Figure 1, you can see the spatial layout of the virtual venue. With this BoF, we wanted to bring diverse artistic perspectives on new forms of entertainment and playful communications with/between Virtual Beings. This workshop was for attendees interested in computer graphics, real-time, and interactive techniques. We wanted to share the latest trends in Virtual Beings in computer graphics, live-entertainment, and playful communications from different regions and several metaverses with creator supportive technologies and cases during this workshop.

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Figure 1. [Live] Virtual Beings World 2020 — New Play Together #SIGGRAPH2020 https://youtu.be/vFWZAvbrk_I?t=7909 2:11:49-

On Monday, August 24th, 2020, online in Mozilla Hubs, from 10 am PDT to noon PDT. Akihiko Shirai and Liudmila Bredikhina organized the BoF. In Figure 2, you can see the general concept of the BoF. The presentations were free of recruitment, sales, product tutorials, or company promotion. The BoF Presentation was free of charge, but the attendees had to register for SIGGRAPH 2020. The event was held in Hubs and streamed live on the GREE VR Studio Lab YouTube channel. More information about the event can be found on the GREE VR Studio lab website, on the official SIGGRAPH page URL, and the Google Slide project description.

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Figure 2. Project description presentation https://vr.gree.net/lab/live/vbw/vbw2020/

VibeShare demonstration in Mozilla Hubs

VibeShare is a technology used to share non-verbal feedback during a virtual live-stream. Actors/players can feel various vibrations with Hapbeat. The audience can send “Virtual clapping” via their smartphone, and the vibrations reach the actors/players in less than 1 sec. This technology can be used as a new form of “emoji.” Instead of typing “LOL” or “LMAO,” the audience can send those emotions as vibrations to the player.
At the beginning of the BoF, we explained to the audience how to use VibeShare. The audience’s comments and virtual clapping were shown on YouTube live (Figure 7). You can see the waves created by virtual applause and comments on the YouTube live broadcast in the image below.

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[See also] VibeShare: Live entertainment technology that conveys the audience’s passion for the performers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFegJyePXJE

Event organization

Once the event’s concept was determined and the confirmation received from SIGGRAPH, we began the event organization. We first decided on the program: introduction, a Virtual Being fast forward digest, virtual expo, and conference presentations. We then began a call for speakers and VTubers. Short information with the presentation link was sent out to different Virtual Beings Facebook groups, shared on Twitter, and among an XR Whatsapp group. We contacted certain VTubers and speakers in person. VTubers had to submit their short videos and video information via a Google Form. A total of 25 videos were submitted and accepted. We accepted a total of five speakers (without counting myself and Akihiko Shirai). Speakers answered the call by email, and we organized a one-hour meet-up via Google Hangouts. We discussed with speakers their presentations and concepts. Before the event, speakers had to submit a short bio, photo, and abstract of their presentation. We organized the timetable based on the abstracts, grouping similar proposals, and fields of research. For the virtual expo, a Virtual Model Agency representative contacted us.

The speakers

We chose seven speakers (counting Akihiko Shirai and me) for the conference (Figure 3). We invited the speakers to come up on the virtual stage and give a 10min talk one after another. The following are abstracts submitted by the speakers:

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Figure 3. [Live] Virtual Beings World 2020 — New Play Together #SIGGRAPH2020 https://youtu.be/vFWZAvbrk_I?t=7522 2:05:22-

The first speaker was me. My presentation (Figure 4) was about how virtual technologies for live-entertainment and human interactions change how we conceive human-to-human interaction as we become virtual beings. In this presentation, I shared the knowledge behind being a virtual intern and what it means to research virtual worlds.

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Figure 4. Screenshot of Liudmila Bredikhina. [Live] Virtual Beings World 2020 — New Play Together #SIGGRAPH2020 https://youtu.be/vFWZAvbrk_I?t=1862 31:02-

Next up was Kaspar Tiri from Wolf3D (https://readyplayer.me/) (Figure 5). His presentation was about how emerging technologies are reshaping the way we communicate and interact with each other. They’re also changing the way we represent ourselves — our virtual identities. What are the challenges of building virtual identities? What do different industries like AR/VR, gaming, and fashion think about virtual identities? What users value? In this talk, Kaspar answered those questions.

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Figure 5. Screenshot of Kaspar Tiri. [Live] Virtual Beings World 2020 — New Play Together #SIGGRAPH2020 https://youtu.be/vFWZAvbrk_I?t=2309 38:29-

Marco DeMiroz (Figure 6) from the Venture Reality Fund (https://www.thevrfund.com/). The Venture Reality Fund (“VRF,” the “Fund”) has been an active investor in emerging technologies in AI, AR & VR. The fund has been investing in next-generation consumer experiences and enterprise solutions that include virtual concerts, virtual beings, and other immersive and spatial computing aspects. Marco discussed VRF’s portfolio companies that have been essential to creating these virtual events & virtual beings and will share an early-stage venture investor’s perspectives.

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Figure 6. Screenshot of Marco DeMiroz. [Live] Virtual Beings World 2020 — New Play Together #SIGGRAPH2020 https://youtu.be/vFWZAvbrk_I?t=3117 51:57-

From France, we had Virtuals (Figure 7). Alvaro Lamarche-Toloza, and Yingzi Yuan, were the third speakers (https://virtuals.co/). As a collective of industry professionals in virtual production and virtual beings, virtuals seek to explore the latest tech breakthroughs to create art and evangelize new tools and pipelines. In this presentation, they talked about the value of a virtual being in two parts: the importance of storytelling in their creation and how it plays a role in virtual beings’ business models. The first part was around the key components in creating a virtual being: memory, empathy, and community. In the second part, Virtuals gave more details around the monetization of the virtual being leveraging these key components: creating a real IP, incentivizing social spending, monetizing the influence.

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Figure 7. Screenshot of Virtuals. [Live] Virtual Beings World 2020 — New Play Together #SIGGRAPH2020 https://youtu.be/vFWZAvbrk_I?t=3704 1:01:44-

The fourth speaker was Pietro Gagliano (Figure 8) from Transitional Forms (https://transforms.ai/). Artist and futurist Pietro Gagliano and his team at Transforms.ai have been working with reinforcement learning “Agents” as part of their upcoming experience, Agence (https://www.agence.ai/). The first significant co-production of Transforms.ai and the National Film Board of Canada, Agence, places the fate of artificially intelligent creatures in your hands. A dynamic film that merges cinematic storytelling, artificial intelligence, and user interactivity, Agence is never the same twice. Through the development of Agence, a production tool codenamed Project Gilgamesh was created, which streamlines the process for creators to use reinforcement learning in their work. Pietro discussed the implication of using reinforcement learning in the creation of virtual worlds and characters in stories and how reinforcement learning characters and brains will have use cases in entertainment.

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Figure 8. Screenshot of Pietro Gagliano. [Live] Virtual Beings World 2020 — New Play Together #SIGGRAPH2020 https://youtu.be/vFWZAvbrk_I?t=4342 1:12:22-

From the international academic research and educational field, Sylvia Pan (Figure 9), a Lecturer in VR in Virtual Reality, Goldsmiths, University of London (panxueni.com). The abstract she submitted to us for her presentation: Virtual Beings are becoming more and more popular. Some people spend much of their time living the life of their avatars inside a VR headset. How does social interaction work in VR? What are the differences between agents and avatars? Can we use VR to make our real-life better? In this talk, I will present our research work using Virtual Characters in medical doctor communication training, social neuroscience research, and how we built an AI-drive virtual agent for an immersive narrative VR game.

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Figure 9. Screenshot of Sylvia Pan. [Live] Virtual Beings World 2020 — New Play Together #SIGGRAPH2020 https://youtu.be/vFWZAvbrk_I?t=5915 1:38:35-

Akihiko Shirai concluded the conference with a short presentation from GREE VR Studio Laboratory (Figure 10).

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Figure 10. Dr. Akihiko Shirai presentation.
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“REALITY” Broadcast your virtual beings from everywhere https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saMGUAq7Itg
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WONK — “EYES” Special 3DCG LIVE DIGEST https://youtu.be/Mr13ugunbAE

All slides on this site (SlideShare by GREE VR Studio Laboratory)

https://www.slideshare.net/vrstudiolab/virtual-beings-world-new-play-together-siggraph-2020-bof

In Figure 11, you can see the voting results. We counted Virtual Clapping, which was done by shaking the phone, and YouTube comments, which were comments the audience wrote in the YouTube live chat.

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Figure 11. Dr. Akihiko Shirai presentation.

Virtual Model Agency

Shavonne Wong Web: Genv V Agency Instagram: @genv.agency Twitter: @genvagency is an award-winning fashion photographer with ten years of experience under her belt. She is also an ambassador (X-Photographer) for Fujifilm and was also recently included in the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list for 2020. When COVID first hit, it was clear that many industries will have to go through changes to adapt, and these changes are likely here to stay in even a post COVID world. Seeing how the world is becoming increasingly digital, she felt an opportunity to create virtual assets that brands can engage with to prove their campaigns. During Virtual Being World 2020, she presented her photographs and videos of virtual models made since the beginning of COVID-19 (Figure 12).

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Figure 12. The screenshot is taken from the Hubs room https://hub.link/CxgSqht

The VTubers and Virtual Being Fast Forward Showcase

VTubers had to submit their video and video information via a Google Form. The videos were then checked for content and potential copyright issues. Twenty-five VTubers from different countries (Switzerland, Japan, Poland, USA, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, etc.) submitted their short videos about their virtual being persona. The finalist entire playlist is available here: http://j.mp/WVS20 The submitted videos were mashed together into a digest video (Figure 13).

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Figure 13. Credit: World VTuber Showcase 2020 Fast Forward — New Play Together! https://youtu.be/q3bRyCwofIY Retrieved from https://vr.gree.net/lab/live/vbw/vbw2020/

[World VTuber Showcase 2020 Playlist] https://bit.ly/WVS20

Following is the list of the VTuber contributors:

Eiri Sanada (video)

Pending (video)

Ovalee (video)

Harunone Hal (video)

Enil (video)

Keikai (video)

Bunny (video)

Rubii (video)

Keiro Kamioka (video)

Omoi Kane (video)

Deat (video)

Daadada Jet Blanco (video)

Holographic(C)RI Inc. (video)

Theremin Nimereht-Gou (video)

Ocutan Bot (video)

Leon Zeromiya (video)

Milky (video)

Puffs (video)

Fukushima Genshiro (video)

Shinazugawa Sen (video)

Amanda (video)

Mikan Takano (video)

Lewis (video)

Edgardo Niwatori (video)

DokokanoUsagi (video) Music: “Kokoro Cosplay” / Kapruit + Virtual Girl Nem

We wish to write our thanks to all creators!!

Virtual Space in Hubs

For this BoF, we created a virtual venue in Hubs (Figure 6). The venue had to be aesthetically pleasing, and the different sections of the venue (VTuber video area, Virtual Model Agency, and speaker area) had to be visible from the entry. We created the Hubs space using Spoke, the application for creating Hubs rooms.

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Figure 14. The Hubs room https://hub.link/CxgSqht

Live event

We streamed the BoF live on the GREE VR Studio Lab YouTube channel. For two hours, the event had 66 viewers maximum simultaneously, 279 playbacks, and a total watch time of 3 days. At the end of the live, a link was sent to the YouTube audience to join the Hubs room for socializing.

Conclusion

Unlike webinars, this conference used a virtual social environment called Hubs. Elements such as walking through the virtual model gallery are not possible with Zoom but can be achieved using Hubs. Moreover, speakers could use avatars and personalize their appearance. During the Pandemic, where we cannot meet or travel like we used to, shared virtual environments are a solution for interactive participation. The possibility to create your own dream space, use a personalized appearance, and navigate through a futuristic environment is a form of a “new play together.” At the end of the BoF, all the participants took a photo together (Figure 8).

As a personal reflection, I came into this project knowing what I had to do, although I was not given any direction as to what I had to do. The most challenging part of this project was the several misunderstandings I have encountered with the speakers and contributors I was working with. My most prominent critic was the time management, as I should’ve left an extra 20 min, and not 10 min, at the end for any potential technical issues. Although we did rehearsals and wrote a script for the conference, we still had last second issues. Thus in the future, I would leave 20 min at the end of the conference if we run into any technical issues.

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Figure 15. [Live] Virtual Beings World 2020 — New Play Together #SIGGRAPH2020 https://youtu.be/vFWZAvbrk_I?t=7468 2:04:28-

Next edition: Virtual Beings World 2021 — the reality in a post-pandemic world

In 2021, one year since COVID, how did the communications between/with Virtual Beings evolve? We are looking for future collaborates to create the Virtual Beings World 2021. This event is not limited to professionals in the virtual industries. Students from all around the world can become collaborators and acquire experience in organizing virtual events. The theme of 2021 is “Virtual Beings World Showcase 2021, the reality in a post-pandemic world.” The goal is to collaborate with creators in computer graphics, real-time, and interactive techniques to create virtual beings’ future.

2020 has shown us that we can organize virtual events. They cost less than physical events, are more comfortable to attend. Social virtual environment platforms made it possible to have interactive digital conferences that no longer require a physical presence. With VibeShare, we can share our emotions, feelings, and thoughts beyond the physical distance and vote for our favorite speakers. With avatars, speakers no longer have to worry about their privacy, looks, and home environment. Some might say that avatars dehumanize individuals, however, with Mozilla Hubs and their readyplayer.me avatars, it is possible to create virtual characters that bear similarities with our physical selves. Moreover, it’s an opportunity to experiment with different identities.
Conferences such as Virtual Gakkai, a Japanese academic avatar research community, is an excellent example of how a mix of professionals and students can lead to innovation in the virtual world. I volunteered as a room moderator at Laval Virtual in 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhrn7SHyaUM. New to virtual conference, I acquired unique and valuable experience being a room moderator. Student volunteers are crucial to making a new future together and sharing knowledge. Taking inspiration from Virtual Gakkai and other virtual events like Laval Virtual, we want to bring together professionals and students to create a new future together.

As an anthropologist, I want to explore the technology behind Virtual Beings and the meaning of human social interactions. While we talk about Virtual Beings, we should not forget to examine human interactions with UX designs. Interfaces build human to human relationships. It is never a dichotomy of technology influencing culture, or culture influencing technology, but a symbiosis of constant social interaction evolution. Focusing on exploring human interactions in past physical spaces can help us understand the transfer from physical to virtual businesses.

Dr. Shirai talks about the theme in 2021; it may be “reality in postdemic” as a temporal theme.

We wish to make innovation together. Come and join us on a “Virtual Beings World” journey in 2021! We are looking for virtual platforms to host the next edition of “Virtual Beings World”!

Written by

R&D division for Creating a new future with XR entertainment research and VTuber industry with REALITY, Inc. in GREE Family.

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