Many of us might have seen these anime characters live-streaming on YouTube and various other platforms. At first glance, it might seem like an animation, but after we realise they’re interacting with their chat in real time, that’s when things get confusing. Today we’re here to demystify the inner workings of VTubers and their avatars, in the hopes to help you understand how they work.
So without any further ado let’s get started!
What Is A VTuber?
We should probably start by explaining what a VTuber is just to make sure that everyone is on the same page. VTubers are real-life people, who live stream and create online content. The catch is, they are disguised behind a virtual avatar that they control using motion-tracking software. The content creators essentially work as actors to create an entirely new persona for the avatar that they control. And in most cases the audience loves them.
VTubers make content similar to what any creator on these platforms would do. They host Q&As, do Let’s Plays, react to videos, talk to chat and even create music. A lot of VTubers double up as singers who put a lot of effort into their songs and music videos. This possibly comes from the JPop influence as VTubers originated in Japan.
Although VTubers are fairly new their community is extremely fast-growing and dedicated to the cause. For instance, attempting to find a VTubers true identity behind the persona or even mentioning it in chat is massively frowned upon. The community believes that you should appreciate the content for the persona and art that they have created, not pry into their personal lives.
What Is A VTuber Avatar?
So like we mentioned earlier VTubers control virtual avatars that help to create a persona. The avatar is the digital character that will be displayed on the screen mimicking their every move. Most VTuber avatars are so well-animated and rigged that it seems almost too lifelike. This is due to a combination of things occurring. For one it’s great design work creating the different facial expressions and poses that the VTuber is going to be able to make. For the most part, the tracking software will cover basic head and body movements but intricate emotions will require what is known as rigging and animation.
Rigging refers to the act of defining the movements that will be executed when the person behind the avatar moves. This involves working with blendshapes and various different parameters in order to make things like lip-syncing and hair physics possible. Rigging is a specialist skill in its own right and essential to make a VTuber look good.
Next, we have animation. This is a little more simple. This is essentially creating special movements that the motion-tracking software can’t detect and perform on its own. Things like whacky anime faces with tears streaming down their cheeks aren’t easy things to replicate in real life. Hence these expressions and movements can be animated and assigned to a button. So when the user wants to react, they can do so at the press of a button.
Where To Get VTuber Avatars?
Considering that VTuber avatars are essentially the creator’s online identity, meticulous planning and effort go into making them. Thanks to VTuber software becoming more advanced and accessible to the public, as well as good PCs becoming more affordable. We’re seeing a lot more independent VTubers emerging. A lot of independent VTubers like to take matters into their own hands and create their own VTuber avatar from scratch. This does require experience with graphic design and animation or at least a lot of time and patience to learn.
However, not everyone has the time or skills to make a VTuber avatar by themselves. Hence most people opt for an artist to commission their VTuber models for them. This is when creators work closely with a professional artist to create a fully functional VTuber avatar without any of the hassles of having to make it themselves. Some of the most popular places that people go to find VTuber commissions are Twitter, VTuberArt, Fiverr, or Etsy.
Depending on the level of detail you want for your avatar and the artist you work with, these commissions can cost anywhere between $200 – $2000. Of course, when we think about the big money that successful VTubers can make, most creators tend to think of it as an investment.
People who are looking to start out for cheap do have some alternative options but they won’t be able to compete with the real thing. Some people like to buy 3D models or VTuber avatars from art marketplaces like Sketchfab and ArtStation. Here you can browse collections of original artwork that artists have put up for sale. While you might be able to pick them up for around $15 – $60 there are a few things to consider.
For one, you want to make sure that you get the proper licensing when you purchase the avatar. Sometimes buying the avatar does not come with the rights to edit or publicly use it. Secondly, these avatars might get you into some trouble if they are not original artwork. It’s common for artists to make replica avatars of existing VTubers or characters so using one of these could likely get you in trouble. Finally, these avatars are available to the general public meaning that even if you do buy an original avatar, there’s a good chance someone else out there owns it too.
2D vs 3D Avatars
As you may have noticed some VTubers are 2D and some are 3D. 2D avatars can be so well animated sometimes that it can be difficult to tell the difference. But, there are pros and cons to owning each one. Using a 3D model tends to come with more movement and dexterity. Using things like leap motion VTubers can get really accurate hand tracking so their avatar can move each digit. One of the main benefits is being able to move around in 3D space. You can spin around and move, unlike 2D models which do not have that range of motion.
Some VTubers have even been known to transport their existing avatars into games like VRChat where they can play and interact with fans. On average 3D VTubers tend to cost more due to the additional rigging of body parts.
2D VTubers on the other hand tend to be the more popular of the two. While it is common for big-time VTubers to have both, many people like to start out with a 2D model. Besides being cheaper, 2D has the benefit of expressiveness. Designers can add numerous toggle animations and expressions as well as accurate face tracking. This means that blinking, mouth, and eyebrow movement can all be tracked in real-time
Now that it’s a little clearer how VTubers work we can show some appreciation for the effort that goes into making them.