Hatsune Miku
Hatsune Miku

This Daily Numbers podcast explores the phenomenon of virtual spokespeople generally, and Japanese virtual pop star Hatsune Miku specifically.

Pat Lilja: David, today we’re talking about virtual actors on The Daily Numbers. What is a virtual actor?

David Erickson: It’s one that doesn’t exist, but in…Well, you’ve heard of virtual goods, right?

Pat Lilja: Mm-hmm, I have.

David Erickson: You’ve bought virtual goods, right?

Pat Lilja: I have unfortunately, yes, I feel ashamed to say it, but I’ve bought plenty of virtual goods.

David Erickson: So it’s basically the same thing except it’s a person. It’s a virtual person.

Pat Lilja: It’s a virtual person. So–

David Erickson: Computer-generated personality.

Pat Lilja: Like, like the dude that Neo fought in the matrix.

David Erickson: Exactly.

Pat Lilja: All right. Yeah, I liked him. He’s cool.

David Erickson: I’m talking about computer generated personalities. Such as…

Pat Lilja: Yes.

David Erickson: One that has become rather popular named Hatsune–I don’t know if we’re pronounce–I’m pronouncing this right.

Pat Lilja: I haven’t pronounced it yet.

David Erickson: Hatsune Miku?

Pat Lilja: I think that’s how you pronounce it.

David Erickson: I tink that’s how you pronounce it.

Pat Lilja: Yep. Made by Crypton Future Media, the Japanese company that uses Yamaha technology to synthesize her melodious singing voice.

David Erickson: Yeah, so she is a Japanese pop star that doesn’t exist in real life. She’s just a computer generated Japanese popstar.

Pat Lilja: And before The Daily Numbers today, you were showing me a video of I would say many, many thousands of people at a concert watching her perform.

David Erickson: That’s right. So there’s a tour for this virtual character. There’s a video of her singing in concert.

Pat Lilja: Mm hmm.

David Erickson: It’s a concert video.

Pat Lilja: So bizarre.

David Erickson: In Japan…live in Tokyo, Japan. The video itself has 12 million views on it.

Pat Lilja: Yeah. And she’s this great big…she’s on a great big screen on stage, you know, by herself.

David Erickson: Right.

Pat Lilja: I’m putting quotes around herself, but that’s really I mean it is.

David Erickson: Yep.

Pat Lilja: Yeah.

David Erickson: And there’s–

Pat Lilja: –a stage with this big screen on it.

David Erickson: And there’s an auditorium full of people that are jam packed, and they’re jamming out to Hatsun.

Pat Lilja: Singing along.

David Erickson: And she’s like; she’s an anime character.

Pat Lilja: Yeah. So…like Japanese animation.

David Erickson: Yeah, let’s play a little bit of this.

Pat Lilja: Listen to that crowd noise. Crazy. I love some J-Pop.

Hatsune Miku Tokyo Concert

David Erickson: Yeah. So um, so yeah, this is just stunning to me. I mean, I guess it’s not stunning to me. I sort of expected that this kind of thing probably would happen. But it’s still pretty amazing.

Pat Lilja: Where it completely…we’re not talking Milli Vanilli here; we’re talking a completely artificial character.

David Erickson: Correct.

Pat Lilja: Her singing is artificially synthesized.

David Erickson: Yep.

Pat Lilja: Her image is artificially synthesized. Her dancing is programmed in. But her popularity is very, very real.

David Erickson: That’s right. That’s right. So real, in fact, that companies are doing promotions with her. Toyota recently did a promotion for a California concert that she held…it held. And they had an augmented reality QR code-ish type of campaign in which they wanted people to download a Toyota shopping tool on their mobile phone.

Pat Lilja: Mm-hmm.

David Erickson: And they saw 600% increase in downloads as a result of the campaign.

Pat Lilja: That’s crazy. You know, one of the things that also struck me is that Crypton’s been selling–the software that generates the vocals–for quite a few years now. But it wasn’t until they put the image of this pretend character on the box of their software that sales really took off.

David Erickson: Well, the power of a celebrity endorsement.

Pat Lilja: When it’s just a name on a box, you know, no one bought it. But when there was this fake popstar woman on there, everyone wanted it.

David Erickson: Right.

Pat Lilja: Yeah.

David Erickson: So I think this sort of does point to the way our, you know–companies can create their own spokespeople, now. Computers can generate–

Pat Lilja: That’s right.

David Erickson: –a popular, whatever.

Pat Lilja: That’s right. This is not the first time I’ve heard something like that. I’ve seen other Japanese pop groups put together by…a composite of a bunch of different people put together and then they computer generate the final person based on all these other people. But of course, in this case, it’s purely virtual. There’s no person involved whatsoever.

David Erickson: Right, right.

Pat Lilja: Yeah. So roll your own–

David Erickson: Roll your own charcter.

Pat Lilja: Roll your own spokesperson.

David Erickson: Nice.

Pat Lilja: Well, so that’s the future. So are there any things that…I mean…are there ways that companies on a more modest budget than Toyota can tap into some of this?

David Erickson: Well, you can, you know–there’s certainly animated software out there that you can use. You get some creativity and you can create your own character.

Pat Lilja: Sure.

David Erickson: And, and make it do whatever you want it to do.

Pat Lilja: It kind of reminds me of that Xtranormal service–

David Erickson: Right.

Pat Lilja: –you can use for free.

David Erickson: Right. So yeah, this is the web service, I guess.

Pat Lilja: Yeah. Xtranormal with an X.

David Erickson: With an X that allows you to type in dialogue and it creates an animated–based on a handful of characters you can select and settings and backgrounds and stuff and create your own little animation.

Pat Lilja: Yeah, sometimes–What’s the insurance company that uses that? Same ones that use the lizard and the caveman and–

David Erickson: Geico.

Pat Lilja: Geico. Yeah,

David Erickson: Geico’s used it?

David Erickson: Yeah, Geico’s used it in actual on-TV ads.

Geico Commercial: Commercial right now, did you know that? Wait, what? Right now, right now.

David Erickson: So the voices are all sort of computer-generated-type voices.

Pat Lilja: Mm-hmm, and it syncs the animation with the voices.

David Erickson: And the characters in this case are bears with very huge heads.

Pat Lilja: They have one with superheroes too now.

David Erickson: So that’s, yeah, that’s an example of a company using that low-cost animation.

Pat Lilja: Another form of virtual avatar actors, spokespeople.

David Erickson: Yep. And now, all you need is a little creativity,

Pat Lilja: That’s all you need. And the rest, the rest just flows naturally.

David Erickson: And then all of a sudden, you’re doing concerts in L.A.

Pat Lilja: That’s all I need. I’m on my way. Thanks very much, David.

David Erickson: Thank you, sir.