SIU:, ZENA:, TYRA: and MARTY:. This is the name of the four members of the South Korean pop group MAVE:, which debuted last January with the song PANDORA. They are between 19 and 20 years old and each comes from a different country, from the United States to Indonesia, although they all have Asian features, as is usual in the South Korean entertainment industry. His first music video exceeds 20 million views, while his Spotify account has more than one and a half million monthly listeners. In March, they appeared on the music show Show! Music Core, broadcast on the MBC television channel, like any K-pop group with some repercussion that comes to promote their new single. The members have participated in TikTok challenges and have even celebrated 100 days since their debut. However, despite the figures and the achievements that accompany them, what may surprise those who still do not know them is that they are avatars. Thanks to artificial intelligence, 3D technology, augmented reality and voice synthesis, these virtual singers can pass for a conventional pop group, sometimes difficult to distinguish from one made up of humans, especially when it comes to singing.
The name MAVE: comes from make new wave or meta wave, as the group has the "ambition to create a new wave in the K-pop scene during the metaverse era". It is common for the names of Korean pop groups to hide a meaning related to the members, with what they intend to achieve with their music or with what they want to transmit. Similarly, the names of their fans, which are also established by entertainment companies, have a meaning and a relationship with the group in question. In this case, the fans of MAVE: are called MAZE: (labyrinth), because, together with the group "they will create a new path, a labyrinth, in which no one has ventured yet, with the unshakable belief that they will find a way out as long as they remain united".
Sung-Ku Kang, director of technology of Metaverse Entertainment, the company in charge of the group, explains to this newspaper through email that the project consists of the same planning and production as those carried out with real idol groups. "The members of the company are experts in various areas, such as video games, entertainment, music... And they have a deep understanding of how to achieve good results and create beloved characters."
But what is outside the reach of human idols that a group of avatars can offer? As Kang details, "as a virtual group, you can do a choreography at a speed and a level of difficulty that would be difficult for a real singer to achieve and you can draw on all kinds of imagination when creating the music videos." In addition, he points out that members of conventional groups usually have different talents and there is a disparity between them, but virtual idols do not have to manage that. Of course, they also have an obvious advantage: that of being in several places at the same time. "They can perform in Korea and an hour later in the United States, or directly in front of fans around the world at once," he says.
However, when watching them perform, the first doubt that may arise to the viewer is whether there are young real singers behind so much technology. As far as appearance is concerned, their faces are not based on any particular real person. "Idol-type appearances were created, results were mixed and modified manually." The origin of their singing skills lies in a mixture of the voices of real voice actors and what artificial intelligence generates, so that they are "trained" to speak as those actors do. Sung-Ku Kang explains that they will continue to use that mix, also deciding depending on the situation, but with the aim of increasing the use of voices generated by artificial intelligence.
The members of MAVE:, in addition to recording content, can interact in real time. MAVE:
It may take more work to get choreographies that resemble the dances of human idols. "It takes a lot of effort to get a virtual artist to move with the naturalness of a human. To make the movements natural, we use motion capture technology to accurately record those of real people, and simulation technology to make clothes and hair also move naturally with the activity," says Kang. But all this would not be achieved without a good job in the recording: to shoot the video clip of PANDORA, a studio of eight meters high and 20 by 20 wide and long was used with equipment for capturing movement and cameras of all kinds, in order to record the displacements in the same way as in a real music video. "That allowed us to see how the actors naturally interacted with the cameras and do the post-production and editing with what we had recorded," adds the Metaverse executive.
The members of MAVE:, in addition to recording content, can interact in real time. Kang clarifies that it is not something very different from what virtual YouTubers do. "Our goal is to create an emotional, memorable, long-term connection with every fan, rather than just having a chat bot service," like the one available right now, he adds. The technologies needed to create this group include, in addition to virtual intelligence and other techniques mentioned, machine learning, 3D modeling, different simulation techniques to control facial and body movements, augmented reality and virtual reality, especially for virtual concerts and for interactions with fans. data analytics and cloud technologies.
Metaverse Entertainment, a subsidiary of video game developer Netmarble, is the company in charge of the project, which also includes Kakao Entertainment, the entertainment company that owns the 'Korean WhatsApp', Kakao Talk, several agencies of K-pop groups and actors, the music streaming service Melon and a huge Webtoons platform. comics in vertical format very popular all over the world, but especially in Asia. In the creation and activities of MAVE: more than a hundred professionals work, and many of them have worked or usually work with flesh and blood artists. PANDORA was composed by Maxx Song and Kyler Niko, who have produced songs for some of the best-known groups in the industry, such as Seventeen, Red Velvet or Monsta X; the director of the music video, Flipevil, was in charge of some of IU, the most successful solo artist in the country; and the choreography was provided by Freemind, choreographer of two of IVE's biggest hits.
MAVE: It is not the first South Korean musical group formed by avatars, but it is the one that has had the most impact to date. In 2021, also in Korea, Superkind debuted, in which only one of the members is an avatar and, in the case of the members of Eternity, who debuted the same year, the company Pulse9 used the technology it calls deep real, with which it claims to create "realistic faces regardless of race, age or gender". However, where virtual singers originated was in Japan, in 2007, with the creation of Hatsune Miku, a hologram that has even given live concerts.
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