Researcher animates future of social media influencers

Is this computer generated human the future for influencers? Photo: Maria Zelenskaya.

Vtubers have stepped into the mainstream spotlight after Netflix announced the virtual character N-ko Mei Kurono would host a weekly show to promote its original anime series. For PhD candidate Maria Zelenskaya, the computer-generated avatars could be a novel way to change behaviours and inspire communities.

Kylie Griffith, 20 year old wildlife watcher and social media influencer. Currently studying at Griffith University.

Meet Kylie Griffith, a bubbly 20-year-old digital human who loves koalas, created by Maria to raise awareness of local nature conservation efforts and encourage residents to protect wildlife in their community

Collaborating with the Griffith Film School, Social Marketing @ Griffith and Redland City Council, Kylie was created to engage local residents with the Redlands Coast Koala Watch program and share on social media the important work it does to keep koalas safe.

“I want to encourage more people in our community to take an interest in our feathered and furry neighbours and help protect them,” said Kylie in a pitch video to the Redland City Council.

Maria says the fictional character has a carefully constructed personal story to symbolise the ‘perfect wildlife advocate’.

“She is knowledgeable, curious and determined to nurture and protect what she loves. The viewer is invited to suspend disbelief and follow Kylie’s adventures on social media the way they might follow friends or celebrities.”

Kylie is brought to life using motion capture technology controlled by Griffith alumnus and actress Narelle Vella. With an iPhone strapped to her chest, she performs Kylie’s facial expressions, voice and physical movements to deliver a seamless virtual performance animated by Maria.

PhD candidate Maria Zelenskaya believes virtual ambassadors can do more than just sell products, they can make a social impact.

Reactions from the public have helped refine Kylie’s appearance over the past 12 months. Maria says it is about finding the right balance between what the audience finds attractive and what is possible with the current technology.

“Different generations have distinct reactions to our virtual ambassador. Younger people readily accept Kylie compared to older people. But the more feedback the better whether that is positive or negative.”

With motion capture technology becoming cheaper and more accessible, Maria predicts virtual ambassadors will become as commonplace in marketing and PR departments as other digital tools have become.

“There’s a significant future for virtual avatars in marketing. But my research is about finding out what works and what doesn’t for developing an interactive virtual ambassador that has an impact on changing behaviour.”

For the first time, the virtual influencer will meet her fans at Indigscape Centre, Capalaba with Maria giving a behind the scenes look at what it takes to bring the Wildlife Watcher to life.

“This will be a great opportunity to inspire young people who are interested in new ways to be an environmental advocate and the cutting edge of animation.”

Meet Kylie Griffith, a look behind the virtual ambassador. Saturday 5 June at Indigiscape Centre, Capalaba.