Interview Danielle Austria
Translation from Korean Angela Kim Hyun Ji
Images Sidus Studio-X
안녕하세요. Please introduce yourself to our readers. How’s your work week so far?
Han Yeawon: Good morning! It’s a pleasure. I’m from Sidus Studio-X’s PR department. We are dealing with new projects mostly. Virtual influencer Rozy is one of them.
Some of our readers might be surprised to know, but virtual influencers have been around since 2018. (We don’t have one in the Philippines yet!) Rozy is relatively young in the industry. How did the idea come about?
The idea of a “virtual influencer” is now very well-known around the globe, and it’s getting real day by day. We were wondering then why it hasn’t been so in Korea. It wasn’t due to lack of technology for sure (since a few other 3D companies have already announced digital models before), but there were no other companies trying to do the marketing. Our company was unique enough to create a virtual influencer that can represent Korea, [owing to the fact that] most of our employees used to work in VFX studio LOCUS and in advertising agencies where marketing was their key role.
What was it like to create and unveil a virtual human during a pandemic?
We think that the pandemic actually helped our audience be more open about virtual humans. In this particular situation, we [humans] are very limited with spaces and locations, but virtual humans are beyond that and it has great advantages.
How big is the team involved in creating a single Rozy content on Instagram? How long does the whole process take?
There are around 10 employees working in content creation. It depends, but [it takes us] two to three days on average.
3D and animation design are known for long hours. How does the team like to unwind?
We have fun while working flexibly, we don’t really get stressed. Haha.
What were the first reactions when you introduced Rozy last year?
Most people were pretty surprised when Rozy finally came out as a virtual human since she wasn’t open about the fact that she was a virtual creation [at first]. She caught the eye of various brands and the public since it was something new. Especially since Rozy was the “first” virtual influencer [in South Korea]. We thought Rozy should be recognized as an influencer first, not as a digital model, and we are more than proud that Rozy met that goal.
We read that among younger audiences, Rozy is loved for her 감성 장인 or mastery of expressions. What a compliment to your crafting! What is it about her that resonates with Gen Z Koreans?
We thought she had to represent Gen Z. Virtual influencers exist in the digital world, mainly in social media platforms, where main users are digital natives/Gen Z, so we thought if they can’t relate [with her], then there’s no point. Plus, most of our team members are Gen Z. It’s hard not to be affected. We sometimes even get our images confirmed by junior associates. We thought that we can take Gen Z by storm just by doing what we truly believe in.
Gen Z will grow older and change like every other generation, and in the process update the representations they follow. Virtual humans have the luxury (or curse, depending on whom you ask) of immortality and eternal youth.
Is the plan for Rozy to age with her current captured market? Or will she be as she is for much longer?
Rozy will remain forever 21. Stay tuned for our forever young star!
It’s been asked many times whether virtual humans are out to replace their human counterparts, but the industry has collectively and repeatedly denied this. Of course, humans have said this about every other machine ever, and yet we’re still here.
If not to replace, which space do AI models occupy? How will they continue to “live” alongside real humans in the real world?
Facing “uncanny valley”1 was inevitable. We started out accepting the fact that we can’t get EVERYONE to like Rozy, even the people who experience the uncanny valley phenomenon. ‘Coexistence’ is what we should pursue, I guess. It’s impossible to picture the future generation without AI, robots, and VR. As we work on this project, we try to keep in mind how [humans and virtual humans] can coexist.
1Uncanny Valley is a phenomenon in artificial intelligence where human look-alikes cause a sense of unease or discomfort in the viewer.
Ethics have increasingly been part of conversations surrounding tech, especially with AI. In Sidus Studio-X, and maybe even in the greater Locus family, has the team agreed on setting certain boundaries to respect in designing virtual humans?
It’s a sensitive issue, so we try to avoid putting out images or content that might cause discomfort or a sense of relative deprivation for human viewers.
What are your predictions and hopes for the industry’s future? In a few years, could we expect to see Rozy in a movie or drama acting alongside human actors? Maybe even win a 대상?
With hard work and technology development, it is unquestionably possible. •
Hey, Rozy! Before anything: how do you identify—robot, virtual human, AI, just Rozy?
Rozy: Hey, y’all! I’m Rozy, Korea’s first virtual influencer.
You were “born” in 2020, a roaring Leo greeting a partially closed-off world. How do you like our world so far?
Every single day is just a blessing! There are countless things that I am eager to learn in this world.
A quick trip through your Insta tells me you’ve already been to other parts of the world. Do you have a favorite place you’ve traveled to, and where would you like to go next?
Africa! It’s a place where you can meet the true beauty of Mother Nature. Did you guys know? Radiant sunlight is not the only thing the African continent has. From emerald seas to deserts, tropical rainforests, grasslands filled with wildlife, and even active volcanoes with boiling lava! Victoria Falls is so insane that I kinda teared up. Anyone who has been mesmerized by Mother Nature would know what I am saying. Falling asleep in the tent surrounded by those gobsmacking views was my favorite memory. Oh, and of course the passionate and energetic friends I met there!
Can’t wait to visit Europe as well!
What is your biggest hope for the year, Rozy?
I can’t wait for this pandemic to be over so that I can meet up with my friends again. Being a virtual human, I can visit any place but it’s not fun to be alone all the time.
Also, I would love to support my fans who have supported me as Korea’s first virtual influencer. •
Explore the world vicariously through Rozy @rozy.gram on Instagram