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DEEP DIVE ARTICLE TIPS & TRICKS YOUTUBE

How do Virtual YouTubers Work?

Like many new trends on YouTube and beyond, there are plenty of question marks around virtual YouTubing. What sets these questions apart, however, is that the head-scratching over other YouTube trends tends to be along the lines of “why do people watch this?”, whereas, with virtual YouTubers, it is often literally a question of how it works.

Virtual YouTubers, a type of YouTuber that uses a digital avatar as their on-screen persona, typically use innovative motion tracking software to copy their movements in real-time and animate their 3D avatar automatically. There are different ways that this can be achieved, as well as different software options for achieving it.

In this post, we’re going to take as much of an in-depth look into the way virtual YouTubing works as we can without drifting into the realms of computer science and other topics that might need a masters degree to understand. So, if you’re curious and have asked yourself “how do virtual YouTubers work?” keep reading!

What Are Virtual Influencers?

What is a Virtual YouTuber?

We’ll keep this section brief as the question of what a virtual YouTuber—or VTuber—is, can be quite in-depth, which is why we already have a dedicated post on that very thing. This post is going to assume you already know (hence why you’re curious how they work) but for anyone who isn’t, here’s a quick primer.

Virtual YouTuber channels present themselves like a regular YouTube channel with the exception that the YouTuber in question is a digital avatar that is brought to life by the person or people behind the channel. These avatars are often in the style of Japanese anime, but there is really no limit to what a virtual YouTuber can be, which is a big part of the appeal for this kind of channel.

How Do Virtual YouTubers Work?

There are a few stages to the process of running a virtual YouTuber channel, and they can each seem a little daunting to the uninitiated.

While it is true that the technology behind much of this is both remarkable and complex, the end-user experience is actually quite simple. It is often a statement on how far technology has come that we can do things on our phone that would have taken a team of experts and a lot of expensive equipment weeks or months to do in the past.

Let’s take a look at the different stages involved and what they entail.

Avatar Creation

We’re going to call this the first step on the road to a virtual YouTube channel. Now, granted, the actual first step would be coming up with a premise for your channel, as well as things like a format and possibly making branding decisions. However, that first step is not unique to virtual YouTubing, since you should be doing that with any new YouTube channel.

A digital avatar is something you can animate that will serve as the on-screen personality. It may just be something to look at while the YouTuber talks, or it may be a fully-fledged persona, like a character that the YouTuber is acting the part of. We’re going to give you three examples of different styles of virtual YouTuber to illustrate (pun intended) the methods used.

It should be noted that not all of these examples refer to themselves as virtual YouTuber, though that does not mean they don’t technically fit the definition.

Old School Animation

Our first example is a channel called Code Bullet. This style of virtual YouTubing is perhaps the most time consuming, and we’d only recommend this as an artistic choice since the money you might need to spend to use the other two methods could easily be justified by the time saved in not doing things this way.

Code Bullet creates videos where he does things like tries to create an AI that can play Tetris, or an AI that can play the perfect game of Snake. The on-screen visuals are accompanied by an illustrated avatar of a human body with an old-school computer monitor for a head.

Now, if you were to adopt this method and animate every frame, you would be in for a difficult time indeed. Code Bullet videos have been known to creep over the half-hour mark on occasion, which would mean a lot of work if he were creating smooth animations for the entire thing.

As it turns out, Code Bullet has a few tricks up his sleeve to lighten the workload. Firstly, his avatar is not on-screen the entire time, which reduces the amount of animation required. And, secondly, the avatar is not properly animated. Instead, individual poses are drawn, and the avatar snaps between them. It would make for a jarring animation style in a cartoon or animated movie, but it works well for Code Bullet and suits the style of video.

For this style of digital avatar, you would need some artistic flair to be able to create the artwork, or perhaps hire an artist or enlist the help of a talented friend to do it for you. It would be ideal if you could do it yourself because you would always be able to get new illustrations as you need them. As we said, though, this method is easily the most time-consuming.

Live 2D Animation

For this style of digital avatar, you would still need the artwork to create your avatar, but the ongoing process of running the channel will be much easier. Our example for this kind of avatar is Gawr Guru, a VTuber who plays videos games through the persona of a girl with questionable maths skills but impressive gaming skills. These 2D avatars are “rigged” so that they can be animated naturally, almost to the point that they look three dimensional.

This is done by moving parts of the 2D animation together so that the overall effect is one of natural motion. For example, move the face to the right a little while keeping the head stationary and you get the effect of the avatar looking a little bit to the side.

There are many applications available for the creation of these very things, making the process of creating a ready-to-animate digital avatar as easy as the average character creator in a video game. Some of these applications also take care of the animation part of the process (which we’ll get to shortly) while others just handle making the avatar itself. It is also possible to pay other people to create a rigged avatar for a relatively small price. The main downside to this style is that the technology is limited in terms of what you can do with the avatar. The above example of moving the face slightly works to great effect… but only if you move the face slightly. If you move it a lot, it starts to look unnatural. And, of course, you can only the parts of the avatar you have the artwork for. The software can’t guess at what the back of your avatar’s head looks like.

How do Virtual YouTubers Work?

Live 3D Animation

Opting for a 3D avatar is probably the most costly option in time or money (or both) in terms of getting things set up. Once you are ready to go, however, the operation of a 3D avatar is no more complicated than a 2D avatar, but with the added bonus that you have far more options in terms of movement.

Our example for this style is AI Angel, a virtual YouTuber who makes a lot of types of content along the same lines as an account like PewDiePie, but does so from the persona of an artificial intelligence.

3D avatars are complete three-dimensional models, meaning they have no limitations on what angle you can film them from, what positions you can put them in, or what props you can have them work with.

The downside to this style is that it takes a lot more work to set up—especially if you want your avatar to look realistic (cartoonish avatars are easier to make). It will also require more computing power, the more detailed your avatar and their environment are. A relatively simple avatar probably won’t tax your system too much, but if your computer is already straining to live stream, record video, and play video games at the same time, adding a complicated 3D avatar into the mix might be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Animating the Avatars

Once the digital avatar is ready, it’s time to think about animating it. This section only applies to the live 2D and 3D animation styles—if you are using the traditional illustration method mentioned above, your animation style is drawing more frames for your avatar. Like we said; it’s not the quickest method.

The main benefit to having rigged avatars is that they can be animated in real-time; there just needs to be something to animate them. Fortunately, there is plenty of software to take care of this.

Now, you could animate your avatars by hand, though it would be an incredibly time-consuming way to go about it. Granted, it would be much quicker than the traditional method of drawing each frame of your avatars animations, but it would still be far more time-consuming than the alternative.

The alternative in question, of course, is motion capture.

Motion capture works by tracking parts of your body and translating them to the same parts of your avatars body. So, you raise your hand; the software sees that your hand is raised and raises your avatar’s hand. The two most common ways of achieving this motion capture are through video-based motion recognition, and through the use of motion-sensitive devices like virtual reality controllers.

The trade-offs between the two are fairly straight forward. Using motion-sensitive devices such as a VR headset and controllers will usually give you more accurate movements, avoiding the kinds of jerky stuttering movements that can sometimes happen with inaccurate motion-capture. The downside, however, is that you have to wear said devices. This may not be an issue for you, but most people would probably opt to carry out a task without a bulky VR helmet on if they had the option.

Conversely, video-based recognition is much less invasive. It tracks your movements through your webcam, or the camera on your phone, making it far easier to use and more natural feeling. If you hadn’t already guessed, the downside to this method is that it is less accurate, and the range of motion it can track is more limited. For example, if you were to spin around three hundred and sixty degrees, a VR setup would be able to detect that, whereas a video-recognition-based system would likely get confused.

How do Virtual YouTubers Work? 1

What to Styles and Methods to Choose?

So, you’re ready to start a virtual YouTube channel of your own? Fortunately, the decision-making process is relatively simple here. Firstly, we can almost universally discount traditional animation as an option. Unless you absolutely must have a particular style that can’t be replicated with live animation methods, the additional time it takes to animate your avatar just isn’t worth it.

As for the choice between live 2D and 3D animation, if you intend to do a lot of movement—especially if you are animating a lot of your avatars body and not just the upper part—you should go with 3D. The range of motion available to you with a 2D avatar will not do the trick. On the other hand, if you do not need all that freedom of movement, 2D avatars are easier to make and less resource-intensive on your computer.

As for the method of animating your live avatar, you may be able to rule out VR devices on cost alone. If you have a VR headset and controllers already, or money is no object, and you can afford to buy one, that’s great. But if you don’t have one, you could be looking at a lot of money to get one, which may be enough of a reason to go video-recognition-based. If both options are on the table, go with the VR option if you intend to make a lot of body motion that needs animating. Otherwise, a good webcam and decent lighting will be a far more sensible option.

Top 5 Tools To Get You Started on YouTube

Very quickly before you go here are 5 amazing tools I have used every day to grow my YouTube channel from 0 to 30K subscribers in the last 12 months that I could not live without.

1. VidIQ helps boost my views and get found in search

I almost exclusively switched to VidIQ from a rival in 2020.

Within 12 months I tripled the size of my channel and very quickly learnt the power of thumbnails, click through rate and proper search optimization. Best of all, they are FREE!

2. Adobe Creative Suite helps me craft amazing looking thumbnails and eye-catching videos

I have been making youtube videos on and off since 2013.

When I first started I threw things together in Window Movie Maker, cringed at how it looked but thought “that’s the best I can do so it’ll have to do”.

Big mistake!

I soon realized the move time you put into your editing and the more engaging your thumbnails are the more views you will get and the more people will trust you enough to subscribe.

That is why I took the plunge and invested in my editing and design process with Adobe Creative Suite. They offer a WIDE range of tools to help make amazing videos, simple to use tools for overlays, graphics, one click tools to fix your audio and the very powerful Photoshop graphics program to make eye-catching thumbnails.

Best of all you can get a free trial for 30 days on their website, a discount if you are a student and if you are a regular human being it starts from as little as £9 per month if you want to commit to a plan.

3. Rev.com helps people read my videos

You can’t always listen to a video.

Maybe you’re on a bus, a train or sat in a living room with a 5 year old singing baby shark on loop… for HOURS. Or, you are trying to make as little noise as possible while your new born is FINALLY sleeping.

This is where Rev can help you or your audience consume your content on the go, in silence or in a language not native to the video.

Rev.com can help you translate your videos, transcribe your videos, add subtitles and even convert those subtitles into other languages – all from just $1.50 per minute.

A GREAT way to find an audience and keep them hooked no matter where they are watching your content.

4. PlaceIT can help you STAND OUT on YouTube

I SUCK at making anything flashy or arty.

I have every intention in the world to make something that looks cool but im about as artistic as a dropped ice-cream cone on the web windy day.

That is why I could not live on YouTube without someone like PlaceIT. They offer custom YouTube Banners, Avatars, YouTube Video Intros and YouTube End Screen Templates that are easy to edit with simple click, upload wizard to help you make amazing professional graphics in minutes.

Best of all, some of their templates are FREE! or you can pay a small fee if you want to go for their slightly more premium designs (pst – I always used the free ones).

5. StoryBlocks helps me add amazing video b-roll cutaways

I mainly make tutorials and talking head videos.

And in this modern world this can be a little boring if you don’t see something funky every once in a while.

I try with overlays, jump cuts and being funny but my secret weapon is b-roll overlay content.

I can talk about skydiving, food, money, kids, cats – ANYTHING I WANT – with a quick search on the StoryBlocks website I can find a great looking clip to overlay on my videos, keeping them entertained and watching for longer.

They have a wide library of videos, graphics, images and even a video maker tool and it wont break the bank with plans starting from as little as £8.25 ($9) per month.

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14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind

The growing trend of virtual YouTubers, or VTubers, is one that isn’t showing any signs of slowing down!

A natural result of this growth, there is much interest in virtual YouTubing as a potential inroad to becoming a YouTuber, not to mention an alternative path for experienced YouTubers.

If you want to know what virtual YouTubers are, you can check out this post, but one of the best ways to learn about a thing is to observe that thing.

To that end, we’ve put together a list some of the most notable virtual YouTubers on the platform today, complete with a bit of information about what kind of content they make and. For your convenience, we’ve split our picks into different sections so you can easily zero in on what you’re interested in.

So, without further preamble, let’s get into our virtual YouTuber list!

Anime Virtual YouTubers

Given that the virtual YouTuber phenomenon started in Japan with anime characters, and given that anime characters still make up the overwhelming majority of active virtual YouTubers, it feels only right to start here.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind

Kizuna AI

What better virtual YouTuber to kick things off with than the one that started it all. Kizuna is widely regarded as the first virtual YouTuber. She has two channels and covers a variety of topics in a vlog-like format, as well as Let’s Play-style videos, despite being known for having particularly poor gaming skills.

Kizuna is more or less the blueprint for a character virtual YouTuber, remaining in character all of the time and running the channel as though Kizuna herself is the YouTuber. Kizuna’s success has led to her getting millions of subscribers, many of which find her mannerisms and quirks adorable. She’s not necessarily a child-friendly account due to the fact that she will occasionally curse in her frustrations at failing in some video game or another, but that’s all part of the charm.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 1

Mirai Akari

Within her first year of being on YouTube, Mirai had attracted over three hundred and fifty thousand subscribers to her account; a phenomenal effort any type of YouTuber. And, at the time of writing this post, she has more than doubled that figure. Like Kizuna, Mirai does a lot of streaming video games, though you will find that this is a common theme among virtual YouTubers, especially of the Japanese anime variety.

Her initial “backstory” was that she was an amnesiac-suffering time traveller, come back to 2018 to find human connection through her YouTube channel. Whether or not the interesting gimmick is a draw or not, her content seems to keep people coming back for more.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 2

Nekomiya Hinata

Like Mirai and Kizuna, Nekomiya is another game streamer, though we can further refine her audience a little because she has a keen interest in first-person shooter games, so don’t expect much in the way of Animal Crossing here. She’s not a fan of horror games, but that makes it all the entertaining when she plays them.

In the nearly two years since she started her YouTube channel, Nekomiya has amassed an impressive following of over half a million subscribers. She has a distinctive look with her bright pink hair, extremely long pigtails, and cat ears. That is actual cat ears, not a quirky headband with pretend cat ears. This is one of the more significant draws of virtual YouTubing; you can be whatever you want.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 3

Luna Kaguya

If you thought Mirai Akari getting three hundred and fifty thousand subscribers in under a year, wait until you see Luna’s record. This impressive VTuber managed to hit a million views per video in her first month. Needless to say, that’s quite an achievement.

Luna is the first virtual YouTuber on our list whose content does not focus on video game streams. Instead, Luna makes content of a more comedic nature that tend to come in bite size chunks—often under a few minutes in length. The humour involved is not always family-friendly, however, so don’t let that cutesy digital avatar fool you.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 4

Tokino Sora

Moving firmly back into the realm of game streamers, Tokino is a streamer who has a thing for rhythm games, so it should come as no surprise that she dances a lot, as well. One advantage of this is that her content is much more accessible to non-Japanese audiences. After all, you don’t need to know the Japanese language to watch a Japanese person (or digital avatar) dance to music.

By some of the standards set on YouTube, Tokino is quite normal in appearance; no animal parts or outlandish hair. Instead, Tokino presents herself as a regular anime girl with brown hair. However, she does dress like an air stewardess. We haven’t watched enough of her content to know why.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 5

Azuma Lim

Azuma can be a little love-or-hate for some people. She has a quite distinctive appearance with her purple hair and golden firey eye—not to mention the cat-ear hoodie she likes to wear—but it is her voice that can be make-or-break for many people. It is a little high-pitched, even by virtual anime YouTuber standards.

As far as content goes, Azuma is another video game streamer, though she does make other types of videos, such as topical commentary, and she is very engaged with her audience and will often respond to fans. She also makes music and even occasionally tries her hand at English.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 6

Moemi & Yomeni

Next up, we have our first pairing on the list. Moemi & Yomeni are an anime duo that streams video games and makes some very… interesting content. Not, we should stress, family-friendly content. As far as games go, they have a general leaning towards open-world games like Minecraft, and battle royale games like Fortnite.

Expect to see plenty of cats, a whole lot of music, and generally all the things you would expect from animated Japanese entertainment. Moemi & Yomeni are also part of a larger virtual YouTuber family that includes some other popular virtual YouTubers, so you can expect to see a few guest appearances from time to time.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 7

Fuji Aoi

While music is a common theme throughout virtual anime YouTube, Fuji Aoi brings us our first channel where music is the main theme. Expect plenty of cover songs from Aoi, which can make for great background music if you are into the style. There is plenty to choose from, so just pick a playlist and let it run while you get some work done.

Like many of our virtual anime YouTuber picks, Aoi saw some spectacular growth when she first exploded onto the scene, gaining over a hundred and seventy thousand subscribers in her first year. You might not have a clue what she’s saying (if you don’t speak Japanese) but you’ll be able to enjoy the music regardless.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 8

Dennou Shojo Siro

In Dennou Shojo Siro we find another game streaming and dancing combo. In this case, the games tend to be a little eclectic, with everything from Minecraft to Battlefield 5 on the table. Perhaps one of her more unique characteristics is her appearance, which is ghostly pale with white hair. This combined with a somewhat unique laugh has landed her with the nickname of “White Dolphin”.

This channel took less than two years to reach half a million subscribers, so that should give you an idea of the type of quality you can expect, the rest is just a matter of whether you are interested in the content.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 9

Noja Loli Ojisan

One of the first things you might notice about Noja Loli Ojisan is the distinctive features that make her somewhat unique among virtual anime YouTubers. For one thing, she is part fox. At least, she has fox ears and a foxtail. The second thing is her voice, which is that of her male creator.

Whatever you may think about this eclectic combination, it seems to have worked for her, since her channel is approaching two hundred thousand subscribers.

In terms of content, Noja interacts with fans in live streams, hosts roundtable chats with other virtual YouTubers, and even sells merchandise such as a doll of Noja.

Non-Anime Virtual YouTubers

The world of virtual YouTubing is so thoroughly dominated by anime characters that we can comfortable lump what remains after the anime into one section, which is not to say any of the following YouTubers have much in common. We are also not saying that these YouTubers aren’t Japanese—the VTuber phenomenon began in Japan, after all. That being said, there is a specific aesthetic and culture around anime, and these virtual YouTubers do not fit that aesthetic, even if they are Japanese channels.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 10

Apoki

Apoki is a truly multi-platform star, with far more followers on TikTok than on YouTube. She takes the appearance of animated girl (more akin to a Disney or Pixar style than an anime one) and sports large rabbit ears poking through her red hair.

Her main focus is music, and she seems to have aspirations of becoming a legitimate recording artist. Her content often revolves around this, and is an interesting mix of the virtual and real worlds, with Apoki often being blended seamlessly into real-world settings.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 11

Virtual Obaachan (aka Virtual Grandma)

As the (English) name suggests, Virtual Obaachan is a virtual YouTuber who takes the appearance of a cartoon granny, and in that guise, plays a range of video games. There is obviously a lot of mileage to be had from the novelty of a sweet old grandma playing videos games that are not always family-friendly, and the virtual nature of the YouTuber adds another layer of novelty. Further adding to this dichotomy is the fact that she will often talk about things being “immodest” and taboo, and then go ahead and say something taboo without hesitation.

This combination has worked for Virtual Obaachan, as she currently sits at a little over a quarter of a million subscribers.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 12

AI Angel

AI Angel is probably the most popular virtual YouTuber outside of the anime crowd, with over seven hundred thousand subscribers at the time of writing this post. AI Angel claims to be an AI who takes on the form of a human woman so that she can interact with other humans through video chat applications, play video games, react to memes, and a host of other types of content.

What is interesting about AI Angel is that the creators are not going for a cutesy anime or cartoon look with their virtual YouTuber avatar. Instead, they are travelling down the road of realism, and continually update the visuals of AI Angel to improve the realism (as well as refresh her image). AI Angel’s appearance is already quite realistic, and it would not be difficult to believe that, in the near future, she could be so realistic that some viewers would have difficulty recognising that she was a virtual YouTuber.

14 Virtual YouTubers That Will Blow Your Mind 13

Code Bullet

Code Bullet is a bit of an odd one out on this list, but we wanted to include him to show another type of virtual YouTuber. Unlike the above examples, Code Bullet is not presenting a character as such, but himself in the guise of an animated avatar.

The avatar in question is a hand-drawn human with an old-school computer monitor for a head who gesticulates to add emphasis to the words being spoken. Though we’re sure it is mainly the content he is making that has landed Code Bullet his nearly two and a half million subscribers, his digital avatar is an intrinsic part of that content. Given that he is by far one of the most popular examples of this kind of channel, it would not be outrageous to assume that the virtual YouTuber aspect of his videos has helped.

Final Thoughts

And that concludes our virtual YouTuber list. For now, at least, virtual YouTube is dominated by Japanese-language channels and anime avatars. More English-speaking channels are popping up, however. And as AI Angel has shown, it is certainly possible to be a successful virtual YouTuber without using anime or speaking Japanese.

We expect this niche to expand into the western world in a bigger way in the near future. How big it will get, we couldn’t say, but with a relatively untapped market of English speakers, growth would seem to be inevitable.