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DEEP DIVE ARTICLE SOCIAL MEDIA YOUTUBE

What Programs do Virtual YouTubers Use?

Virtual YouTubing has been growing in popularity recently, with many new YouTubers opting to don a digital avatar to make their content rather than record their flesh-and-blood self. Naturally, an increase in popularity in something like this leads to… well, more popularity.

Still, while the reason for exponential levels of interest in virtual YouTubing may be obvious, the way that virtual YouTubing is done might not be. If you are scratching your head about how VTubers make their content, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’re going to take a look at the way these videos are made, and then we’ll highlight some of the most popular apps and programs that are used to do it. So, follow us down the rabbit hole!

What are VTubers? 2

What are VTubers?

Let’s start with the basics for anyone who’s landed on this post without knowing what a VTuber is. This is a topic that deserves an entire post of its own, so, we won’t dwell too long here.

VTubers are digital avatars that are animated by someone, with the videos being presented as though the digital persona is the one making the content. VTubers make more or less the same kinds of videos as their meat-counterparts—vlogs, reaction videos, etc.—with the significant exception that they are not constrained by mere physical reality.

They can look, however they want, they can do things like fly around the screen or spawn items out of thin air, and be in whatever setting they wish without having to go travelling.

There are many reasons someone might choose to be a VTuber, such as wanting to keep their real identity private, being camera shy, or just wanting to express themselves as something completely different to their everyday self.

What are VTubers? 1

How Does VTubing Work?

A common misconception by people who first discover virtual YouTube is that the videos are made similarly to the way that, say, a Pixar movie is made—with someone painstakingly animating each frame of the digital avatar to match up with the audio track and any other events that are happening in the clip. This is not the case. At least, not for the vast majority of VTubers out there.

Instead, the software is employed to capture the YouTuber’s movements through a webcam—or, in some cases, a virtual reality headset and controllers—and translate those movements onto the digital avatar.

In this way, the YouTuber is able to film a video relatively naturally, with them doing their part in front of a camera in much the same way a regular video would be filmed, while the software takes care of all the hard work of making the digital avatar copy the YouTuber.

If you have ever used one of those filters on apps like Snapchat that put a silly hat on your digital head or apply digital makeup to your digital face, this is more or less the same kind of technology.

It is possible that there are YouTuber’s out there animating digital avatars by hand. As good as the motion-tracking software that VTubers use is, it is still not perfect, and an experienced animator would undoubtedly get better results doing the whole thing by hand. Unfortunately, even an experienced animator would require a big ol’ chunk of time to do this, which is not practical for YouTube videos, especially when most of them work to upload schedules that include multiple videos per week. The motion-capture programs may not be perfect, but they are usually good enough.

Now, about those programs…

What Program do Virtual YouTubers Use?

When it comes to software for making virtual YouTube videos, there is a surprisingly large selection to choose from. Granted, not everything on this list was necessarily intended for this purpose, but that hasn’t stopped people from using them.

What Programs do Virtual YouTubers Use? 1

Live2D

Live2D can be a little confusing at first as you might see it pop up in several places. Though there are dedicated applications—such as Live2D Cubism—it can help to think of Live2D as a plugin rather than a standalone application.

This is a way of animating digital avatars using layers of 2D artwork. For example, the eyes would be on a separate layer to the head, and by moving the eyes slightly, the technique gives the impression that the head has turned a little. In doing so, Live2D can create an impression of three-dimensional art without actually requiring a 3D model.

Live2D itself does not include a way to track real movements, such as through a webcam. For that, you will need additional software, or you could use an application that provides motion tracking functionality while incorporating Live2D, such as…

What Programs do Virtual YouTubers Use? 2

FaceRig

If Live2D is the technology that enables the virtual YouTuber scene, FaceRig is one of the applications that utilise that technology, though there is more to FaceRig than Live2D.

Using your webcam, this application tracks your head and facial movements and translates them to an onscreen digital avatar, which can be chosen from a wide selection of 3D and 2D characters. You can put your digital character in front of a selection of backgrounds, or just leave them over something plain or even green for future greenscreen effects. You can also process your voice so that the recorded video comes out with a voice to match your digital avatar.

FaceRig is limited in the sense that you can only control facial expressions and some limited head and upper body movement. That being said, the results are stunning, with some incredibly realistic visuals being possible through the app. There is also a budding community around the software, with many new digital avatars being created and shared.

FaceRig is available for a relatively modest sum—around $15 or £13—though there is a pro version that you will need to upgrade to if you make more than $500 per month from the content you make with the app.

What Programs do Virtual YouTubers Use? 3

VTube Studio

Like FaceRig, VTube Studio is an application that provides head tracking functionality and makes use of Live2D technology. This application only provides the 2D style of digital avatar animation, but where it shines is its multi-platform nature.

VTube Studio is available on Android and iOS as well as Windows and macOS, adding an air of convenience to it. How practical it would be to make full-fat YouTube videos using the mobile app we couldn’t say, but many YouTubers make the occasional video or piece of content using their phone, and with VTube Studio, VTubers can do the same.

The app is free, though there is a watermark on any video produced by the free app. You would have to purchase the pro version to remove that watermark.

What Programs do Virtual YouTubers Use? 4

Wakaru

Wakaru is essentially the same as VTube Studio in terms of features, though it has a different pedigree. Wakaru emerged out of the Japanese culture that brought about virtual YouTubing in the first place, and as such, has a special place in many VTuber’s hearts.

You can animate your 2D digital avatar using a webcam and via several in-app controls that will allow you to make your avatar do things like blink. There is no mobile app, though you can use your phone as a camera with the use of third-party apps that essentially turn your phone into a webcam.

Wakaru is free, though it should be noted that many users feel like the software has been abandoned at this point. That is not to say it is not useful, but don’t expect any cool new features to be added to it.

What Programs do Virtual YouTubers Use? 5

VTuber Maker

The name, VTuber Maker, is a little misleading (and has led to a number of negative reviews as a result). It does not allow you to “make” VTubers—indeed, you have to pay to be able to import your own digital character—but it does allow you to animate digital avatars using your webcam, and it is free (importing avatars aside).

You can switch backgrounds, perform several predefined gestures, and the app even comes with a widget that creates a draggable version of your avatar that you can drop in the corner of the screen on top of whatever you are doing. Perfect for gaming streams.

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VRoid Studio

Unlike the above VTuber Maker, VRoid Studio does enable you to make your VTuber avatars. It is heavily geared towards the Japanese anime styles of avatar that dominate the VTuber space, but it has an incredibly easy to use interface that makes creating a professional-looking avatar attainable for even the most un-artistic of us out there.

It should be emphasised that this app is just for making the avatar, not animating it, and certainly not animating it with motion-capture technology. Currently, it is in beta and free to download, though we are not sure if it will remain free when it comes out of beta.

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VKatsu

VKatsu is a solid offering in the realm of animating digital avatars. It lets you create your avatar, choose from several predefined avatars, set the background, and more.

Now for the downsides. It is designed to work with VR headsets for motion-tracking, meaning you will need to own an expensive VR system to animate with your body. Also, it is Japanese-language only, which is fine if you’re Japanese, but most people who read this blog are not. And finally, it is in Early Access, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but if you check the FAQ about the game, it states that they hope to come out of Early Access in… 2018.

Still, it is free and very capable. If you have a compatible VR headset and speak Japanese (or don’t mind fiddling around with the controls to work out what they mean), this could be a useful application for you.

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VRChat

As the name suggests, VRChat is a virtual reality chat application, allowing users to assume the digital appearance of an avatar of their choosing and interact with other users in a virtual world.

The useful part here is that it features full lip-sync and eye-tracking functionality, as well as a range of motion-tracking. You can also use a range of gestures. VRChat isn’t designed for VTubers as such, but it can certainly be used that way.

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Unity

Our last mention is a little unconventional. Unity is a popular free game engine that is used to make video games. Which is to say that it is geared towards video games—it is a very versatile platform that can be used for a wide range of things. The idea behind it is that you can develop your game or application taking advantage of Unity’s built-in capabilities, rather than having to re-invent the wheel, so to speak, be writing your own graphical rendering code. It is not something that the average computer user can just pick up and run with, but if you have any experience coding in C# or Javascript, or you have tried your hand at game development before, there are libraries available to handle things like lip-syncing and head tracking.

This is a niche option, but for those who can make use of it, you will have far more control over your digital avatar than any of the options above, since you will be able to add literally any feature you are capable of coding. It will also allow you to custom-tailor the features you have to suit your needs, rather than making do with the way someone else’s app works.

Unity’s free version is fully-featured, but the licensing states that you must purchase a license if you make over a certain amount of money per year from your projects made in Unity.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are several options when it comes to picking out software and apps to help you bring your VTube dream to life. You may notice that most of the options on this list are either free or have a free version, so don’t be afraid to try them all out and find the one that works best for you.

Remember to check any licensing information regarding the software you choose, as the “pro” model—where you can use the app for free as long as you are not making more than a predetermined amount of money from your use of the app—is becoming increasingly popular.

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DEEP DIVE ARTICLE MARKETING SOCIAL MEDIA YOUTUBE

What are VTubers?

There have been several YouTube trends over the years, most following the same basic pattern of exploding onto the scene, being everywhere for a hot minute, and settling down into another corner of the platform. We’ve seen it with everything from Let’s Play YouTubers to Reaction YouTubers, and now we’re seeing it with VTubers, but what are VTubers?

A VTuber—or Virtual YouTuber—is a YouTuber that uses a digital avatar as their main onscreen persona, often using motion tracking software to directly translate their movements onto their digital avatar. This allows the VTuber to film themselves naturally as any regular YouTuber would, while still using the digital persona they have created.

Of course, we’re going to take a much closer look at this YouTube niche, as well as considering the reasons you might want to become a VTuber yourself – including a great way to make videos without showing your face.

What are VTubers?

A Brief History of VTubers

Originating in Japan, VTubers tend to present themselves as anime girls, using the likenesses of popular online artist’s work.

The earliest instance of what would become virtual YouTubing came from visual novel makers, Nitroplus, who started uploading videos that featured an animated 3D version of their mascot. This mascot would essentially make vlog videos about her life while also throwing in mandatory information about the companies upcoming releases and other news. It was a marketing ploy, after all.

However, VTubers were not a thing way back in 2010 when Nitroplus started making these videos, and the official first VTuber is widely considered to be Kizuna AI, who first appeared on the scene in 2016 and was the first to refer to herself as a virtual YouTuber. The main difference between Kizuna AI and the various similar channels that had come before her was that Kizuna AI was operated more like a typical YouTube channel in the content of the video and the fact that she responded to fans. It would take less than a year for her to reach two million subscribers.

The popularity of Kizuna could be put down to the fact that YouTube was wall-to-wall vloggers in front of webcams at the time, but whatever the reason, the immense popularity of the channel naturally led to a lot of similar channels popping up, and thus the VTuber trend began.

These days there are thousands of VTubers, and seven of the ten biggest Super Chat earners were VTubers. Clearly, there is a big market for this kind of video.

Is this sounds a little too weird for you but you still want to make videos on YouTube without showing your face, here are 12 YouTube Channel Ideas without showing your face without needing to be a cute, creepy anime animation.

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How Are VTuber Videos Made?

As touched on above, VTubers do not manually animate their virtual avatars in the way that a company like Pixar might for their movies. That kind of thing had been done on YouTube before VTubers came along, but it is a lengthy process that requires a lot of skill and patience and is really not practical for something like a YouTube video, especially if the video is quite vlog-like in nature and intended to be uploaded on a similar schedule to those vlogs.

The majority of VTubers use motion capture applications like Live 2D, or FaceRig. These applications monitor the subject through their webcam, tracking facial and body movements and manipulating the digital avatar so that it, in turn, copies the movements. In this way, the VTuber can record their video naturally as though they were recording a regular on-camera video and use the footage outputted by the application for their video.

Why Anime?

Even a brief look into the world of VTubers will reveal that it appears to be almost entirely anime characters—a style of animation that originated in Japan. There may be some complicated social or psychological reason for this, but we’re not aware of any studies. Our best guess is that it is a kind of snowball effect—the first VTubers were anime characters, so it appealed to people who liked anime more.

That being said, the definition of a VTuber—if something like this can be said to have a definition—does not necessarily restrict the video content to Japanese anime characters. For example, AI Angel is a VTuber whose digital persona is that of a caucasian woman. AI Angel makes a range of types of videos from the perspective of being a real AI interacting with people on the Internet and trying “human” things, and has, at the time of writing this post, amassed over seven hundred thousand subscribers.

Granted, AI Angel is something of an outlier in the VTuber community, with the vast majority being firmly in the anime camp. But she does help to illustrate the fact that VTubers are not limited to anime if they don’t want to be.

What Kinds of Content do VTubers Make?

The type of content made by VTubers, unlike the visual style of the videos, is relatively open. For the most part, VTubers make videos in the style of whatever is popular—just like regular YouTubers. They do vlogs, reaction videos, gaming videos, etc.

There is, of course, a considerably lean towards the kinds of content that Japanese people are interested in, but that is only a byproduct of the space being predominantly made by and for Japanese people. As AI Angel has proved, you don’t need to limit yourself to that particular box.

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Is Being a VTuber Expensive?

When the prospect of specialist software is floating around, the question of cost is never far behind it. In terms of the software itself, the news isn’t too bad. You can find very inexpensive—even free in some cases—applications that will let you animate virtual avatars using your phone or computer. Of course, the more features and quality you want to incorporate into your videos, the more you will find yourself needing one of the more expensive apps. Still, even FaceRig is only around £13, with that price going up to £50 if you make over a certain amount of money per month from the use of FaceRig.

Where the real expense may come from, however, is the required hardware.

Video production is already an intensive thing as far as the required computer power goes, and it is even more demanding if you stream. Adding a layer of realtime motion capture and digital animation can put a real strain on your computer if it was only just keeping up before. This will especially be the case for people who are making gaming videos.

You may find that your recording computer needs upgrading or even replacing. Or you might find switching to a dual computer setup is necessary. This is where one computer handles the streaming and recording side of things, leaving your main computer free to do whatever it is you are doing.

Another area that might cost you is your recording setup. Motion capture software is improving all the time, and the degree to which software can track and replicate your three-dimensional movements from nothing but a flat video is, quite frankly, astounding. That being said, the motion capture software is only as good as the video it is capturing from.

If you have a cheap webcam or poor lighting in your recording space, you will probably find that the avatar animation software you are using struggles to accurately track your movements, and certainly your facial expressions.

It is somewhat ironic that to make videos where you are never onscreen; you may well need a more sophisticated and expensive recording setup to capture your image more accurately than you would need if you were just pointing a camera at yourself and talking to your audience.

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Is Being a VTuber the Right Choice for Me?

The first thing you should ask yourself is why you are considering it at all. Making YouTube videos just for the sake of making them will usually end up in failure. The good news is that the scope for what constitutes a good reason to make a YouTube channel is quite broad. You might just like playing with technology like the motion capture software VTubers use, and a YouTube channel could be an outlet for that passion. You could even have very little interest in making videos but like doing something that there is an audience for regardless. For example, there are many successful channels that play video games without any commentary or additional flavour, and people just tune in to watch them play.

Once you have decided what your channel is going to be about, the next step is deciding if the VTuber route is right for you. There are a few reasons you might want to throw on a digital avatar;

  • You are camera shy and don’t feel like you can get over it any time soon
  • You want or need to keep your real identity private
  • You want to express yourself in ways you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing as yourself.
  • You just think it’s cool

As the last point hopefully illustrated, there really is no limitation to why you might choose this method of making videos. Sure, if any of the above reasons apply to you, then you have additional reasons for taking the VTuber route, but, at the end of the day, you don’t need a good reason. It’s an artistic choice. It is far more important you have a good reason for making videos in the first place.

Copyrights and Trademarks

It probably doesn’t need saying, but in the interests of being thorough, we’re going to say it anyway. Trademarked and copyrighted characters and art should be avoided. It will only get your video struck by YouTube in the long run—especially if your videos become popular. This includes artwork by relatively unknown artists online. No matter how obscure the art, if it is not Creative Commons or Public Domain, and you have permission from the artist, you should steer clear.

Remember, the relationship between your digital persona and your audience is very similar—if not perhaps identical—to the relationship they would have with a regular flesh-and-bone YouTuber. If you have to change your digital avatar because of a copyright dispute, it will have a similar effect to how it would go down if a regular YouTuber just gave their channel to someone else and that person started making videos. People become attached to their favourite entertainers, even when those entertainers are digital.

If it is a somewhat unknown artist’s work, you want to use, ask for their permission, and be sure to keep a copy of their email in your inbox. If a large company owns the likeness you want to use, you may as well accept that it is not going to happen. You could still try, just don’t expect a favourable reply—if any.

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Is This a Passing Fad?

Keeping in mind that this is a guess based on the way things usually go down on YouTube; yes and no. Yes, it is almost certainly a trend that will die down a bit once it has peaked, but unlike a fad, it probably won’t go away once its time in the spotlight has passed. YouTube trends, as we mentioned above, tend to explode onto the scene, dominate everyone’s recommendations for a time, and then settle down into being another sub-community on the platform.

It is unclear how big this trend can get—perhaps it has already reached its peak—but it is worth noting that there is nothing inherently Japanese about the concept of a VTuber, and yet the majority of VTubers are Japanese. Now, this could speak to some sociological reason that western audiences aren’t interested in VTubers, but it would seem more likely that this disparity is because the western audience hasn’t caught on yet, which would, in turn, suggest that VTubing would be in for another big surge when they do.

Given that this is an English-language blog companion for an English-language YouTube channel, we’re going to assume that the majority of the readers are western. So, has this post inspired you to go out and start a VTube channel? Perhaps you could be in the vanguard of western VTubers, cementing yourself as one of the leading channels in the English-speaking VTube space.

Or perhaps you think it’s all a bit silly. Why not let us know in the comments?