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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?