How Metahumans can redefine identity

The metaverse is evolving rapidly, with new technologies changing how we interact digitally. Reece Webb finds out how new technology can help us transcend and embrace a new digital identity.

The metaverse is driving change in our industry: with a growing focus on ‘hologram’ tech, virtual production and a deeper ingraining between the real and virtual world in our professional and personal lives. Enter Dimension Studio, a company which specialises in the creation of virtual worlds, virtual production and what the company describes as virtual humans – a new way to interact with the growing digital world around us.

Simon Windsor, co-founder and co-CEO, Dimension Studio, explains: “When we started in 2014, our focus was on how we could build 3D content creation pipelines to tell stories in new ways. My entry point was via augmented reality and the interest for us was what does a future world look like where virtual content coexists in the world around us? Such as in the case of AR or MR where content steps into our physical world where we can enjoy it or use it for information or utility. The alternative to that is to step into those virtual worlds using the same underlying production capabilities and techniques.

“Those pipelines have become more relevant to content creation more broadly: the world of film and TV as well as broadcast are increasingly adopting real-time 3D pipelines for movie making, virtual production and the creation of virtual humans that are part of the mixed reality experience.”

The world of immersive technologies has skyrocketed in recent years in both popularity and sophistication - with the widespread adoption of virtual production and its focus at trade shows and the development of more sophisticated headsets for VR/MR. These are tools that are believed to be key to creating a new phenomenon that has been on the lips of many specialists in this field: the metaverse.

But what exactly is the metaverse and what form will it take? A virtual world that exists separately to our own? A mixed reality space that integrates with our physical world seamlessly? This is a question that is still being wrestled with by developers.

"Metahumans are our go-to tool for realistic characters that can be driven in real time." - Simon Windsor, Dimension Studio

Windsor says: “The metaverse isn’t a destination at the moment, we are iterating towards it. I believe that aspects of the metaverse are already here, but it’s not fully fleshed out yet. The metaverse, to me, is a parallel virtual universe that coexists alongside our physical world and we will access it through different devices depending on our requirements and context. That might mean a future wearing smart glasses or contact lenses with content that is augmented in our field of view as if it physically exists or some kind of utility such as notifications while walking down the street that is relevant to you and provides value.

“You might be able to reskin your physical world using those same AR glasses or contact lenses in the style of certain themes, so we could access the metaverse by augmented reality or also access it in a more immersive way through a virtual reality experience, using devices to ‘portal’ into virtual universes.

We’re on the path towards that, and today we have experiences that give an indication of what the metaverse might be rather than what it will become.” While technology developments play a key role in the push towards the development of a fully-fledged metaverse, the advent of social media and enhanced virtual content could be having an effect on how we view our own identities.

“Today, we use social media on our devices and we all have digital profiles online,” says Windsor, “that’s a form of digital identity and we are seeing the adoption of avatars and three-dimensional content that is going to inform the next generation of identity and how we express ourselves, it’s going to become radically more creative. Those avatars will be representative of you, your values and how you want to be perceived. You might even have different avatars for different worlds in professional or personal environments.

“If we also look at how the virtual economy is evolving, people are becoming more comfortable with the idea of digital asset ownership for items that only exist virtually. Increasingly, the presence we have in the real world will have an equivalent in the virtual world.” To meet this development head on, Dimension Studio has worked with talent agency, Unsigned, to create what it calls a ‘MetaHuman’ – a lifelike, 3D digital human that can be customised and optimised for different environments and settings.

Windsor explains: “Epic has a tool called MetaHuman, it’s their avatar creation system. They have been focused on making it easier to create realistic, believable characters of a high quality and making production techniques around it easier. You can see pore level skin detail and the way in which they animate is more natural. They are not designed to try and fool you into thinking that it is a person that really exists, but it’s getting close to that. It’s driving higher quality avatar creation at a lower price point and that is driving creative experimentation beyond just the gaming industry, it’s opening opportunities to create realistic humans and their use cases.”

Dimension Studio is working with supermodel Eva Herzigová to become the world’s first metahuman supermodel, created and ready to star in virtual worlds. The AV industry already relies on avatars and virtual content, be it augmenting our backdrops on videoconferencing applications or appearing at events virtually through different forms of ‘hologram’ technology. Developments such as metahumans may offer new opportunities to engage with the virtual and real world.

Windsor says: “We work across lots of different avatar platforms, metahumans are our go-to tool for realistic characters that can be driven in real time. You could use it for live performances for example by putting Eva Herzigová in a motion capture suit and ‘driving’ the motion of her metahuman supermodel in real time. Her metahuman might be on a catwalk as part of a mixed reality fashion show, with the avatar taking Eva’s place [for the performance] as a more creative expression of the show. It doesn’t replace Eva, of course, but it’s an extension to how she may want to appear.

“In the future, there will be a roster of virtual talent and celebrities. Eva was interested in exploring what her digital identity might be and taking control of that. With Eva, it’s about being future facing and we worked with her and Unsigned to create her three-dimensional metahuman which can be used for lots of different experiences, brand campaigns and partnerships, be they fully immersive in virtual reality, online as part of a streamed experience or a mixed reality experience.

There are lots of ways that we anticipate that Eva’s metahuman will be used.” Looking to the future, how could this technology evolve? We find ourselves in uncharted territory as digital identity evolves alongside hyper-realistic avatars and AI, so how could this technology find itself blending and integrating into our world?

“Given the pace of change it’s hard to foresee what comes down the road in five to ten years,” says Windsor. “We are entering a new era for digital identity, and I think we are going to see incredible, creative ways of expressing ourselves in virtual worlds that coexist with our own. Many brands have started to explore virtual products and they need models to bring these products to life. We’re going to see the adoption of three-dimensional pipelines that become more accessible and efficient allowing more people to create avatars.

“I foresee a future where digital talent will become part of a three-dimensional asset vault. The data will be protected and tracked, being licensed out much like licensing rights are handled today but it will be more controlled. Ultimately, the sky’s the limit in how metahumans can be involved.”

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