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The Overworked Humans Behind China's Virtual Influencers

performer in motion-capture suit in front of a screen showing her virtual character

Brands develop influencers' personalities and control their physical appearance.

Credit: Getty Images

Over the past decade, entertainment companies in China and Japan have increasingly invested in developing virtual pop stars, animated personalities, and brand influencers powered by teams of computer scientists and voice actors. 

Marketing agencies in China bet big that these digital influencers would stay on-message at all times, avoiding the burnout or controversy of some human influencers. But at their core, virtual idols typically rely on a single human: an actor or actress wearing a motion capture suit who lends their voice, movements, and facial expressions to bring them to life in real time. And when they go off-script to complain about exhaustion, overwork, or low pay, that's a real person complaining about their actual working conditions.

Human concerns have disrupted the virtual celebrity business in several recent instances. Uruha Rushia, a virtual YouTube star at Hololive, was "retired" in February for allegedly leaking business information to her 1.6 million YouTube subscribers during a livestream.

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