The future of virtual influencers

We speak to the creatives behind Gen Z icon Lil Miquela and the first virtual influencer to age over time, Sylvia, about the process of bringing them to life – and why the virtual influencer industry needs a rethink

Most of us are accustomed to the way social media blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. The phenomenon of influencers, and the perfectly curated and filtered worlds of their feeds, has been a source of fascination and criticism in recent years. It was arguably only a matter of time then, before their computer-generated counterparts began taking over the internet.

One of the first so-called virtual influencers to burst onto the scene was Miquela Sousa – aka Lil Miquela – in 2016. The brainchild of LA-based studio Brud, the computer-generated musician, social activist and model has so far collaborated with fashion brands from Off-White to Prada; released a top ten Spotify single; amassed over five million followers on social media and, in achieving all this, earned herself the much-coveted but elusive accolade of being a Gen Z icon.

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The common thread running through Brud co-founder Trevor McFedries’ career to date is his ability to wield social influence – whether as a DJ for artists such as Katy Perry, an artist advocate at Spotify or a manager and producer for upcoming artist Banks. The inspiration for setting up Brud, which specialises in robots, AI and digital media, came from the slightly less likely avenue of Noughties sitcom Will & Grace – specifically its decision to make its male lead character gay.

“There was all this data around Will & Grace which suggested that the public polling of gay people was tied into the ratings of that show,” explains McFedries. “The beginning of Brud was like, is there a way to do what Will and Grace did at the scale of software? It became clear that Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t speak Mandarin or Portuguese, but could you create a Jennifer Lawrence that speaks Mandarin, Portuguese, English, Spanish? That could be bound not by human constraints but rather by software constraints, and hopefully create entertainment that is as compelling as a Logan Paul or the Kardashians, but also have these interesting ideologies and moral themes inside of them?”

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes