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November/December 2021

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Page 30 of 39 29 POST NOV/DEC 2021 ack in 2018, Giantstep in Korea de- veloped a digital influencer as an internal project. For our team, it marked the birth of 'Gia', a stylized female char- acter running on a realtime engine. Our team launched a YouTube channel and Giantstep immediately saw the potential for a future market for digital influencers and performers. Our next goal was to create a realistic digital human. This vision of a future for digital hu- mans became the impetus for establish- ing GX Lab as Giantstep's internal R&D team. It immediately became an incubator to explore numerous applications for use of realtime rendering technology, includ- ing the creation of life-like characters who could be animated in realtime using per- formance motion capture. The result of our efforts gave birth to Project Vincent. Since unveiling Project Vincent in 2019, Giantstep has received much at- tention from various industries, including winning the Epic Games MegaGrant. Our studios in Korea and Los Angeles contin- ue to field inquiries from brands and en- tertainment companies, giving credence to the opportunities for this technology in social media, entertainment and the burgeoning metaverse. Perhaps the first practical implemen- tation of a digital human has been 'Han Yua'. Originally developed by Smilegate Entertainment, Han Yua was a game character that had built up a huge fol- lowing through their gaming platform. Smilegate realized the opportunity to have Hun Yua transcend their game, and partnered with Giantstep to refine the character, whose activities now extend to online environments, like Instagram, as well as other offline applications. Over time, Hun Yua is gathering even more interest from marketers as a virtual influencer and model, while continuing to interact with her fans. One of our ongoing clients has been SM Entertainment, the largest entertain- ment company in Korea, offering a mas- sive roster of K-Pop talent. Last year, SM released a new girl group, Aespa, whose members exist in the real world, as well as in the digital world as avatars. The SM Culture Universe will see Aespa's human performers appearing, interacting and performing with their own virtual charac- ters. Giantstep was responsible for their final design as well as implementation, and we continue further development and refinement to make them suitable for live interactive performances. This is especially exciting because we're break- ing new boundaries where entertainment and technology intersect. We believe it's the future of the metaverse. After seeing the roaring success of virtual influencers and K-pop in the in- ternational market, the Korean entertain- ment industry, in particular, is preparing for more virtual idols. However, virtual idols are not effective if they have no backstory. We're already in a content war. This means virtual celebrities will join the battle — more stories and more universes that fans can enjoy, which, in turn, opens up many more opportunities for brands, companies and for content creators like us. While we still have obstacles to over- come, our teams continue to develop tools to solve the complexities of facial and body rigs. Among some of the chal- lenges are implementing AI into facial movement and automation of animation rigging systems to express the subtleties of human expression, most especially around the eyes and mouth. It's just a matter of time before this is solved. In the meantime, Giantstep has con- tinued our development and exploration to be prepared for what is certainly coming — metaverse. Time is money. When people spend more and more time on SNS, computers or digital media, their digital identity is becoming more import- ant. And when it is combined with NFTs, someday, our digital assets will be as valuable as — or even more valuable than — our physical assets. People will want to have diverse choices in their avatars and full customization. For this reason, the entertainment industry is also looking into NFT tech to create virtual merchan- dise. The NFT market will see an explo- sion in growth. Physical merchandise has a limit when it comes to production, but the same doesn't apply to virtual goods. Our team has a roadmap for our digital human development. First, get- ting out of the uncanny valley using a full range of emotional expressions in realtime. Facial rigging and animation are super complex. Even a simple smile can have many meanings depending on which muscles are used. Manually ad- justing all of these variables in rigging is very time-consuming, even with the help of trained artists. We're approaching this problem with machine learning. Second is AI-trained automation for a digital-human creation. Currently, creat- ing a digital human takes several months, which is why Metahuman in Unreal Engine solves a lot of problems. However, brands, entertainment companies and even individuals in the future, will want more customizations. So eventually, au- tomation in rigging will be necessary. And lastly, as we briefly mentioned before, full customization in which users can be anyone they want to be will be the final step. Many opportunities will abound. We're already seeing people running businesses in custom clothes and objects on almost every metaverse platform. The spectrum of business will broaden at every level of the digital universe and the digital self will be at the center of everything. EVOLVING MEDIA WITH DIGITAL HUMANS BY HEEBOK LEE EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR GIANTSTEP GIANTSTEP.COM FULL CUSTOMIZATION WILL ALLOW USERS TO BE ANYONE THEY WANT TO BE B ANIMATION

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