The Seoul Broadcasting System's SBS D Forum is one of South Korea's most important annual forums for discussions on the future of tech. In 2021 it had a special guest speaker: Neal Stephenson, the bestselling author of speculative fiction such as Snow Crash and creator of the terms 'metaverse,' and 'avatar'. Neal would be appearing remotely for his talk and video interview for the D forum from his hotel in San Francisco, but the team at SBS wanted to do something a little bit more special.
Early in October, producer Jun Park contacted the 2D and 3D character creation and animation software developer Reallusion to discuss creating a special experience for the guest speaker. Park wanted to create an animated digital avatar of Neal to deliver the first segment of his appearance. The D Forum was to take place barely a month after on November 18. Neal was put in touch with Reallusion and the work began.
The work to create the avatar, animation and voice began with Neal providing a video of him making his introduction so that his voice and facial gestures could be used as a reference to create a stylised character and animation. The performance was captured with Xsens Awinda, iPhone for Face with iClone AccuLips lip-synch, and iClone Motion Live. With that material banked, Reallusion took care of the character design, teaming up with Actor Capture for the motion capture and animation.
The avatars were made with Character Creator and the animation with iClone. James Martin, Max Thomas and Joel Mack from Actor Capture took the characters and generated the audio, lip-sync and mocap for the final performance. Epic Games generated the environments and surrounded Neal’s avatar and the stage with virtual world landscapes for a unique experience and a fitting tribute to Stephenson's work and futurescapes.
"When Neal Stephenson' took the stage as a digital human it was so incredible; obviously a big moment for the broadcasting industry and SBS D Forum," Park said.
John Martin, vice president at Reallusion, said: "Neal's cooperation on the project brought a real-world literary hero into our work and we are honoured and grateful to partner with SBS and with such a visionary like Mr. Stephenson.”
You can see a full recording of Stephenson's appearance at the SBS D Forum on YouTube.