Nonprofit On the Edge Conservation is launching “virtual animal influencers” on YouTube and other digital platforms to draw attention to endangered species.
It’s a novel attempt by veteran animators to call attention to a cause in a crowded media and game market. It follows up on a game, Kakapo Run, an endless runner mobile game that was also designed to draw attention to biodiversity using pop culture channels.
Kakapo Run is the first in a series of games to raise awareness and support for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species, in particular the Kakapo, the flightless parrot who won New Zealand’s Bird Of The Year.
There are 200 Kakapo that remain in New Zealand today, said CEO Beth Blood in an email to GamesBeat. The game is free to play, there are no ads or in-app purchases.
With the animal influencers, OTEC is mimicking the human “virtual beings” market that blossomed in the past couple of years as artificial intelligence, animation, and influencer marketing have all converged. Rather than using digital humans, OTEC is using animals, who are parroted by human actors.
The charitable foundation is dedicated to promoting biodiversity and tackling conservation attention inequality. It has used popular digital platforms and the latest motion capture technology to create a series of short-form video diaries starring three new virtual animal influencers, launching today.
OTEC hopes by targeting digital natives they can inspire and engage a growing number of young activists who can champion all of the diversity of life in our natural world.
It was started by Blood and Bruna Capozzoli, head of creative content. They created animated animal characters and added human voiceovers and movements to them, as well as narrative tales. This allows them to make their commentary about endangered species through storytelling that resonates with the way people consume media these days.
OTEC has produced a series of short-form video diaries that follow the exploits of a group of digitally-animated characters drawn from the list of 3,500 species on the established Evolutionarily-Distinct Globally-Endangered list.
These videos are designed to appeal to a ‘family’ audience and deploy the latest motion-capture animation techniques. They are freely available on the ‘On the Edge’ channel on YouTube.
They chose Lexi the Aye Aye, Eric the Pangolin, and Tegan the Kakapo to represent some of the most unique, endangered, and overlooked species on the planet.
They had to create tech with a motion capture pipeline to enable the virtual influencers to be expressed through human movements, and they had to build realistic character models that matched the video surroundings. And they had to produce the content quickly.
The adopted motion capture pipeline was designed by Doppelganger, which formed as a collective in response to OTEC’s request. In addition to using motion capture data to control the character 3D model live, Doppelganger used cutting edge technology to capture data from face, hands and body movement together at the same time, which is usually combined afterwards.
The company has 12 people working on the project, which is funded by Blood and her husband David Blood. Over time, OTEC will secure its financial sustainability through digital publishing activities.
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