Kizuna AI plays games, cooks, and even answers her viewers’ questions. She sings, too, moonlighting as a pop star with millions of views on her music video. Kizuna AI is like any other influencer on YouTube, except she’s not real. She’s a virtual influencer.
But it’s not strictly accurate to say she’s a standalone, completely digital entity born from the chaos of the internet. Kizuna AI is voiced by a human actress and produced by a character designer, 3D modeler, and an anonymous team.
She’s made. And since Kizuna AI’s debut and subsequent ascendancy, others have followed in her footsteps—be that a virtual avatar for streaming as a career, hobby, or way of socializing. VTubers is short for Virtual YouTubers, but encompasses Twitch streamers who use a virtual avatar as well. Everybody can be Kizuna AI now, and there’s countless ways of doing so. If you’re looking for where to begin, many existing VTubers recommend starting from a basic and almost-free (or as low-cost as possible) way.
Kyrie is a relatively new VTuber. We met through the Final Fantasy XIV scene, after I interviewed her for another article on a community-made, in-game aquarium with every displayable fish. (It’s called the Eorzean Aquarium. Check it out, FFXIV players.) She’s practical and matter-of-fact, and—having just gone through the ropes of setting up an avatar—generous in advice.
Kyrie started streaming in January 2022, and began her VTuber journey after having to buy a work-from-home setup. “I figured I might as well do something fun with it.” Kyrie says. “I have some history in content creation. I’ve been involved in college radio, podcasts, and shoutcasting after that, as well as cosplay. But this was the first time that I became the central personality.” It also helps that Kyrie has a massive Steam library, and streaming provides an excuse to dive into her backlog. Two birds, one stone.
With the help of an artist friend, Kyrie created her 3D character model, Kyrie Overdrive, through the free software called VRoid. Kyrie’s character is based on her Final Fantasy XIV character, and Saga made the initial character model draft as a birthday gift for Kyrie. The two then spent around three months refining it together, diving into Booth.pm and testing different character assets. Booth.pm, Kyrie notes, is a very useful site that allows her to get clothes and swap outfits frequently. A Live2D model—software that can animate a 2D model—on the other hand, would require an artist to draw an outfit every time Kyrie wants a wardrobe change.
What You Need to Get Started
VRoid is the software that Fofamit, a long-time VTuber who started streaming even before the term VTuber existed, recommends for beginners as well. Fofamit runs an informative YouTube channel on everything virtual streaming, and she initially got into the scene because of the virtual space’s potential. “If I wanted to spend time exploring New York on one stream I could. If I wanted to have a chill time with a stream in a comfy space I could,” Fofamit says. “If I wanted to make it so there could be live interaction with an audience, it could all be possible.”
Her first model was a generic one bought off of Booth.pm for $50. Booth.pm, in addition to character assets, comes with ready-made models whom anyone can buy and use. It’s a fairly affordable and easy option for beginners. Of course, the tradeoff is that your model won’t be unique, and other users who purchased the model can also stream with it. Like Fofamit, however, you can edit the model through Blender, a 3D modeling software.
But a more DIY setup doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your streaming identity. Jams, a person who works at itemLabel by day and streams as a VTuber by night, created Jams—an extraterrestrial lifeform loose on Earth. Jams has a lore video, which dives into his character’s mission to learn more about humankind via Twitch.