Tech, BRB Gone Viral, Now + Beyond

CGI meets IRL: a brief history of the virtual models who are taking over social media

Everything you need to know about the CGI models and influencers that call Instagram home

It’s widely known that what people post on Instagram should be taken with a grain of salt. Candids are actually planned, users edit in apps before posting, and people’s lives often are not as glamorous or abundantly joyful as they initially seem. However, further blurring the line between real and fake is the increasing presence of virtual models. There are now several accounts for CGI models, falling mainly into two camps: influencers and supermodels.

When you think about it, virtual models seem almost inevitable, but the fact that they now exist is still somewhat unsettling. Miquela Sousa, also known as Lil’ Miquela, is a popular CGI influencer who first debuted in the spring of 2016. However, many events preceded her creation.

[image description: CGI model sitting on a real couch with pillows behind spelling out Lil Miquela]

The first fashion dolls were created in 1955, with Barbie launching in 1959. On August 27, 2014, the Barbie Style Instagram page, which was the subject of an SNL sketch in the episode hosted by Donald Glover, made its debut. This page uses first-person captions in the style of lifestyle and fashion bloggers and shows Barbie living her life, traveling and attending events.

Lenses and face filters are also preceded virtual models and furthered the divide between social media and reality.

SnapChat lenses launched in September 2015. Following suit, Instagram launched its own face filters on May 16, 2017 (after the creation of the first virtual influencers.) These features add virtual effects to real images and videos which distort peoples faces. These effects vary, some adding animal features or accessories, but most of them smooth the skin and distort facial features, making noses slimmer or eyes bigger. These virtual features are unrealistic but have nevertheless inspired real-life cosmetic procedures.

Enter: Miquela Sousa AKA Lil Miquela. According to her bio, she is 19 and lives in LA. She has a personality, champions causes like Black Lives Matter, and hangs out with human friends. However, Miquela is a CGI, created by the mysterious robotics start-up Brud.  Miquela only revealed that she’s a robot after Bermuda, a Trump loving “robot,” hacked Lil Miquela’s account in April 2018 and forced her to confess.

Bermuda, along with Blawko, are also part of Brud, and all three of these entities have been entangled in quite a bit of drama.

[image description: an image of Bermuda, Blawko and Lil Miquela standing against a wall]

Prior to Bermuda’s hack attack, she and Lil Miquela were enemies. However, in resolving the hacking, they began spending time together and are now friends.

Bermuda first emerged in the fall of 2016, after Lil Miquela but before Blawko, who emerged in 2017. Bermuda was supposedly created by Cain Intelligence, a separate AI company, and then made the conscious decision to join Brud in order to advance her career on August 6.

Blawko and Bermuda have also been at odds for most of their existences but were brought closer by their mutual identities as robots. As of August 31, 2018, Bermuda and Blawko are romantically entwined. Blawko and Lil Miquela are close friends.

In another virtual universe is Shudu, the first digital supermodel. She was created by British fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson in April 2017, which is all kinds of problematic. He drew his inspiration from the Princess of South Africa Barbie. Unlike the Brud crowd, Shudu is more artwork than a person, with no personality or facade of human-ness. Her captions are about her rather than by her.

[image description: digital model Shudu headshot in pink dress against pink background]

Shudu along with Margot and Zhi,  created for Balmain in August, and Brenn and Galaxia, created in July, make up the model roster of The Diigitals, the world’s first all-digital modeling agency. Aside from her unique status as a digital model, Galaxia is also unique for being an alien model.  

Shudu and Lil Miquela, despite being CGI, have both appeared in real, print magazines (Shudu in Vogue Australia and Lil Miquela in Paper Magazine.) Margot and Zhi model real clothing made by Balmain. Just as real are the effects they and the others that will likely follow will have on a society already full of unrealistic beauty standards. How could any real woman ever compete with artificial beatuy? And how far will we be pushed in this pursuit?