hat do Qai Qai, Crazynho, Kayda, and Squeaky & Roy all have in common? Besides being adorable, all these characters were created by Invisible Universe, a technology company on a mission to become a household name in entertainment by partnering with real-world celebrities like Serena Williams to bring virtual characters to life.
According to their website, “[Invisible Universe] aims to create timeless and indelible animated IP such as those historically born out of traditional mediums like publishing, film, and television, but instead by leveraging the power and reach of social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.”
Essentially, Invisible Universe wants to become the “Pixar of the internet” and plans to achieve this with their roster of celebrity-backed virtual characters. While we have been tracking their virtual movements at Virtual Humans for some time now, here's a re-introduction:
- Qai Qai is the favorite doll of Serena Williams’s daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian.
- Crazynho is a fun-loving monkey who lives with the famous Brazilian soccer player Dani Alves.
- Squeaky and Roy are the latest members of the D’Amelio family on TikTok.
- Kayda is the adorable pet robot and assistant to supermodel Karlie Kloss.
John Brennan left Snapchat to found Invisible Universe when he saw an opportunity to revolutionize the entertainment industry, starting with Serena Williams’ Instagram profile. He noticed fans wouldn’t stop asking about Qai Qai in her comment section. Since partnering with the Olympian to transform her daughter’s doll into a virtual character, Qai Qai has gained more than 3 million followers on TikTok and is now a star in her own right.
The choice to create virtual characters tied to human celebrities was a smart one in the increasingly crowded virtual landscape. Instead of generating their own audience from square one, characters like Kayda can benefit from Karlie Kloss’s dedicated fanbase. More importantly, these characters gain context and a storyline that truly brings them to life.
If you’re doubtful virtual influencers could become the next Mickey Mouse, take a look at Any Malu. Malu, a virtual character from Brazil, started her YouTube career in 2015. In 2020, Cartoon Network offered her a show. She now readily interacts with iconic Cartoon Network characters like Mordecai and Rigby from The Regular Show and remains one of Brazil’s most popular virtual influencers with more than 4 million followers across various platforms.
We may one day see a physical toy version of Qai Qai in stores competing with Disney or Cartoon Network characters for shelf space. (Until then, you can buy her on Amazon.) Getting there won’t be the result of pouring money into traditional film development and audience testing, however. It will be the result of the likes of Invisible Universe and others, developing virtual characters who prove themselves on social media first—right where the fans live.
This clever yet straightforward innovation signals a new age of family-friendly entertainment. Rather than trying to rework an old character like Bugs Bunny for social media, companies like Invisible Universe are creating social-first virtual characters for a new generation of digital natives, build off the existing influence of celebrities. Now that's how you double dip on a fan base in an innovative way.