n 2020, I covered On the EDGE Conservation's unique application of virtual YouTubers towards an end goal of giving endangered species a literal voice. Enjoy that drop here. Today, I'd like to take you behind the virtual curtain to meet Bruna Capozzoli, the woman who created and directed these unique VTuber animals as the head of creative content at On the EDGE Conservation.
Bruna is a digital specialist who directs, produces, and develops content that resonates with audiences in meaningful ways. With over 15 years' experience in the creative field, Bruna specializes in producing original YouTube content outside of the traditional broadcast model.
I know Bruna as one to engage in purpose-driven projects committed to deliver positive impact on and off screens, so I am excited to share our latest discussion with you today. And yes, Bruna is a real human being! Let's dive in.
Hello Bruna, I hope you're well! It's great to speak with you! For starters, tell us, what is OTEC's mission?
On the Edge Conservation works to raise awareness of EDGE species. Many people are not familiar with the term ‘EDGE’ but it means animals which are evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered.
Shockingly, 9 out of 10 of the top EDGE species don’t receive sufficient conservation attention—mainly because they are rare and unfamiliar to the general public. Much is being done to help charismatic species such as tigers and polar bears, but OTEC’s mission is to highlight and save the lesser known and overlooked species.
I understand OTEC’s recent foray into endangered animal virtual influencers is your brainchild. What inspired you to leverage VTubers for this launch?
Our goal is to popularise EDGE species, but most importantly, we wanted to give them a platform where they could have their own voice to talk about their struggles, what makes them unique and share their points of view. This paralleled nicely with YouTube influencers, as this is what they do—share their experiences online so we can be part of their journeys and hopefully learn something new about ourselves.
Through our YouTube channel and character’s Instagram accounts, you will be able to follow the life of the Lexi the Aye-Aye, Eric the Pangolin and Tegan the Kakapo—endangered species that are relatively unknown and keen to share their unique points of view.
What content initiative in OTEC's pipeline are you most excited about?
I am particularly excited to explore transmedia storytelling across a range of digital platforms, including Instagram. For us, this is the place to expand the narratives we feature in the YouTube channel, while collaborating with environmentalists, ethical brands, and other relevant profiles that share the same interests and values of our characters. In 2021, we will focus on building the network and interactions of the characters on Instagram, and I’m really looking forward to that.
You have an impressive history heading up content creation throughout your career. What has been your most fulfilling role so far? Why?
This project for OTEC has been really fulfilling as it brings together several elements of interest. As a digital specialist I have been following virtual influencers since the early days, and I was fascinated by the level of engagement that these accounts were receiving. It got me to thinking: Is there a way of creating virtual influencers that are a force for good?
In January 2020 I made the decision to step down from my role at Popcorn Digital as Creative Director so I could pursue my goal to work with purpose-driven projects. Before working with animation, I was a filmmaker and also an actress. The On the EDGE YouTube series, however, is my first time creating animated characters that didn’t exist before—for an actress, that is perhaps the role of a lifetime!
What was something specifically prominent you learned while working on Popcorn Digital?
When it comes to digital and online content, there is no one-rule-fits-all. It takes a great deal of time to know the purpose of each project. Every client wants to be on YouTube and social media, but the chance for success comes with really understanding your goals. Also, success for each project is different. The key learning for me was that actual, real engagement with your target audience (despite its size) is more meaningful than levels of followers or subscribers.
Let’s talk tech. When we spoke about OTEC’s launch of virtual animals on YouTube, I learned you are leveraging a new form of motion capture. What’s the innovation in your approach?
OTEC’s virtual influencers use cutting-edge technology to capture data from face, hands, and body movement and render it in real-time. This allows content creation to be more efficient, whilst effectively anthropomorphising our influencers. This inertial motion capture system is quite revolutionary and is also more cost effective.
More importantly for our project, it gives our animal influencers the look and feel of a lifelike character which is more engaging for our audience. It’s my first time working with this particular technology, but when considering how innovative this approach is, I couldn’t be happier with the result.
What’s the best motion capture setup for the average VTuber?
When it comes to motion capture and live rendering, we need to look beyond the technical aspect of it. It is important to embrace it as a creative and artistic craft with its own particularities and not only a combination of software that can potentially improve your pipeline.
My advice would be to consider the desired characteristics of your VTuber—from the tone of voice, environments in which they will be placed, and levels of interaction. This should inform your choices, and remember to not get caught up on a set style. These projects are continuously moving and it’s crucial to remain agile and open to new ways of working.
For anyone looking to get into VTubing, what piece of advice might you share?
The key is to communicate with other professionals within the VTubing environment. Technology is constantly evolving and those ahead of the curve are always trying new things, maybe failing, then trying again—you can learn a lot from these people.
Before production, I reached out to a lot of established motion capture experts who were kind and generous with their time. It’s a competitive space, but building strong relationships and sharing knowledge yourself too is the key to constantly learning and developing.
What’s your 2021 vision for OTEC’s virtual influencers?
Our virtual influencers have a busy year ahead! We have a robust content calendar for next year to continuously produce new content to engage with our audience. As well, we are focused on enhancing the activity for each character on Instagram – expanding our audiences and collaborating with likeminded people, businesses and organisations. Alongside Instagram, we will be launching a TikTok page in February 2021—we know these are the spaces where our audience hang out and our focus is engaging as best we can while introducing new storytelling elements to the content series.
Who is your personal favourite virtual influencer? Other than OTEC's VTubers, of course.
I love @bee_nfluencer, the world’s first Instagram bee influencer. I came across this profile while producing the On the Edge YouTube series and the work done by the Foundation de France and the Bee Fund is very inspirational. Bees are a crucial element of our ecosystem for biodiversity to thrive and this account is doing a great job to champion this purpose-driven issue. I can’t wait to see this virtual influencer in moving image, but as we know, the leap between still images and video content is the most difficult to make when it comes to virtual influencers.
How do you imagine consumer digital experiences will evolve over the next five years?
There’s no telling the capabilities of digital content as new technologies are constantly being introduced. However, experiences will continue to have the consumer central to any content.
I imagine digital experiences will continue to strive to be purpose-driven. People are becoming more responsible and aware of how and why they consume content. Our choices have an actual impact and it’s a great moment for projects with a purpose to develop. Creators will keep thinking, first and foremost: What is the impact of my project to society?
What consumer digital platforms excite you the most?
I’m a huge music lover and a fan of Spotify. It’s fascinating to see how the platform is constantly developing new features to connect the musicians to their consumers. On Spotify, you can click on an artist, find out more about them, buy merchandise, buy concert tickets, and engage with more than just your favourite songs. It’s a fantastic example of connecting the customer to the digital experience, and I’m excited to see how this will further evolve.
Beyond digital, where do you turn for inspiration?
I find everything inspiring! From walks in the park, to reading the newspaper, to talking to my friends that are artists. Storytelling is borrowing inspiration and elevating it. The things around us are what enables creators to keep inventing new narratives to connect to audiences.
Do you have any closing thoughts you would like to share?
Virtual influencers are an incredibly exciting prospect, yet they also come with a level of responsibility. When emulating humans or living creatures, you always have to be aware of the purpose and what they are trying to say. There are examples of fashion-based virtual influencers that concern me slightly. When creating ideal variations of humans we have to be mindful of the impact that impossible standards of beauty can have. As the creator, being conscious and careful with this power is an all-important first step to getting it right.
Bruna—thank you so much for your time and unique insights. Cheers.