ameron-James Wilson is the creator of the world's first digital supermodel, and he's the Founder & CEO of the world's first all-digital modeling agency, The Diigitals. Cameron was an early mover in the virtual influencer industry when he brought Shudu Gram to life on Instagram on April 21, 2017. Since baffling the fashion and modeling world at large, he's added virtuals Galaxia, Brenn, Dagny, Koffi, Margot, and Zhi to the Gram family.
I'm pleased to bring you a comprehensive 2020 update on Shudu Gram, The Diigitals, and Cameron-James Wilson. Enjoy this direct transcription of our conversation.
Shudu is nearing 200k followers and just celebrated her third birthday. I see you also added a new human muse to your roster. What else is new with Shudu?
"We introduced her muse, Alek, and we did an amazing photoshoot with her. This year was going to be amazing. Unfortunately, some of the plans for Shudu have been pushed back because of coronavirus, which is a shame. To be honest, I took a little creative break with Shudu – if you notice, I haven't posted the lot. I feel like during this time there's a lot of pressure on us to be really creating and doing this and doing that, but actually this is quite a stressful time, particularly for me, and I'm sure a lot of other people.
I don't really feel that creative right now, so she's having a little break. Who knows when I'll feel inspired to to do a picture, but I've always maintained since her creation that I will only create stuff for her when I feel I want to and when I feel inspired, not just because I think 'Oh I need to put something out.' Who knows! Who knows what's going to come about with Shudu.
You opened a studio for The Diigitals in the UK. What's the plan for the studio?
"We're currently building our network of 3D fashion designers. Thomas is doing a lot of outreach to them, to build a bank of 3D fashion assets and things like that. That's one of the things we're doing. I'm actually focusing more on some of my other characters, creating new characters, and there's a lot else going on right now.
I really just want it to be a creative space that will enable us to do a lot more than what we could. We actually needed physical space – that was one of the things we were lacking to be able to do some things. We have an in-house photo studio, which I have some plans for. The idea is just for this to be a hub where we can really push content out through social media. I want to take a step back from some of that content generation. I feel that, as an individual, I'm stopping some of the content being generated because I just can't handle the amount of work needed to produce it. I'm trying to find a way to, using the studio, make a small scale version of how I see the company growing from here on. I want to start off small, and then I'm thinking about scaling and thinking 'How do I make this grow in a lot of different ways right now?' The studio is the very start of that."
What's your next big initiative?
"Just connecting all the dots and starting to produce much more content. Especially during this time, I want to offer more opportunities for people and maybe run certain competitions or ways for people to get involved. We're just developing our network much – much more than just making it global and accessible. That's really the biggest goal for us: to have a really well-established network to be able to produce plenty of content without my involvement as much as before, and just utilize all those connections."
How many virtuals are represented by The Diigitals right now?
"It's about six or seven. I think we're changing up some of the representation to replace some sort of models like Margot & Zhi by moving that to our 'Projects' rather than necessarily 'Representation', and replacing those models with new faces. I'm currently working on two or three new faces to add to our roster and kind of diversify a little bit more. I'm also working on Galaxia on the weekends as well to start developing her character and universe.
We're still keeping it quite small, so it will still be around seven or eight models by the time I'm finished with the new faces. We're taking a different stance with them – maybe not having them on social media, or maybe having them on different platforms rather than just Instagram, and marketing them then towards different kinds of platforms. We're just looking at it and taking a step back.
I think what happened in the beginning was I was really excited to create all these different characters, and then I didn't really have too much of a plan for them, and sometimes I neglect them. I'm having much more kind of structure and focusing much more on why I'm creating these characters and how I feel I'm going to market them in the future. I'm also listening to my clients and what they're looking for or what they're asking for every time. What can I add to my roster that they would want?"
On the topic of models, a common debate I see come up in your comment section is whether or not virtual models displace opportunities for human models. Really, in short, human models are worried that virtual influencers will take their jobs in the future. What do you say to that?
"I don't think there's any taking jobs because I see there are people behind these virtual influencers. There's still a human barrier – the character isn't human. It's just a change in role. It's gone from having to be tall and beautiful yourself to maybe just be artistic and have a computer to become a model. It changes the role and I think it democratizes beauty in a way that means anyone can make a supermodel.
I made Shudu from a very cheap gaming PC in a shed in my mom's garden. It's very, very accessible these days. In a way, I think it's better because you can sit at home and create these kind of fashion models and things like that, and you can find your way into the fashion industry in a way that maybe you wouldn't have been able to before. I think the fashion industry is big enough for real models and it's big enough to handle virtual models. I don't think it's going to take anything away – I think it's opening up new opportunities for people.
Let's face it, the modeling industry isn't that great, Anyway. People are treated awfully. They're trafficked from one country to another. Women and men are often sexually abused in the fashion industry. It has so many flaws and faults. I don't think it should just be glamorized and say 'Oh you're taking this away!' Actually, we might be improving it. We might be making it a safer environment for people to work in. Rather than going out to these shoots and stuff, you're using virtual models who are not being put at risk."
What was Shudu's last big modeling gig?
"Obviously she modeled alongside her new muse, which was going to lead into something much bigger. Unfortunately that's been put on hold. Of course we launched our global muse program. Again, that's kind of been put on hold a little bit, but soon we'll be able to follow that up and start to arrange new kind of photoshoots there. The idea with the global muse program is that we find people who are kind of similar to our models around the world, and we set up a network where they can kind of step into our digital model's shoes if clients need to. If we had a client in New York, we can set up a photo shoot in New York, or if we have something in Africa.
Rather than having models have to travel to the opportunities, we bring the opportunities to them. There are so many beautiful people in the world who can't travel. There are so many beautiful people in the world who just can't get a visa. Why not bring the opportunities to them? Why not bring the jobs to them to their doorstep so they don't have to travel and they don't have to choose between their family and their job? That's the idea behind the global news program. Stop having to make all these models come to one place, and actually start start thinking about bringing the opportunities to them."
I know many newer smaller scale virtual influencers are looking for guidance in this industry. They're looking for sponsorship opportunities and they're looking for ideas. What advice would you give them?
"Really, really focus on what you're offering and make sure it's the best that it can be. You have to make sure that your product is super, super high quality and it has something that's different and stands out from the crowd. Just by making a virtual influencer now it's quite commonplace. You can't just make a virtual influencer and almost expect all these opportunities and PR to fall your lap like it did a couple of years ago.
You need to really, really focus on your craft, look at some of the amazing other influences out there who are really, very polished like Imma.Gram or Noonoouri. You're seeing a lot of influencers that aren't just hyper-realistic. They're also cartoons and really creative. Really just focus on your craft. Make sure you're not rushing to get sponsorship opportunities or anything like that. Make sure that you're ready for it before expecting or approaching clients to sponsor you."
As for creators and brands who are not yet in this industry – those watching on and considering launching a virtual influencer. What would you say to that group?
"Have a really, really solid plan for their character. Have a plan that lasts not just short term, but 3-5 years time. This is an industry that is growing, but growing quite slowly. It's about three to five years away from really peaking and changing. Have in mind when you create this influencer, it's not going to have instant success. Don't be disappointed if people don't instantly follow this character. Have a really, really solid plan.
Again, make sure that the character that you're putting out is beautifully crafted, is interesting, and has depth. Make sure it isn't just piggybacking off current trends in order for likes and follows. Just really be authentic in your intent and the stories that you tell. I've seen other influences make up stories and make up this narrative. It comes across as inauthentic and they've been criticized for doing so. Just make sure everything that you do comes from the heart, it's very authentic, and that you have a solid plan for the next three to five years."
Could you speak more about your insight that the industry will peak in three to five years?
"My projection of three to five years was before coronavirus. I'm not really sure how much the coronavirus may have fast-tracked this process, but in about three to five years you will see the entire fashion industry shift more towards 3D production of clothes. They are starting to shift, but I think in three five years you will see the kind of seismic shift where every part of the industry shifts. That, of course, will filter down into a lot of areas of 3D, like 3D influencers, virtual influencers, and virtual models. It is, of course, going to fuel the growth of the industry and the demand for these characters. That's my prediction for the next three to five years.
Coronavirus could have fast-tracked that just because we're seeing a lot of interest in 3D as a solution and a contingency for these kind of events in the future. Fingers crossed it I think will be a majorly positive thing if it does happen in the next three to five years because one of the major kind of side effects of it is a huge boost in sustainability for the fashion industry, which I think is incredibly important."
You've done a lot to promote the industry considering your willingness to attend speaking events and even take interviews like this on the subject. What else do you believe will grow the virtual influencer industry?
"I think just social media trends. There's trends in gaming. There's trends in social media. I think we're seeing huge, huge increases in the amount of gamers, I think, again, another side effect of coronavirus is that we're in a lot more games right now. We're all kind of trying to occupy ourselves and entertain ourselves and in any way.
Of course, alongside gaming you have digital fashions and selling digital products like skins, different characters, and things like that, which, again, I think will fuel the 3D industry. Then you'll see much more partnerships with bigger and bigger fashion brands, as well, as they start to see it as a lucrative business. I think fashion has not really paid much attention to digital fashion within games up until now. You realize a skin on League of Legends or any other game can make you millions and millions of dollars, then you don't actually have to produce anything. I think that's, again, another thing that's going to really fuel the fuel the 3D fashion industry."
Where do you hope to take the Galaxia storyline one day, which you deem the world's first alien supermodel?
"Galaxia has an entire universe built around her and a story that comes with her. It's something that I really want to tell you the right way, which is why I've been kind of hands off. It's a world build project that I am working on. One of the first approaches that I'm taking to her world is, actually, I'm designing the textiles that go into her world first. I was thinking of different ways of approaching it, like "How do you build this world?" You can start with the creatures, or you can start with different characters.
What I really wanted to start to define was the fashion. What are the fashions in this world? Where did they come from? Can I say a lot about the character just by the kind of textiles that they wear? I'm working alongside a friend who is helping me create textiles patterns just for Galaxia, and then, hopefully, maybe even design some sort of collection that starts to tell the story of her world – just tell it in a completely unique way through a digital fashion collection. How can you tell such an amazing and deep story through just a digital fashion collection? I think that would be very, very interesting."
Is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers in closing?
"I'm sure they're just really interested in virtual influences themselves. I think just reach out – I see a lot of people posting stuff and tagging Shudu or tagging The Diigitals. Maybe they have questions, or whatever. This is the power of social media: you can just reach out to to me on Shudu's page, or Tom on The Diigitals', and just ask any kind of questions that you might have or anything that you need guidance on.
Like you said earlier, I often get asked a lot of questions about 'How you develop these characters?' and 'Can I get feedback on my character?', or 'What do you think the future of fashion is gonna look like?' I really, really enjoy answering those questions, and hopefully in the future I'll be able to provide some sort of education for people or some sort of tutorials for creating characters and things like. That's something I'm really, really looking forward to this year.
That's one of the reasons why we have the recording studio – so that I can record them. I can't wait to show off the studio! It's such a shame that it's been held back. When I show you, eventually, the recording studio is a completely soundproof VR space. It is a space where you walk into and it's only going to be lit with red lighting, so it dulls your senses. It's completely soundproof. You're gonna step into this world with the VR and it's just going to be an incredible experience. I'm hoping to test certain things in that area for the future as well."