The VTuber trend originated in Japan, where anime-styled digital performers like Kitsuna Ai quickly gained popularity.
And when VTuber Hatsune Miku performed live as a hologram to a real audience, the western world jumped on board.
While Japanese VTubers were the first, English speakers, have joined the crowd. Most English VTubers are high-profile independent streamers who play games, hold live chats, and otherwise act as typical streamers. Notable English VTubers are twitch streamers like CodeMiko and Iron Mouse and vloggers such as Ami Yamato.
What is a VTuber?
A VTuber (also known as a virtual Youtuber) is a vlogger, streamer, or content creator that uses a virtual avatar instead of their own body or face.
Their digital character is driven by live motion capture technology that translates the VTuber’s movements and facial expressions in real life to the avatar in real-time.
VTubers typically create content around video game streams, singing performances, and engaging live chats. A VTuber is a fictional character that operates online as an influencer.
There’s a difference between a VTuber and a VTuber’s operator. Many people view the digital avatar as the real ‘VTuber’ and the actual person behind the scenes as the ‘operator.’ An operator is a real person playing the character of the VTuber and — like any actor — hides their usual self.
How do VTubers get paid?
VTubers get paid precisely the same way as other content creators and video game streamers. They make money through advertising, sponsorship deals, viewer donations during live broadcasts, merchandise sales, and exclusive content for fans.
Independent YouTube Channels vs. VTuber Agencies
There are two types of VTuber streamers; an agency streamer and an independent streamer. Independent streamers are by far the most common, and it is the most accessible route for any aspiring VTuber.
Agency streamers are operated by companies, not individuals. The VTuber is a character owned by the agency and is played by an actor. A team of experts handles the actual 3D modeling, visual effects, and motion capture. On top of that, the agency will run their VTuber’s social media accounts, performance schedule, live chat moderation, and marketing events. There are only a few agencies like this globally, and they primarily exist in Japan (where VTubing originated). The most famous agency is Hololive — they manage top VTuber talents like Gawr Gura.
Tip: If you’re an English VTuber who wants to get to the next level, take a look at the English-language agency VShojo — they provide the support, management, and outreach you need.
Independent streamers are solo creators or small indie teams. They’re often 3D animators themselves and have built their avatar and environment from the ground up. Independent VTubers almost exclusively act their avatar themselves. For example, CodeMiko, is run and piloted by a single person. She’s experienced in animation and does a tremendous amount of work (including her own code) to keep everything running smoothly in real-time.
What does VTuber hardware and equipment cost?
Considering how advanced the technology is, it’s surprising to note that you can become a VTuber for free without buying any equipment. You don’t even need a fancy camera — your standard webcam will work!
But the hardware and software you use to control your avatar will have a massive impact on the quality of your mocap, movement, and range of motion. On the high end, a custom character build and a good setup can cost anywhere from $2k to $15k.
There are three main levels of VTuber equipment investment:
- Free facial tracking via webcam & free software.
- Investing a few hundred dollars in hardware like the leap motion controller to get better fidelity movement.
- Investing a few thousand dollars in upgrading to professional software and a full-body motion capture suit (like the Rokoko Smartsuit Pro).
Each time you go up a level, you’ll gain powerful tools for motion fidelity and motion range. In other words, your avatar will be able to move more naturally.
What hardware will I need as a VTuber?
At a very basic level, you just need a webcam and a fairly powerful computer to run your software. Your computer will be completing multiple resource-intensive calculations and outputting in real-time.
For more sophisticated setups, you need the following:
- iPhone with a TruDepth camera: iPhone’s ARKit and TrueDepth camera are widely used by motion capture apps to record high-quality facial mocap.
- Motion capture suit / Full body motion capture solution: A motion capture suit or similar solution will give your character full movement during your streams.
- Finger motion capture gloves: It’s often overlooked, but fingers add more realism to your character.
- Quality microphone: A good mic will up the professionalism of your VTubing operation. You can also add a switchboard for voice changers to keep your real voice private.
What software do VTubers use?
There are plenty of different types of facial tracking software for VTubers. Notably, there are free options that are more user-friendly and do not require a sophisticated knowledge of 3D. Anything more professional will take more time to understand and use.
Free VTuber software that’s available on Steam
- Animaze (previously Facerig): Uses your webcam and has plenty of free avatars and custom settings to get you started.
- VUP: Uses your webcam to animate anime-style characters. It supports 2D and 3D models and comes with some free characters.
- Vtube Studio: Pretty similar to VUP, but only supports 2Dlive characters.
Pro VTuber software
The software that you use depends on your preferred pipeline. You can build your character in any program of your choice (e.g., Daz3D, C4D, Blender, Maya, etc.), but you will have to export it to software capable of live streaming, aka a game engine. We recommend using the Vtuber standard, Unreal Engine.
Motion capture animation needs to be retargeted to your character according to your hardware. For example, suppose you’re using Rokoko Remote for face capture and Rokoko Smartsuit Pro for body capture. In that case, you’ll need Rokoko Studio and the Rokoko retargeting plugin for Unreal Engine to apply the motion data.
It sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. Check out this great tutorial series to learn how it works.
How do I get a VTuber avatar?
You can either use a pre-made character, buy a character, or build one yourself.
Software such as Vroid Studio, Daz3D, and Metahuman Creator gives you the power to quickly put together a character using a simple avatar creator. On Vroid Studio, some creators have even made assets that you can easily purchase.
You can commission your VTuber from online creators or marketplaces — but you cannot purchase a general character on asset sites like Turbosquid if it is not explicitly labeled for VTubers. Almost all facial tracking software for VTubers uses a specific set of blendshapes (facial morphs) that are not standard for traditional keyframe 3D animation.
Once your character is designed, you will need to rig it for motion capture. If you’re using any of the above software, the rigging process is mostly automatic (here’s what it looks like for Daz3D characters). On software like Maya, you’ll need to do it manually.
Popular VTuber Channels
The VTuber community grows every day with emerging stars eager to take the digital spotlight.
Ami Yamato isn’t one of your typical anime girls! She’s a Pixar-style vlogger that isn’t limited to virtual worlds — she interacts with real people and environments!
Gawr Gura is the most popular Japanese VTuber right now. She sings, performs, and stars in commercials regularly. She is famous for her cute karaoke streams.
Miko is another Japanese VTuber. Her video game streams are quite popular with viewers.
PixelFire isn’t that well known, but he’s one of few male Vtubers! He’s created an entire virtual studio as well as multiple characters for his avatar. Watch our webinar with Pixelfire here.