Home Culture Shudu and Lil Miquela: The Unreal Social Media Influencers Who Are Replacing Real Models

Shudu and Lil Miquela: The Unreal Social Media Influencers Who Are Replacing Real Models

by Aimee Brooke

Why Waste Time Working With a Human When You Can Create the Perfect Social Media Influencer From Scratch? Meet Shudu and Lil Miquela

Anyone familiar with the online world understands the role social media influencers play in the 21st century economy. These individuals use large groups of online followers to direct internet traffic, aiming to increase product sales with a simple picture or video endorsement. Typically these influencers are all real people; they commonly share all the intimate details of their personal lives on camera in order to foster a deeper connection with their audiences. However, computer-generated imagery and modeling have become an unlikely couple as “CGI influencers” begin appear in cyberspace. This new branch of technology has led to much controversy, backlash, and confusion. 

What is a CGI Influencer? 

Let’s take a closer look at popular CGI influencer and model Shudu, the creator behind this “art project,” and the ethical questions that digital modeling has raised.

To better understand CGI influencers, we must first take a closer look at how this trend began. The first significant instance of computer-generated characters appearing as a social media persona dates back to 2016, when Instagram account @LilMiquela made its big debut. 

This Instagram account appeared to be like any other–just a teen girl posting pictures of herself and moments in her life that she deemed worthy of sharing. However, the pictures of the “girl” were heavily edited and computerized, appearing as if she was some type of real life sim. At the time, the general public was not as accustomed to such detailed editing technology, and the account’s hype quickly grew as people tagged their friends in Lil Miquela’s posts, asking if she was a real person or not.

This confusion over whether or not Lil Miquela was real played a big role in her popularity. Even though she looked edited and animated, she still posted pictures with quirky captions as if she was a real person with life experiences, thoughts, and feelings. She would even share pictures of herself with her friends, some appearing as normal people and others seeming equally as “animated.”

Was Lil Miquela A Real Person? 

But of course, no, Lil Miquela is not real. It was later revealed that Lil Miquela is a social experiment created by LA-based tech startup Brud alongside Cain Intelligence. There remains very little known about these companies and the people behind them, but we now know that Miquela has in fact been labeled as a fictional character. Her features and sometimes voice are computer animated and edited, and though there is a single female model behind Miquela, used consistently as a base for editing. This makes it easier to maintain realistic and uniform facial and body features during the editing process.

Some of the friends regularly featured in Miquela’s Instagram posts such as Bermuda are also CGI influencers created by Brud, allowing the characters within the same company to share many interactions online.

Lil Miquela now has over 2 million followers on Instagram, successfully playing her role as a CGI influencer with a large and loyal fanbase. She uses her account to continue posting animated life updates as well as promotional content endorsing several big brands. As technology progresses, she has even taken part in multiple video interviews and released music across various platforms. 

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Meet Shudu, The Latest CGI Influencer 

Unlike Lil Miquela’s mind-boggling debut, recent technological developments have made it almost impossible for an audience to distinguish between pictures of a real person versus a realistically animated character.

Shudu first captivated the public eye in as a model for the launch of Rihanna’s makeup line, Fenty Beauty. Although she was not an official model for the company, Fenty Beauty reposted her pictures on their official Instagram account, where Shudu is seen modeling various lipstick and foundation products for the brand. Instantly, viewers wanted to know more about the model and who she was. Many people were interested in Shudu because of her dark skin tone, as models with lighter skin tones are usually favored and given more attention and opportunities in the modeling industry. The general public was excited to see someone with like Shudu being supported by such a popular brand, giving representation to the black community. 

Initially, Shudu had appeared to be an actual woman, and well–real. All signs pointed to her being human; her Instagram page displayed professional full-body photoshoots and even promotional ads for clothing companies. It was not stated clearly on her page that she was a CGI or a fictional character–however, it wasn’t long before people began to catch on. After many pressing questions, Shudu’s creator, Cameron James-Wilson, reluctantly admitted that the model was a generated image created using 3D software.

The Man Behind The Model 

Cameron James-Wilson, the person credited with Shudu’s creation, is a white, male, London- based photographer in his 20’s. His being white and a male are key factors in this situation, as these details are what caused the most public outrage.

Shudu’s image was based upon embracing the beauty of black women and proving that, despite industry norms, people with dark skin tones can be successful and gain respect in the modeling world. Many people felt betrayed when they learned that this beacon of progress and representation was not only a CGI character, but also a source of revenue for a white male. It stood as a contradiction against the perceived values of the model and her persona.

Are CGI Influencers A Bad Thing? 

Mass confusion aside, the social experiment of creating CGI influencer Lil Miquela caused many laughs and peaked public interest in technology’s growing abilities. The model behind Miquela is presumably a part of the Brud start-up, or is at least profiting from the experiment in some way and getting to take part in the fun (ed. – we hope so at least).

Shudu, on the other hand, is completely fictional. There is no actual model known to be a part of the project, which raises a number of questions. Why didn’t Wilson use a real model instead of creating his own? Why didn’t Wilson state online that the model was a CGI art project from the beginning? Is it morally sound for editors to create realistic models of different races and genders to appeal to a specific demographic? Is it ethical for Wilson to be gaining profit from Shudu’s success? 

For many, the answer for these questions is no. Shudu has given companies the opportunity of using a black woman for promotion of their brands without actually having to hire a black woman. Wilson receives all of the profit from Shudu’s modeling gigs, taking the opportunity away from real black, female models in need of work, especially with bigger brands like Vogue, Paper, and Ellesse. 

Shudu is indeed a piece of art that Wilson put months of time, effort, and meticulous detail into creating. However, it is still arguable that if Wilson really was so passionate about making a statement and creating change, then he could have put this same amount of effort and photographic expertise into working with a real black model and helped her to make an imprint in the modeling and fashion industry. The present trend of “automate everything” has had far-reaching effects in every industry, from manufacturing to services to healthcare; the ones who are left behind first and furthest are sadly the ones who can least afford it. The modeling industry, which has so long projected an aura of impossible standards, may be about to become inaccessible to any human – even the models themselves.

Further Reading

For a closer look into Shudu’s story and the reactions she elicited, Youtuber Natalia Taylor created a two part series talking about the model and confronting Cameron James-Wilson on the matter.

Part One

Part Two

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

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TK August 5, 2020 - 2:59 am

What’s the difference between a CGI model vs. a real model who has had their body physically modified through surgery/makeup/diet, then digitally retouched for color, shape, proportions, lighting, etc etc etc?

Second, if the outrage is that a real black female isn’t making the money, but rather a white male, shouldn’t there be equal outrage that modeling and marketing agencies are ending up with the majority of capital from their use of models?

The point I’m absolutely *not* decrying is the inequality of workers in an industry due to racial, cultural, etc etc differences – I very much agree that the diversity of humans is not represented fairly across essentially all industries.

I only wished to point out the “unrealness” of models in media in general, and contrast the article against that.

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