|Virtual K-pop girl group MAVE: / Courtesy of Metaverse Entertainment|
By Pyo Kyung-min
|Ahn Sung-won, head of the art directors' department at Metaverse Entertainment, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times, Sept. 6. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min|
Comprised of ZENA:, SIU:, TYRA: and MARTY:, MAVE: is challenging the very fabric of the entertainment industry, capturing global attention since debuting with their album "Pandora's Box" in January, not just for their music, but also for their stunning visuals. The semicolons in their names represent a link that connects two different worlds.
MAVE: is not the first virtual idol group to grace the entertainment scene. But group integrates the essence of K-pop into its virtual persona. This fusion of traditional idol elements with cutting-edge technology allows the group to resonate with audiences on a deeper level, making MAVE: a standout act in the rapidly evolving landscape of virtual entertainment.
Ahn Sung-won, head of the art directors' department at Metaverse Entertainment, is the creative mastermind behind the group. He shared his insights into the creative process behind the members' visuals, pointing out the challenge of finding the right balance between perfect beauty and realistic presentation.
"I realized that entirely realistic looks for the members might not sit well. While we aim for a sense of realism, we must also portray them as refined virtual characters. Our goal was to stay in the harmonious zone where the visuals are not excessively surreal, but still uphold a standard of perfection," he explained in an interview with The Korea Times, Sept. 6.
The office at Metaverse Entertainment is a treasure trove of stage costumes and accessories worn by human idols as Ahn's mission is to digitally transform these physical garments and props into flawless digital attire for MAVE:'s members.
|From left are ZENA:, SIU:, MARTY: and TYRA:, all members of the virtual K-pop girl group MAVE:. The semicolons in their names represent a link that connects two different worlds. Courtesy of Metaverse Entertainment|
However, MAVE: offers more than just eye-catching visuals. The group's movements, facial expressions and choreography are exceptionally natural, setting it apart from other virtual characters. This realism is attributed to Metaverse Entertainment being a subsidiary of the renowned Korean game company, Netmarble F&C.
Ahn elaborated on the technical expertise behind the group's fabulous moves.
"Our company boasts the country's largest Metaverse Visual Special Effects (VFX) lab, located in Gwangmyeong, (Gyeonggi Province). When it comes to choreography, we collaborate with choreographers and utilize motion capture technology. As for facial expressions, we capture the expressions of the choreographers and vocalists, then tune them to perfectly suit each character," he said, expressing his satisfaction with the members' natural movements, thanks to the advanced technology and collaborative efforts behind the group.
However, MAVE:'s goal is not to compete with traditional, flesh-and-blood idols. Its mission is to pioneer a new era of the virtual idol industry.
Chu Ji-yeon, who heads the agency's business department, affirmed that the competition "isn't real-life idols."
"We're currently leading a unique path, creating a virtual idol group and our goal is to make the virtual members blend in and coexist alongside human idols," she said.
"Our primary missions are to reduce the unfamiliarity with virtual humans and to gradually introduce them to the public."
|Chu Ji-yeon, head of the business department at Metaverse Entertainment, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times, Sept. 6. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min|
Chu also touched on the group's strategic focus, saying, "We avoided placing too much emphasis on the fact that our members are virtual humans, as we believed it might not generate as much interest. Our focus has always been to stay true to the qualities of traditional idols."
"I believe a cultural shift is happening, not just through MAVE: but also with the emergence of various virtual artists. We believe the virtual human culture will grow as we gather fans who regard MAVE: as a genuine idol group," she added, acknowledging the broader cultural implications of their project.
MAVE:'s members hail from four different countries: Korea, the U.S., France, and Indonesia and reflect the group's global strategy to solidify its position in the virtual idol industry. According to the group's conceptual background, the members mysteriously arrived on Earth in those four countries, after escaping from a future dystopia known as "IDIPIA."
"Those four regions are where K-pop has gained significant popularity. So we specifically chose those countries from the outset when crafting the stories for our members," Chu explained.
"The difference between the domestic and foreign markets lies in the fact that global fans often begin with a positive view of K-culture. Unlike Korean fans who tend to analyze more on their own culture, many worldwide fans treat our new culture as a pleasant surprise. This has been a driving force behind our adoption of a global strategy," she added.
Ahn elaborated on the design philosophy behind the virtual members. "K-pop is currently one of the most popular music genres worldwide, so I designed the members' appearance not with the sole intention of catering to international preferences, but rather adhering to a strategy that preserves the essence of K-pop," he said.
|Chu Ji-yeon, left, head of the business department of Metaverse Entertainment, and Ahn Sung-won, head of the art directors' department, pose inside the agency's headquarters. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min|
Metaverse Entertainment aspires to continue pioneering the virtual human culture, with the goal of making it the "new normal" in the entertainment industry.
"I believe we are at a crucial juncture, a transitional phase where groundbreaking cultures are being introduced, much like when the Internet was first made accessible to the public. Thus, we see it as our duty to forge our path into the future and be ready to lead the way when a new wave emerges," Chu said.
Chu and Ahn also emphasized the importance of the fan base in their journey of trailblazing the world of virtual idols. Ahn noted that comments from those who recognize the effort put into creating MAVE: are incredibly motivating.
"Producing a single piece of content demands a significant amount of time and effort. We are committed to finding more efficient ways to reduce production time and deliver more content to our fans. I hope our fans are eagerly anticipating how each member's unique stories, visuals and gestures will unfold in the future," Ahn said.