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I don’t usually watch singing competition TV shows, but a new one has definitely got my attention! It’s called Alter Ego, and the Fox show (which will appear on CTV here in Canada) has a twist: instead of appearing on stage as themselves, they will be represented by their avatar, which they will drive while wearing a full motion-capture suit from backstage during their performances!
Yes, these are the same motion-capture suits which were used by the members of ABBA to create “ABBAtars”, presenting themselves as they were in 1979 in a future series of concerts to be held in London, England. In that blogpost, I argued that the era of avatarism (i.e. the freedom to choose the form in which you are seen by others) had truly arrived. And the Alter Ego TV show is further proof that the age of avatarism is indeed upon us!
The Fox 5 TV station in Altanta interviewed one of the contestants appearing in the first episode of Alter Ego:
I was skeptical, a few weeks ago, as I approached the doors to a taping of Alter Ego, Fox’s new singing competition with a high-tech twist, but it felt the same as entering any old sound stage — at least for the first minute or so. On Alter Ego, which premieres this Wednesday night (September 22nd), the contestants don’t perform on stage, but rather behind a curtain whilst donning motion-capturing suits that control their own highly fantastical, augmented-reality avatars.
In typical music-TV fashion, the winner will get a cash prize ($100,000), as well as mentorship opportunities from celebrity judges: willi.i.am, Grimes, Alanis Morissette, and Nick Lachey. But the judges, along with host Rocsi Diaz and in-person audiences, watch the performances on eye-level monitors placed strategically around the room — so as to appear as if they’re looking centerstage. Moreover, the judges won’t learn the true identity of the winner until they’ve already won.
To film, Alter Ego relies on 14 cameras, eight of which use advanced camera-tracking technologies. “It’s not something that’s done in post,” creative producer Michael Zinman — who previously partnered with Fox on The Masked Singer — tells Rolling Stone on the still-empty studio floor. Above our heads, thousands of Infrared Reflective (IR) markers — one-inch-by-one-inch silver squares that, essentially, create a map for these cameras — twinkle like a mini galaxy.
The smart cameras then communicate with Unreal Engine, a video-game design software, to render the avatars in real time. (A company called Silver Spoon, which was responsible for creating virtual crowds for Major League Baseball in 2020, designed the 3D models in advance with creative input from the contestants. An augmented reality company called Lulu helped with the stage-plotting.)
Avatar data — things like eye color, height, and special effects — motion-capture data, lighting data, and camera data all meet in a hub of servers next to the mini stage behind the actual stage. “Then, if it all goes right, it spits it out and you see the composite,” Zinman explains. As the host, Diaz is the only one who really has to act, as she’s tasked with standing “next to” the avatars when they’re critiqued at the end of their performances: “You have to go back to your five-year-old self, play pretend, and talk with your imaginary friend,” she says. “It’s actually a lot of fun.”
The first episode of the show dropped yesterday, so you might want to check it out on your streaming service or cable TV! I know I’ll be watching every episode 🙂