By Jill Chang
If you’re into streaming of any kind, the concept of Virtual YouTubers (VTubers) probably would have crossed your path at some point. They are virtual avatars generated by computer graphics and mapped directly onto motion capture software. This is a digital trend that has been around in Japan since 2010, and we’ve even seen it utilized in the strangest places — from deep fakes to Barbie’s Vlogs.
Likewise, Singapore is no stranger to the concept of VTubers and with streaming picking up in popularity, we’ve seen more of them popping up on Discord channels and live streaming platforms like Twitch. Strangely enough, despite their ever-lurking presence, the biggest question remains — what is it like being a VTuber in Singapore?
To answer this question, I spoke to a Singaporean VTuber. And no, I’m not talking about August the Merlion, but a real personality that has dabbled in the world of VTubers since 2019.
Meet Kochi Caturteer
While 2021 has definitely been a rollercoaster ride, never in my life would I envision myself speaking to a rainbow-coloured anime catgirl over a conference call. However, while speaking to VTuber Caturteer was a surreal experience, it was also definitely more engaging than any University zoom breakout session I’ve had over the past year.
Clad in cat ears and neon orange hair is Kochi Caturteer — a catgirl VTuber and Live 2D animator from Singapore. She’s one of the many Twitch streamers in Singapore that features herself playing games, chatting with other friends and making commentaries in real-time. She was even a graduate from The Pathway, a talent development programme set up by *SCAPE back in 2020 to help new streamers kick-start their career in the industry.
Caturteer explains that while she started making post-production content and uploading gaming videos online in 2019, there was no traction in the first year. But when her friend suggested live-rigging 2D animations and streaming, that was when she got her first big break into the VTuber world.
Now as a VTuber, her content is a little more varied — from gaming and commentaries to teaching beginners how to start on their own 2D rigging experience. She currently has over 1000 subscribers on YouTube and 3000 subscribers on Twitch, and can be found on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
What inspired her break into the VTuber world was Kizuna Ai, a Japanese VTuber that debuted in 2016 who mainly does “commercial-like” videos on YouTube. From there, she and a close friend, who goes by the moniker Minimal Art, worked together to visualise and bring the catgirl to life — Catureteer did the Live 2D rigging while Minimal Art worked on the design.
Like many VTubers across the world, her identity is kept secret and only close friends and family members know who she is in real life. Her parents had initially expressed disapproval at what she was doing, but when they found out she was making income from streaming the complaints had stopped.
“Yes, I’m actually earning money!” she jokes.
With a click of a button, Caturteer demonstrates how she earns sponsorships with her character. In the palm of her hand (or paw?), a Nendoroid appears, along with other branded merchandise. However, being a VTuber is only a small part of her income stream.
While she does get sponsorships as a VTuber, a bulk of her income still comes in the form of commissions as a Live 2D animator. This entails creating two-dimensional characters by animating parts of them (like their mouth, nose, eyes, ears, etc.) instead of the usual frame-by-frame animation.
Her commissions can range from $700 to $1300, depending on the client’s requirements and how complex the rigging system needs to be.
She speaks especially fondly of her clients, explaining and demonstrating how she would animate slightly more complex features for them if they allowed her the creative freedom to do so.
“I want to push myself to the next level, I want to do something challenging I have not done before so every commission to me is a new way to improve myself,” she says with fervent passion, adding that this was something she could not do while studying in polytechnic and working in a corporate job.
The Struggles of Streaming
Her journey to becoming a VTuber has been a tiresome one, describing the long working hours and the little traction she had in the first year she debuted. She explains that the difficulty of being a VTuber in Singapore seems to lie in the fact that, as a whole, making an income on streaming alone is hard.
Many corporations do not want to take the risk of investing in something that does not seem to return an equal amount of revenue. She compares this to other countries like Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia who have talent companies catered to VTubers and are willing to pay their streamers monthly.
“This is very different from having support from corporations, support from organizations and especially support from your country,” she says.
She adds that support in the form of stable income can entice people to see streaming as a viable career. The stability would also help shift streamers’ focus on producing content rather than about making ends meet.
When prompted about her thoughts on August the VTuber, a virtual character created by NDpeeps, Caturteer expressed a sense of disappointment stating she had expected more.
“It feels very wasted. There’s a potential for August to grow as a VTuber, he could be a good (brand representative for Singapore). However, the way I see (NDpeeps) use August — it feels more of an animation than an actual VTuber.”
She describes August as a “corporate identity VTuber”, which makes him different from those that are “personality-driven”. Here, it seems his sole purpose is to promote National Day for a month or so before he phases out of existence come September.
However, while there are struggles being a VTuber, she notes that the community in Singapore has grown substantially, with over 500 members in the VTuber Discord channel she hosts with her friends. Her commission work has also provided opportunities to collaborate with other VTubers in Singapore and overseas clients who she’s done animation work for.
Behind the Character
While the rise in VTubers does come from the hype of streaming in the past recent years, there is a much deeper reason behind why they choose to appear in a 2D form. When asked for this reason, Caturteer takes on a more somber tone, a contrast from the colourful, candid catgirl who ends her sentences with a “nya”.
“This is an opportunity for people who can’t (appear on camera) — I’ve met cancer survivors and people who have gone through accidents doing streaming.”
She explains that appearing as a virtual character is a way to avoid judgement based on appearances, allowing them to be more candid. Being able to let their personality take precedence over their looks is “empowering”, Caturteer adds.
When asked to give some tips for budding VTubers in Singapore, she advises against investing immediately into costly software when creating your own character, but instead utilizing free software such as VRoid to tinker with a VTuber model.
She also emphasizes the importance of growing one’s skills slowly as a part-time hobby and making small improvements, rather than quitting one’s job and expecting immediate returns.
“Grow it slowly, and go with the flow,” she advises.
She concludes on a more solemn note by emphasising the importance of remaining authentic throughout the process. Stating that despite the front, whoever is beneath the character will eventually show through.
“You are still you,” she concludes.
The Future of Singaporean VTubers
With online events becoming a norm of the pandemic, perhaps having VTubers is an interactive alternative to make things more interesting. The existence of August the VTuber and Pathways by *SCAPE is a testament to the Government slowly catching on to this trend.
However, Singapore’s lack of confidence in the streaming community and preference for a carefully controlled creative approach seems to be one of the main inhibiting reasons why VTubers have yet to thrive here. But with highly driven and passionate individuals like Kochi Caturteer — the personality-driven VTubers continue to exist in the shadows waiting for an opportunity to shine.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in starting on this VTuber journey yourself, do check out Caturteer’s streams or YouTube page where she has tutorials teaching beginners how to do basic 2D Live rigging.