The team created a database of “microexpression reference materials”, analyzed “pore-level resolution imaging” and tracked the elasticity of subcutaneous layers to understand how facial skin moved of Smalls, Scott explains. Those tiny changes in facial expression were crucial to creating an avatar as realistic as possible.
All that research paid off. “I’ve seen the avatar through the entire build process … and it looks very real to me. I see my son’s features in the details,” his mother, Voletta Wallace, said via email. “Avatar turned out to be everything I expected.” Scott says that when the team unveiled Smalls’ avatar to Wallace, he said, “That’s my Christopher.”
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” Scott recalls. “At that point, we surpassed whatever technical achievement we were struggling with and we were in the realm of emotionally real simulations.”
Part of the reason Smalls was a prime candidate for a VR gig was that he was a star without recorded live performances. “Biggie lived for two albums and never toured,” says Elliot Osagie, founder of Willingie, a digital media company that helped with the event. The virtual performance was an opportunity for fans to finally see their hero live and introduce a new generation to a legendary rapper.
That’s where Wallace comes in, who is also executor of his estate (estimated to be worth about $160 million). While it was an emotional project, there’s no doubt it was also a business opportunity: Scott says Wallace and his son’s estate had been looking for “opportunities to bring him back to re-engage with their fans and build a new fan base.” The last part is especially important: Smalls’ peers are Gen Xers who are only getting older. Putting Smalls in the metaverse, a terrain dominated by younger generations, could broaden his audience. Wallace confirms: “I imagine more concerts, videos of his music, commercials, animation, movies and more opportunities in the metaverse.”