Making the Digital Real
noonoouri is a digital character created by me, Joerg Zuber, when I was five years old. I had ideas but nobody listened to me because I was so young. My wish was to communicate and be heard, and so the idea of noonoouri began. Over the years she manifested in my mind and when digital influencers and bloggers became prominent around eight years ago, I wanted to create something, or someone, more substantial with a truly individual voice.
When Siemens approached me for the first time, I felt honored and very proud. I immediately thought that noonoouri and Siemens are a perfect match – as a wholly digital character, noonoouri is a symbol of technology, while Siemens is on the forefront of digitalization. The timing was also right because I believe that the world is changing due to the lockdown of COVID-19 and open to progressively more digital ways of interaction than ever before.
There were many things going through my head when the government announced a lockdown in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. I suddenly felt uncertain about how it will all go on, and started asking myself questions that were usually daunting or even scary: Can I move on with my studio and my team? Will there be medical support for those who are in need? Will people start to go crazy because of this new situation?
There was a constant fear in my mind about how things will go on – my team was still on a short-term working mode and most of the projects got cancelled. I worried about the existence of the design studio that I have had in Munich for over 18 years.
However, I tried to not let these questions come up too much by focussing on my team, my work, and my well-being. I am a very disciplined person in general – the way I function, I need organization. So, I invested my time into exercise, cooking, taking care of my home. For me the lockdown became a moment where I could restructure my thoughts, focus on what I really want to do in life, and rethink the way I communicate.
We don’t have to be isolated.
I believe that virtual characters could play a bigger role in the future because their possibilities start where ours, as real humans, are limited or end altogether. It could be possible to be in multiple places at the same time, travel and occupy space without leaving CO2-footprint, produce and innovate through this digital twin, saving costs and multiplying output. You could even change your haircut every day or do shoot on the moon, if you like. We are not limited by what is physically real.
This important next step towards the future and new ways of communication was showcased at a global Siemens town hall conference. For the first time since I made her public in February 2018, noonoouri was present in real time with a real voice as a virtual character, hosting the conference itself and moderating a panel discussion on various topics, including the New Normal and Virtual Events.
The special task for myself was to act and represent a digital version of noonoouri – the way she would speak, her gestures, and her characteristic mood in real time while I had to guide the panelists, ask questions, respect the technical requirements and react on incoming discussion.
We created a bespoke Snap lens embedded inside a Snap camera to make it possible for me to act as noonoouri in real time. We also used tailor-made face-tracking for natural face expressions, which even included an adaptive iris-track for more eye movement. In addition, I had to speak for noonoouri so we gave her a female voice using voice modulation. In all, the preparation for the event took about five weeks
This project pushed my imagination. It made noonoouri real, which is what I have always wanted – for people to see noonoouri as a real character. It was really fascinating that a virtual character can have this power to “touch” people, but the Siemens town hall proved that it is possible. The next step would be to have noonoouri move freely live 360° and interact with real humans.