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The worrying rise of the CGI ‘cyberbabe’

With the launch of Alita: Battle Angel, we look at the history of CG women, and why their resurgence could be concerning.

This week marks the release of Robert Rodriguez’s (so far critically middling) cyberpunk epic Alita: Battle Angel.

Whilst the film boasts some big-name actors, like Jennifer Connolly, the star of the flick isn’t a name you’d recognise. In fact, the character Alita was created specifically for the role… by a computer.

Although the actress Rosa Salazar inhabited Alita’s body on set, her performance was motion captured so that the image projected on screen is a doctored representation far from realistic.

Alita blends seamlessly into her live action surroundings like a snapchat filter gone right, as after-effects have shaved down Salazar’s nose into a Disney-princess button and widened her eyes to an unnatural degree. And, y’know, added robot arms…

Computer generated hotties are not a new concept. In 2001 few supermodels received more critical attention that Webbie Tookay, a leggy brunette with perfect features who was designed on a computer.

‘Webbie can eat nothing and keep her curves’ boasted her ‘agent’, John Casablancas of Elite Model Management.

The generation of CGI models that Webbie and Lara Croft belonged to soon faded into obscurity after failing to be an effective marketing tool. The trend was no less icky for the fact that these models seemed to exist solely for the purpose of testing new CGI technology. But hey, it was 2001 after all.

But the cyberbabe has experienced a renaissance in the past few years. Imma, a CGI babe popular in japan, is one of the most powerful influencers on Instagram. A woman whose private life is as much of a soap opera as vintage Kate Moss.

‘Lil Miquela’ is a 19-year-old Brazilian-American ‘model’ who began posting on Instagram in 2016. She’s now something of a viral star, having acquired her own CGI boyfriend called Ronald Blawko, and a rival cyberbabe arch-nemesis called Bermuda.

Lil Miquela, however, is actually the creation of LA-based start-up ‘Brud’.

Other FX artists have also jumped on the bandwagon, with 2018 marking the arrival of more cyber-models. The highest profile of these was Shudu, who starred in a 2018 Balmain campaign.

But the trend is not being taken well by everybody. Unsurprisingly, the optics of CG models (particularly CG models of colour) taking potential jobs away from actual models to line the pockets of men has enraged many. Lil Miquela, Bermuda, Shudu, and Akila, are all the brain children of male creators.

Through promoting CGI women, men are given free license to ‘create’ a female aesthetic that then becomes a norm. One only needs to glance at one of Lil Miquela’s posts to see that she is the epitome of homogenised, insta-friendly beauty, with her ambiguous ethnicity, slim waist, and girlish freckles.

Is this not the very definition of promoting literally ‘unrealistic’ standards of beauty for women?

Even more concerning is the fact that these idealised women are becoming more popular than their flesh-and-bone counterparts, with some of Shudu’s pics garnering more likes than that likes of Hayley Baldwin.

The fashion community seems to be turning a blind eye to the irony of using Lil Miquela in promotional material (as Prada and Balenciaga have) in the same beat as calling Kendell Jenner and Bella Hadid ‘fake’ for undergoing cosmetic surgery.

Whilst Alita herself doesn’t seem to have come down with a case of the insta pout, her digitally sculpted body and unblemished facial features are still an obvious departure from what actress Rosa Salazar looks like. That is to say, like a human being.

So, what do we make of this? Well, I suppose the only thing we can do is marvel at the power of technology and, if you’re a woman, realise that you have something these cyberbabes will never have.

A pulse.