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The glamorous Insta models raking in £9m a year, kissing A-listers & making music – but all is not as it seems

SHE has modelled for Prada, Chanel and Calvin Klein, shared a kiss with Bella Hadid and amassed more than 2.5million loyal followers on Instagram.

Yet picture-perfect Miquela Sousa, 19, isn’t your typical celebrity influencer – she’s actually among a growing army of ROBOT Insta models being snapped up by designer brands.

‘Lil Miquela’ has won over adoring fans – and fashion houses – across the world with her freckled cheeks, plump pout and signature hair buns, all of which are computer generated.

A self-proclaimed “change-seeking robot”, she’s just one of a soaring number of “hot”, glamorous and shockingly realistic CGI influencers banking a fortune for their tech-head creators.

Some could net up to £9million a YEAR from their Instagram fame – more than 250 times the average full-time UK salary of £35,423, according to an analysis by digital marketplace OnBuy.

And away from social media, they can top up their fortunes by releasing their own music, starring on billboards and appearing in magazine shoots alongside real-life celebs.

It might sound like something out of the dystopian Netflix series Black Mirror, yet experts say these flawless robot ‘sex symbols’ could become the future of marketing and publicity.

While Instagram users fantasise about them – or aspire to be like them – brands don’t need to fork out money for make-up artists, studios or transport like they do with human models.

And there’s no risk of a life event – or global pandemic – affecting a virtual model’s availability.

Users don’t care if they’re real or not… if anything, the unique lack of humanity adds to their appeal

Cas Paton, managing director of OnBuy, tells Sun Online: “While the concept of robot influencers is still in its infancy and there are some who disagree with its potential to block coverage of human actors, our results show users don’t care if they’re real or not.

“If they’re on-trend, exciting and bringing something influential to the Instagram game, the public will want to see it. If anything, the unique lack of humanity adds to their appeal.”

Some CGI influencers could now command between £1,000 and £6,000 for a single Instagram post, according to the research, which used Influencer Marketing Hub’s sponsored post money calculator.

“These staggering earnings provide a glimpse into what the future could hold for marketing and publicity,” Mr Paton adds.

“The companies working with these ‘influencers’, and the creators behind them, will certainly be reaping the rewards of their interest online.”

Yet not everyone believes robot models are the future.

While some have expressed concerns about the impact of physically ‘perfect’ characters on impressionable youngsters, others claim such models could take away jobs from humans.

Here, as artificial intelligence continues to infiltrate our lives, we eye up how much some of the world’s top CGI Insta stars could be making:

Instagram followers: 2.5m

Potential earnings per post: £6.5k

Predicted yearly earnings: £8.9m

Compared to average UK salary: 25,196%

Teen musician and model Lil Miquela is the highest-earning robot influencer on Instagram – with more than 2.5million followers and over 800 posts to her name.

According to the analysis, she can command around £6,550 per sponsored Instagram post, with potential earnings of up to £8.9million a year. Though, of course, she can’t spend the money herself.

The virtual beauty – who looks effortlessly trendy in her Instagram snaps – was created by Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou, of the LA-based start-up Brud, in 2016.

Since then, she’s rocketed to fame – netting an array of luxury brand deals, hanging out with the likes of Diplo and Millie Bobby Brown, and even releasing her own music singles.

She’s also graced the pages of Vogue and Wonderland magazines – all while speaking out about the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBT rights and the importance of voting.

In 2018, Lil Miquela did an Insta takeover for Prada. The same year, she was named as one of Time’s 25 ‘most influential people on the Internet’ alongside Rihanna and Donald Trump.

Then last year, she was filmed kissing model Bella Hadid, 23, for a Calvin Klein campaign. However, the brand later issued an apology after the advert was slammed as “queer-baiting”.

This month, Lil Miquela has been making the most of the outdoors, gushing to her Instagram followers: “After 5 months in my apartment, literally everything feels SO magical.”

Instagram followers: 240k

Potential earnings per post: £908

Predicted yearly earnings: £498k

Compared to average UK salary: 1,307%

Like Lil Miquela, Imma could pass for a real-life beauty at first glance.

But her features – including her signature pink bob – are actually all the creation of computer whizzes at Tokyo graphics firm ModelingCafe.

To construct each Insta-worthy picture of Imma, the boffins transpose the character’s 3D animated head onto a live-action body and background.

And the results are hyper-realistic – with the company crediting Imma’s lifelike face to the female engineers working on the project.

Her pictures include detailed makeup and believable facial expressions.

Since she shot to fame in January 2019, Imma has launched her own fashion career, collaborated with luxury car brand Porsche, and even starred on the cover of CGWorld magazine.

Last Spring, she won a spot in the Japanese edition of i-D magazine alongside real models Asakawa Ara, then 19, and Mayben, 20.

With an impressive 240,000 Instagram followers, Imma – who describes herself as a “virtual girl” who likes Japanese culture, film and art – could rake in more than £900 per sponsored post.

The analysis puts her predicted annual earnings at almost £500,000. Not bad for someone who isn’t actually human.

Persistence pays off🏃‍♀️💪 継続は力なーりっ🧠 #ithinkimcgi #あたしCGらしい

A post shared by imma (@imma.gram) on Jul 1, 2020 at 1:09am PDT

Instagram followers: 270k

Potential earnings per post: £1,020

Predicted yearly earnings: £440k

Compared to average UK salary: 1,143%

A self-declared ‘Robot Queen’, Bermuda is the creation of Brud – the same start-up behind Lil Miquela and fellow virtual influencer, Blawko.

Though Bermuda isn’t quite as popular as Lil Miquela, the CGI blonde could still command a cool £1,000 per sponsored Instagram post – with potential earnings of £440,000 a year.

Now boasting more than 270,000 followers, Bermuda first hit the scene in 2018 when she ‘hacked’ Lil Miquela’s Instagram account, deleted all her photos and replaced them with snaps of herself.

The pro-Trump character then told users to follow her own Instagram handle to discover “the truth”, in an impressive marketing stunt that saw both her and Lil Miquela’s followers rocket.

Today, the characters are close pals, regularly posing together in CGI images.

Pullin up 2 my weekend meetings like 👸🏼💕🎶

A post shared by Bermuda (@bermudaisbae) on Jan 4, 2020 at 11:33am PST

Instagram followers: 155k

Potential earnings per post: £598

Predicted yearly earnings: £159k

Compared to average UK salary: 350%

‘Bad boy’ Blawko – the third creation of Brud – is Bermuda’s on-off beau.

Known for his streetwear style, laidback nature and facial tattoos, the hunky character has amassed more than 150,000 Instagram followers.

Among the plethora of adoring comments on his profile are: “His eyes are so perfect”, “hi Greek God”, “mine” and “you’re so cute”.

It’s not surprising then that he once dubbed himself a “robot sex symbol”.

Blawko – who could rake in a six-figure salary – is perhaps one of the most mysterious robot Insta stars thanks to the masks he wears over his face.

He has been deliberately covering his nose and mouth in pictures since his creation (and way before the Covid pandemic), though it’s unclear why.

Like many other CGI influencers, Blawko has his own voice – even starring in YouTube videos, where he discusses his ‘life’ and reviews music albums.

Ppl keep asking how me and @breadfaceblog date went, but I don’t kiss n tell so I’ll leave u w this 😘

A post shared by 🅱️LAWKO (@blawko22) on Apr 30, 2019 at 12:46pm PDT

Instagram followers: 205k

Potential earnings per post: £791

Predicted yearly earnings: £96k

Compared to average UK salary: 171%

According to her Insta bio, Shudu is the “world’s first digital supermodel”.

If that claim to fame isn’t enough, she also boasts more than 200,000 followers and has modelled for the luxury French fashion house Balmain.

Shudu is the creation of British visual artist and ex-fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson, who constructed her stunning looks back in 2017.

“I wanted to create a really strong and powerful image that celebrated a beauty I don’t see represented in media often enough,” Wilson, who uses 3D modelling technology, told ELLE magazine.

Shudu – whom supermodel Tyra Banks once confused for a real-life model – has starred in the likes of V Magazine and Vogue. Unlike Lil Miquela and Bermuda, she hasn’t been given a distinct personality.

Despite her popularity, Shudu – who also fronted a 2019 Ellesse campaign – has attracted some criticism, including claims that Wilson could be taking modelling jobs away from real black women.

But Wilson insisted: “When brands book Shudu, they’re not booking her instead of a real model. They’re booking her because she’s a virtual model and they want to spark a discussion about technology in fashion.”

@dagny.gram & @shudu.gram X @britishgq 😏 . . For this image I captured the lighting at Weymouth Beach during sunset. . . Read the full article online, link on the @thediigitals page 👀 . . #weymouth #3D #3Dart #hdri #gq #britishgq #theworldsfirstdigitalsupermodel

A post shared by Shudu (@shudu.gram) on Sep 19, 2019 at 10:31am PDT

@balmain x @shudu.gram x @itsclo3d . . I want to thank #balmain for giving me the opportunity to diversify the 3D world a little more. . . Margot and Zhi join the virtual #balmainarmy alongside #shudu in collaboration with @_sunshineco . Thank you to @itsclo3d for taking on the task of converting the incredible designs to 3D, without your help this wouldn’t have been possible!! . . #balmainvirtualarmy #3Dart #thediigitals

A post shared by Shudu (@shudu.gram) on Aug 30, 2018 at 5:31am PDT

Instagram followers: 28k

Potential earnings per post: £188

Predicted yearly earnings: £35k

Compared to average UK salary: -1%

Though not a huge amount is known about virtual influencer Ria, she has built up a following of nearly 30,000 people in the space of just a year.

Created by Aww Inc – Japan’s first virtual human agency and the sister firm of ModelingCafe – the robot model regularly shares pictures of herself modelling, relaxing and eating on Instagram. She also uploads branded posts – which could net her nearly £200 a pop, according to the analysis.

Last November, Ria appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR Arabia dressed in Valentino, alongside fellow virtual influencers Imma and Shudu.

In her Insta bio, she says: “I want to understand the world.

“Because I like the world.”

🐰The world that has begun to be colored🌈 The dazzling season has come🏝  色着付け始めた世界🌍 眩しい季節がやって来た⛵️☀️  #rialife#stayhome#summerfashion #coloré#travelgram#blueskychile#onepiece#lavender#sunbathing#soakupthesun 🐰🤍

A post shared by RIA (@ria_ria_tokyo) on May 14, 2020 at 3:00am PDT

🍏🥝🍐🍏🥝🍋🍐🍏🥝🍐 It’s too hot I’m about to melt💦 Is everyone having a relaxing weekend👀¿  今日も蒸し暑くてヘロヘロ🥴 みんなはゆったりした週末過ごしてますか¿ 今晩ワ🤤🍴 成城石井ノ濃厚焼きチーズケーキ🍰 &大人なほろ苦いビターレモン氷結🍋 を注いで夕焼けに向かって乾杯したい✨ #ほっぺ🔥😽🔥  #rialife#夏コーデ#仕事終わりの一杯#キリン氷結#氷結ビターレモン#🍋#着物女子#夏の着物#浴衣#浴衣女子#チューハイ#ほろ苦い#kirin#summerfashion#kimonostyle#kimonofashion#kimonogirl#yukata#yukatagirl#thetasteoflove 😽🍏🍋🥝

A post shared by RIA (@ria_ria_tokyo) on Jun 28, 2020 at 2:09am PDT

Instagram followers: 36k

Potential earnings per post: £233

Predicted yearly earnings: £34.5k

Compared to average UK salary: -3%

Plustic Boy – the brother of robot star Imma – also belongs to Aww Inc.

With nearly 40,000 Instagram followers, the red-haired character could command £233 per sponsored post. And he could earn a predicted £34,500 a year – just under the average UK salary.

According to his social media snaps, Plustic Boy likes dogs, fashion, art, drinking, and spending time with his virtual sister.

まさかの姉と仕事する時が来るとは🔥 恐縮ながら原宿に大きく出ていますー😎 よろしくですーー @sly_official @pumajapan @imma.gram

A post shared by no (@plusticboy) on Feb 15, 2020 at 9:24am PST

The size of this bag fits perfectly🔥 サイズ感がちょうどいいな〜😎 #CELINE #triomphecanvas @celine #celinebyhedislimane

A post shared by no (@plusticboy) on Jul 31, 2020 at 7:23pm PDT

Instagram followers: 14.8k

Potential earnings per post: £119

Predicted yearly earnings: £17.7k

Compared to average UK salary: -50%

With his trendy dark hair, youthful good looks and mysterious poses, basketball fan Liam Nikuro looks like a natural modelling talent.

Yet in reality, he’s another CGI influencer – and the first to have been snapped up by an NBA (National Basketball Association) team in the US.

Liam is the “official virtual influencer” for the DC-based Washington Wizards – who hope he’ll generate a new, young audience for them.

“We just thought it was a really unique and great way to connect with a younger generation and a new audience for us,” said Jim Van Stone, of Wizards owner Monumental Sports and Entertainment, told The Washington Post.

Created by Tokyo-based firm 1Sec Inc, the handsome half-Japanese character recently attended a Wizards game as a “virtual VIP guest”.

Unsurprisingly, given he could choose to appear wherever he liked, he bagged the “best seat in the house” for all the on-court action.

Since his creation, Liam – who boasts nearly 15,000 Instagram followers – has also appeared on the cover of Tokyoweekender lifestyle magazine.

Got the best seat in the house to watch Rui Hachimura do his thing. Thank you @washwizards for inviting me as a virtual guest in the NBA Bubble! @washwizardsjp #nba #washingtonwizards #wizards #ruihachimura #八村類 #basketball #バスケ

A post shared by Liam Nikuro®︎ (@liam_nikuro) on Jul 31, 2020 at 3:15pm PDT

I wanna play wiz @rui_8mura ⛹️‍♂️ #🏀

A post shared by Liam Nikuro®︎ (@liam_nikuro) on Jul 8, 2020 at 5:25pm PDT

Instagram followers: 7.7k

Potential earnings per post: More than £105

Predicted yearly earnings: £2.3k

Compared to average UK salary: -94%

Like Shudu, British virtual influencer Dagny was created by Wilson.

The camera-ready character – drawn with prominent cheekbones and freckled skin – has yet to compete with Shudu’s 200,000-plus fan base.

However, the analysis reveals she could top up Wilson’s bank balance with around £105 per sponsored Insta post and £2,300 in annual earnings.

Earlier this year, she even graced the cover of Austria’s Miss magazine.

Dagny for the cover of @missmagazin earlier this year. . #3d #digitalsupermodel #thediigitals #shudu #cover #covershoot #magazine #magazinecover #fashion #futureoffashion #3dfashion

A post shared by Dagny (@dagny.gram) on Aug 11, 2020 at 10:13am PDT

#ad #sponsored . Super inspiring to meet Colonel Sanders and hearing about his #secretrecipeforsuccess 👀Thanks to @kfc the digital world is a little bit bigger!

A post shared by Dagny (@dagny.gram) on Apr 9, 2019 at 11:03am PDT

Instagram followers: 2.7k

Potential earnings per post: £63

Predicted yearly earnings: £1.4k

Compared to average UK salary: -96%

Another Wilson masterpiece, Brenn has yet to take the world by storm.

But with almost 3,000 Insta followers so far – more than many Brits – the globe-trotting character could be set for fame and fortune in the future.

Excited to announce our collaboration with @smart_worldwide, their #fullyelectric cars with our #fullydigital models! . . @thediigitals @brenn.gram . . #sxsw2019 #electriccollab #newera #modellife #electric #digital #innovation #3D #ad

A post shared by Brenn (@brenn.gram) on Mar 10, 2019 at 9:32am PDT

Neon Sizzle 🌴 . . #digitalmodel #swimwear #3D @thediigitals #brenn

A post shared by Brenn (@brenn.gram) on Dec 15, 2018 at 11:48am PST

Along with Shudu, Dagny and others, Brenn is a member of ‘The Diigitals’ – the ‘first all-digital modelling agency’, set up by visual artist Wilson.

Last year, she took part in a modelling campaign for Smart’s fully electric cars, posing next to a shiny blue vehicle in front of skyscrapers.

“Ready… Set… GO!” she captioned the gleaming advert.

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