Hoshimachi Suisei’s Appearance in “THE FIRST TAKE”: An Interview with the Team Behind the Scenes
Hello to everyone reading this note article!
My name is Kuwae, HR and Recruitment PR representative of COVER Corporation.
Have you ever heard of the YouTube channel, “THE FIRST TAKE”? It is a YouTube channel dedicated to filming musicians and singers performing in a single take. The unique feeling of tension that this series gives viewers and musicians has made this content rise to fame.
From hololive production, hololive Generation 0’s Hoshimachi Suisei marked her first appearance on the “THE FIRST TAKE”. Her appearance has gained over ten million views, and had 160 thousand concurrent viewers during its premiere.
Hoshimachi Suisei's accomplishment gained a lot of attention among COVER employees, and the team behind the scenes, "Hoshimachi Suisei / THE FIRST TAKE" team, was awarded the "Outstanding Team" award at the in-house awarding ceremony, "COVER AWARD2022".
I interviewed Member M and Member Y of “Hoshimachi Suisei / THE FIRST TAKE" team about the process, passion, and hardships they faced to make this project come to life.
■ From Baby Steps to taking the Big Leap
──Congratulations on winning the COVER AWARD!
I want to hear about how “Hoshimachi Suisei / THE FIRST TAKE” team was formed. How did you get involved in this project?
M: I was mainly involved in communicating with “THE FIRST TAKE” and recording plans. Y’s team was in charge of all the technical stuff, so I mainly coordinated the promotional and musical aspects of the project, including the direction of the music arrangements.
Y: For me... or my team, rather, we all were in charge of modeling, building a motion capture system capable of recording, and other technical areas that were critical to the realization of the project.
──First, can you tell us how Hoshimachi Suisei’s appearance was planned and what COVER went through?
M: The proposal itself happened more than a year ago. It was around September of 2021 when Hoshimachi Suisei’s first album, “Still Still Stellar”, became a massive hit, and we began planning for her second album.
Y: I also joined the team around that time. “THE FIRST TAKE” had informed us that the recording would be conducted in their studio, so we replied to them with what we could and couldn’t do regarding the technical side of the recording.
──So it took more than a year before the premiere. How did you choose the song?
M: As for the song, I remember we did the presentation around New Year's. Our one and only goal was to make “Stellar Stellar” be under the spotlight. After a few conversations, we started to work on this project.
──You really were aiming for “Stellar Stellar”! How was their reaction?
M: They just listened to the intro of “Stellar Stellar” and loved it! After listening to the full song, they gave us the reply, “Let’s go with this!”
──I am happy to hear that they liked the song very much!
M: Yes, that's right. Of course, I do think it was a risky choice for them to feature a VTuber on "THE FIRST TAKE" for the first time. However, it was all thanks to Hoshimachi Suisei’s wonderful music that they accepted the offer. I still remember that after they listened to the full song, we talked about aiming for the top, not only with the music but also with the video itself.
──What a turn of events...!
■ The Kickoff
──After the project’s kickoff, what did you do to make it come true?
M: Obviously, we first informed Hoshimachi Suisei about the project. We did not tell her about the project before it was finalized, so she was very happy when we told her the news.
We always had Hoshimachi Suisei in mind as the talent to make an appearance, so we were delighted to see her smile. Right after that, we began discussing the details of the recording.
Y: Our team, who manages the technical aspects of the project, got the baton from that point onward. I thought at first that we could do the motion capture recording in our studio. However, considering the acoustic aspects, it was required to do the recording in the studio “THE FIRST TAKE” designated. It was important to record the “live” acoustics in the recording. That made us make one critical decision early on: to bring our motion capture system to their studio.
──So, does that mean what you can do varies depending on the studio?
Y: Definitely. COVER’s studio is a motion capture studio, not a music studio. Therefore, to fully capture the sound unique to “THE FIRST TAKE”, we had to bring in and build our own system at the recording venue. (Note: We are discussing COVER’s previous studio, not the new one.)
──That sounds very tough to accomplish.
Y: It WAS tough!
Music and motion capture studios are two completely different things, even though they share the word “studio”. A motion capture studio, as the name implies, is built specifically with motion capture recordings in mind. The same can be said with music studios and music as well.
We had to drop many features to accommodate the cost, especially the ease of motion capture recording. However, even in those circumstances, we still had to find the middle ground, the comfort zone. That was a challenging task to manage.
──You probably had a million things to settle. Where did you start first?
Y: First, we had to rebuild our motion capture system one by one to something we can bring to the external studios. In the end, it took us around three months to build the system and do the actual recording.
──Wow, that is a lot of work. Do you know how many employees were involved in this project?
Y: This was a confidential project that even most of our employees didn’t know of. Therefore, we worked with a small team of five employees for this project. We first thought this would be the same as other ordinary projects, so we thought it was okay to go with five. However, as an afterthought, we surely needed more people. The workload was so overwhelming.
──What is the point your team committed to the most?
Y: We were committed to many things that we can’t even count with our fingers. We created a new system from scratch to integrate real-life footage and CG. We also made a new application that will work in external studios. After all, we had to overhaul the motion capture system just for the “THE FIRST TAKE” recording.
If I were to speak about one specific point, we were dedicated to bringing out the “live performance” impression unique to “THE FIRST TAKE”.
For motion capture, post-processing is a must. However, that contradicts the essence of “THE FIRST TAKE”, which is to record everything in a single take.
We had to rebuild the whole system just for “THE FIRST TAKE” project in a way that blends in well and doesn’t require any post-processing. A system that is capable of recording footage with decent quality that can be published right away.
──Come to think of it, you did emphasize in the internal announcement that it was recorded in a single take.
Y: We did. Actually, before the recording, we had a slither of hope that we might be given a chance to edit it in the middle of the recording. However, the recording was a single take. We realized that we are dealing with “THE FIRST TAKE” and how great and skillful they are.
That is why we didn’t want to make an exception. “It can’t be helped. It’s motion capture, after all.” was not the phrase we wanted to hear. After all, this is the very first VTuber appearance in “THE FIRST TAKE”; we had to make everything right in a single take. We knew what we needed to do to set the system to perfection.
──What was the biggest obstacle in achieving the “live performance” impression?
Y: I can’t get into details on how we achieved it, but occlusion* was the key. In the video, Suisei’s right hand is placed behind the microphone, and her left hand is in front of it. This was done in real-time by processing the front/back information.
It is nearly impossible to do the same with standard chroma key settings. It doesn’t stand out, but if you know the mechanism behind it, you will surely be surprised.
* occlusion: A state where an object in the front hides the objects in the back.
──Tell us more about the non-technical side of the project.
M: It’s my turn to speak then. To begin with, I think the x-factor of this video is VTuber’s first appearance in “THE FIRST TAKE”. I was expecting a lot of reactions, both positive and negative, and was embracing to deal with whatever was given to us.
However, as if it was saying that our worries are very trivial, the overall reaction from the fans was fantastic. They loved the music and the video as well.
As Hoshimachi Suisei mentioned in her X (Twitter) before, she wanted to talk a little bit before she started singing. However, I requested her to sing right away from the get-go. This was because I had faith in her singing and was confident that with her song and this video, such talk would not be necessary to convince everyone watching it.
──So M, you wanted viewers to pay attention to the content itself, right?
M: Exactly. Whenever a VTuber makes its first appearance, no matter what format it is, people tend to focus more on the technical side of things rather than the actual content. We wanted to appeal to how great the song and video are, not the appearance itself.
I am so relieved and happy that viewers were not talking about how this concept came to reality after the premiere. Instead, viewers enjoyed the music and the video as if it was another awesome video from “THE FIRST TAKE”.
──Come to think of it, for Y’s team, it was important to make the technical aspects of this project as subtle as possible, right?
Y: Yes, it was. What we want viewers to focus on is Hoshimachi Suisei’s song. The key is how subtle the technical aspects of the video can be while still leveraging the high-end technology. Also, every single member of our team had faith in Hoshimachi Suisei’s singing.
──Then you can say that in this project, everyone’s goal was to put Hoshimachi Suisei under the spotlight.
Y: I think that sums it up the best.
I really didn’t want viewers to get disappointed with the quality and then accept it as the limit of what VTubers can do.
I firmly believe that her performance is viewed as that of an artist, and I also think that our team gave everything without cutting any corners.
I also didn’t want this performance to damage the fame of ”THE FIRST TAKE”. I wanted to do my best because I really respect the channel.
In the end, I think the outcome of this project feels more like “art” rather than a “product” of our company. You can mass-produce products, but even if you ask me to reproduce this project, I will not be sure if I can do it again. For COVER, having the ability to produce not only “products” but also “art” is an excellent addition to our arsenal.
──What were your initial thoughts and feelings after the premiere?
M: First of all, I was afraid of the premiere going live.
──Oh, why were you afraid?
M: The performance was recorded in a new place and was a nerve-racking experience. After receiving a message that the video was ready to go, I kept asking myself, “Is this really okay? Is this the best our team can do?” Before the premiere, the announcement post had a hefty number of reposts, so I was assuming that it was getting a lot of attention from our fans, and it did show in the number of people waiting for the premiere on YouTube as well.
I was worried about if this video was really going to be well-received among the fans as the VTuber standard. I was confident that our team had created decent content, but I could not help but to think about what to do if the video was criticized heavily.
Y: For me, it was what it was, and we did our best. So, all I did was embrace myself and start praying. Right after the premiere, I realized the video, our work, was finally out to the public. After reading the comments and watching the reactions, I felt so relieved!
──On the premiere, I recall that it had quite a massive number of concurrent viewers.
M: The highest concurrent viewers count was around 160,000.
──Did anything regarding your work change after the premiere?
M: I belong to the Music Production team, so I have lots of opportunities to talk with external talents and artists. Talking with them made me feel that VTubers are getting more recognized by the public than ever.
Before the premiere, the VTuber industry was very niche and unknown to the public. However, thanks to the “THE FIRST TAKE” appearances, I hear Hoshimachi Suisei’s name a lot, and some even tell me that they watched the video and liked the content very much.
──You also mentioned that this project was kept secret from most employees. How was the reaction within the company?
Y: We ensured everything was hidden until the day of the premiere, so I think most employees knew it through our official announcement as well. We did receive an internal award afterward, and we have received many good messages from almost everyone.
──Now that you have accomplished this amazing project, what’s next?
M: I am really happy that I was able to be a part of Hoshimachi Suisei’s “THE FIRST TAKE” project, which made me want to work on various projects.! I want to spread hololive production and COVER Corporation more through our music and, of course, Hoshimachi Suisei too!
──How about you, Y?
Y: It isn’t just me, but our whole team wants to engage more in similar projects, especially integrating real-time footage with CG. For example, using real-time footage as our background or performing in real-time with artists. We also hope that by enhancing our program, we can adjust to various projects as well!
──Thank you so much for your time!
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