On Tuesday, Kim Kardashian unleashed a slew of new Kimoji upon the world. We were excited, yes, but really, our first reaction was, "Wow, these are SO realistic." From the shape of Kim's eyebrows to the shading on her cheeks, the details in the new emoji are astounding. As it turns out, 3-D social network IMVU is the company behind the Kimoji magic. IMVU has more than 10 years of experience making super-realistic digital avatars. We chatted with Brett Durrett, IMVU's CEO, about how the collaboration with Kim and Kanye came to be and how the company gets those GIFs and emoji so darn perfect. "It happened just like she said," Durett said in a phone interview. "Kim and Kanye had seen our avatars getting out into social media and really liked the style and thought it was unique. They reached out to talk to us to find out more about IMVU and what we were doing." That was in December. Immediately after showing Kim and Kanye what IMVU's Server Side Rendering technology was capable of, IMVU set about redoing all of the assets in the original Kimoji release for its first big update in February. (That update also included the first IMVU-generated KimoGIFs.)
"One of the things that’s really powerful about this engine is, you can say, 'I want something that looks like me,' and everything else, the animation, falls into place," Durett says. IMVU has over 20 million assets of 3-D parts in its catalog. With all of that at your disposal, you can piece together to make the perfect, realistic avatar of yourself (or anyone, real or imagined). But what really took the new Kimoji from good to amazing was the collaboration with Kim, Kanye, and the company that published Kimoji, Whalerock, LLC. "Kim gave us amazing creative feedback," Durett said. "All the creative direction came from their side. You really did feel this vision to make things a little bit better...They have a great eye for looking at something and quickly understanding what needs to be done to make it better." IMVU's technology got the ultra-realistic avatars 95% of the way there, and then that collaborative process is what finished off that last 5% of the product, which covered things as subtle as eye shape, the reflection on the corner of a lip, or shading on makeup. It's clear Kim's Kimoji have become a cultural phenomenon — now, a growing number of other celebrities are coming up with their own, including Justin Bieber. But without that underlying technology, well, it'll be hard for these other celebrity emoji apps to match the epic level of the Kimoji "Don't be rude!" GIF.