VIRTUAL VA-VA-VA VOOM

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As if women didn't have enough problems living up to flesh-and-blood models, now there's a digital superbabe called Webbie Tookay. Webbie is brought to you by John Casablancas, chairman of the Elite Model Agency. Elite and Illusion 2K, a Brazilian Web company, recently announced their partnership to form Elite Illusion 2K -- Virtual Models and Actresses Management (www.illusion2k.com). The company acts as agent and stage mother for Webbie and her digital comrades. Yes, there will soon be an army of virtual models, male and female. According to Luciana Abreu, a partner at Illusion 2K, their virtual creation's job is that of any other model -- Webbie will appear in print ads, on television, and she'll strut down the catwalk at fashion shows. Come again? Abreu explains that "the technology is available to get her on a catwalk -- we can project holographic images of virtual models." What Webbie won't do, unlike other models, are ads for cigarettes and fur, which raises the question if virtual fur is much of a social issue. Well, if it is, Webbie's got an opinion on it. Thanks to a ghostwriter, she's got her own personality profile.

The idea of the virtual human is not new. Max Headroom is probably the best-known of the pack, and in 1996 there was the very popular, but now apparently retired, Japanese teen singing sensation Kyoko Date. What makes Webbie different from conventional animated characters, or video vixens like Lara Croft? Abreu stresses the human qualities of virtual models, and sniffs at the comparison to Croft, who "looks cartoonish, with her exaggerated breasts, tiny waist and angular face."

Webbie was created by Swedish designer Steven Stahlberg, with specifications laid out by John Casablancas -- not too skinny, with defined breasts and hips. Currently, Webbie is available as a blonde and a brunette, and there are plans to cover all ethnic groups. Her first job will be hosting Webbie Planet, which should be up and running by November. The site, produced by Illusion2k, will offer "Internet services and entertainment." No, not porn. Also in Webbie's

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