CryptoPunks, Bored Apes and Doodles – these are just a few of the countless influential generative avatar projects living in the growing non-fungible token (NFT) ecosystem. Often referred to as PFP, an acronym for “avatar”, these unique NFTs have undoubtedly become the frontrunners in the NFT market. The dominance of the generative avatar space is so great that many outside the NFT space think the entire irreplaceable ecosystem is just PFP. However, due to the lack of understanding of Web3 and blockchain technology, most people wonder what PFPs are and why they exist. With the growing popularity of generative avatar projects, and the ongoing debate around whether NFTs really need utility, it’s time to shed light on how a collection of PFP NFTs arose. Here’s what you need to know.
What are PFP NFTs?
Generated avatars, commonly referred to as PFPs, are a unique aspect of the NFT space. While most independent artists tend to focus on 1/1 piece and limited edition series, PFPs are often conceived by groups of artists/developers and released as a collection of thousands of individual tokens. The history of PFP NFTs begins with CryptoPunks, a collection of 10,000 unique 24×24 pixel art images launched by product studio Larva Labs in June 2017. However, Punks won’t gain any significant traction until 2020, when NFTs start to gain notoriety. Then, in 2021, the NFT ecosystem exploded with many other PFP projects, cementing generative avatars in the NFT market. While PFPs now have their own unique presence in the NFT space, they still live at the intersection of collectibles and generative art because of the way they were created. They are collectibles because they are large in number (usually around 10,000) and vary in rarity, somewhat similar to trading cards. They are generative, and like other forms of generative art, they are created in part through the use of autonomous systems. PFPs are often similar to social media profile pictures. PFP subjects are often photographed only from the waist, chest, and sometimes even above the neck. In this way, generating an avatar is similar to (and easy to use as) a profile picture, just like the avatar you would upload to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Zero Feature CryptoPunks However, in the NFT space, generating avatars has gone beyond the usual profile picture limitations. While many PFP collections mimic Bored Apes’ chest-up style, others, like CrypToadz or Invisible Friends, have introduced full-body or even animated PFP. Regardless of the format, however, the resulting collections of avatars are distinguished by their sheer number and the way they are created. So how exactly is PFP NFT made? Typically, PFPs are created through a simple plug-and-play method. Users load various characteristics (such as body shape, head shape, background color, etc.) into the software or application, and then randomly compile a large number of NFTs, no two are the same. But those qualities have to come from somewhere, which is why PFP always starts with art. If we trace the steps of popular projects like Bored Apes, Doodles, and Cool Cats, it’s clear that PFP efforts always start with one (or more) artist. In the case of the above three projects, these artists are Seneca, toastand clone, respectively. Once an artist sets his sights on a PFP endeavor or joins the project’s career and creative vision, the PFP project becomes a sort of modular process throughout the planning and development phases.
put the pieces together
As part of the marketing language of many PFP projects, you may have seen the statement “All 10,000 NFTs are generated from over XXX characteristics”. All of these features used to make the PFP were first created by the artist. Once the project team has settled on a subject (ape, cat, duck, etc.) or the artist has settled on which signature characters/objects to replicate, it’s time to figure out how to create thousands of NFTs to form sets. To do this, the project developers (developers) needed to create a jigsaw puzzle that could be assembled multiple times by a computer, the aforementioned plug-and-pay method. Each NFT needs to be broken down into parts before being assembled, so the lead artist on the project had to create multiple features such as body shape, head shape, facial expressions, accessories, arm positions, background colors, and more. For reference, check out NFT ranking site Rarity Tools’ breakdown of all the top Bored Ape traits. In addition to the simple creative process, the artist must also consider the canvas position of each attribute so that once assembled, the entire composition makes sense, resulting in a cohesive NFT avatar. This means creating each NFT character in layers to ensure the ears, nose, eyes, and accessories are right on the head of the avatar, and the head must be right on the body, etc.
By separating these layers, developers can load each feature into a program (like Python) or write some code that can mix and match attributes to quickly create a single NFT. These procedures depend on the team and whether they wish to pre-generate each avatar or generate each avatar in real-time during the casting process. Typically, however, after a few generative trials to address any potential bugs, developers will generate a total supply of around 10,000 unique, non-repeating (but sometimes very similar) NFTs. Thanks to this plug-and-play approach, creating a 10,000-supply PFP project is very easy. It is important to note that not all PFP projects require a build aspect. While generating avatars and PFP often go hand in hand, sometimes independent artists take on PFP projects, illustrating or producing batches of hundreds of NFTs in their style. One such example is Ghxsts – a project made up of over 700 NFTs, each 1/1 hand-drawn, but appearing to fit exactly the definition of a PFP collection.
Publish PFP to the blockchain
The final step in the PFP process is the most public and probably the easiest to understand step in the project pipeline: publishing these new PFP NFTs around the world. However, this last step depends entirely on whether the NFT is generated during minting or pre-generated offline and loaded into a random, first-come, first-served grab.For independent artists such as Jen Stark With her Cosmic Cuties, it usually makes the most sense to generate offline and then load the entire supply into marketplaces like OpenSea and sell them over time. However, in the case of large supply projects, many other steps must be completed before the PFP can be listed. Before launch, developers focus on creating the website, setting up the smart contract, testing the minting functionality of the website and the smart contract, deciding on the sale method, setting the launch date, price, and more. This is because, most importantly, the launch of a project is probably the most important event.For a high-level summary of the technical aspects of publishing PFP collections, read Security Researcher Harry Danley Post here. Smart contracts and file hosting/sharing aside, this last step is largely dependent on the project team being able to generate hype, build a following, and deliver a solid product to their potential collectors. Time and time again we’ve seen series (Mekaverse, Pixelmon, etc.) generate a lot of hype and fail to live up to their potential — with other series that seem too good to be true, and succeed beyond expectations. The public offering has a lot to do with the overall perception of the project. Of course, whether generative NFTs look good or not, but the rollout mechanisms, including whitelisting and pre-sale, Dutch auctions and batch releases, etc., all play an important role in the perception of the project. Assuming this all goes well and the collection sells out quickly. In this case, collectors may be happier with the process and product — rather than an item like the Akutars selling at full speed and encountering significant and debilitating roadblocks. But why would anyone buy a PFP NFT in the first place? Well, aside from the added value of generating avatars, minting PFP NFTs often comes with a few benefits, including memberships to exclusive holders-only Discord servers, access to live and virtual events, first dibs for follow-up collections , and, of course, bragging rights and the ability to change your social media profile picture to a unique new NFT you own.
Top PFP program ever
Considering the overwhelming success of Bored Apes and CryptoPunks, it’s no surprise that NFT enthusiasts of all types are so fanatical about PFPs, or that teams of developers and artists around the world are trying to follow their success. However, while most derivative collectibles come and go, it seems that the NFT market is flooded with PFP collectibles, but originality still prevails. This is why many PFP series stand the test of time. Below you will find a list of some of the most influential collections of generated avatars to grace the blockchain. While there are hundreds of projects out there, only these few are the one percent that continues to make waves (for various reasons) throughout the NFT ecosystem.
As mentioned, Punks was launched in June 2017 by Larva Labs, which Yuga Labs acquired in 2022. These Punks were one of the first NFTs to be minted on the Ethereum blockchain and were of immeasurable importance in the grand scheme of NFT history. Featuring humans, apes, zombies, and aliens, CryptoPunks pioneered the idea of generative trait combinations that most other PFP projects still draw from today.
Boring Ape Yacht Club
The Bored Ape Yacht Club is second only to CryptoPunks in importance, but unquestionably number one in popularity and value. Additionally, BAYC, a collection of 10,000 NFTs, was launched in April 2021. Despite a slow start, the project exploded in value over the following months, becoming one of the most popular NFT projects of all time.
Launched in October 2021, Doodles, also comprised of 10,000 avatars, is easily one of the most popular PFP projects of all NFTs. With a vibrant community, experienced executive team, and multi-faceted entertainment, Doodles hasn’t stopped winning the hearts of countless NFT enthusiasts and seasoned NFT collectors.
Moonbirds is another collection of 10,000 NFTs created by famous internet entrepreneurs in the US Kevin Ross As part of his Proof Collective – a private members-only collective of NFT collectors and artists. Just days after its April 2022 launch, Moonbirds has surpassed 100,000 ETH (about $300 million at the time) in secondary sales, instantly becoming one of the highest-grossing NFT collectibles of all time.
For a community-driven project, Cool Cats is a tough one to beat.Launching in June 2021, the collection collected 9,999 generated and, as the developers call it, “style-curated” NFTs, garnering accolades and going viral through collaborations with Ghxsts and TIME Magazine and a near-viral milking challenge. These are just a few of the dozens of avatar-generating projects dominating the NFT market charts. Read more interesting and influential PFP NFT projects here.