That Snapchat fad that shows you what you look like as the opposite sex is just the tip of the AR iceberg.
If you were on the internet at literally any point over this weekend you'll have noticed that everyone is suddenly and totally obsessed with a wave of new Snapchat filters that transform your face into a man, woman or a baby. Clearly, the rise of augmented reality filters across our favourite social media apps has never been stronger. And with a skyrocketing popularity, the people providing our favourite filters have gone from being technology and AR experts to young artists trying their hand at a new skill. What used to be a super niche medium is now more accessible than ever because of easy access to programming training and a growing community of programmers helping each other perfect their style. Online, you can find everything from iridescent liquid skin effects to scenes that transform you into a bug-eyed green alien, all thanks to a group of renegade, upstart artists taking the filter game away from the Facebook-backed developers and making it the new frontier in DIY art instead.
Even though uploading DIY filter creations is not yet available to everyone, a lucky few have survived the months-long waiting list to the Instagram Beta programme and finally gotten their work onto the app. Meanwhile, brands such as Gucci and adidas have already cottoned onto the power of a custom filter. Naturally one of the first celebs to create their own custom filter was beauty mogul Kylie Jenner with her signature full face of make-up, closely followed by Rihanna’s gemstone effect that helped fans shine bright like a diamond.
But it's not just celebrities and big brands that are getting in on the AI action. Software like Spark AR studio allows virtual reality newbies to easily create their own Instagram and Facebook filter effects without having to learn code, and more importantly, for free. Designer Jade Roche, creator of the fluorescence effect famously used by Bella Hadid and roughly a million other people, started off having never used AR before in her life. “I think most of the early developers come from a tech background and are technically very good at making effects. I'm more of a regular person who just wants to either look enhanced or have fun and be able to share it.”
Roche isn’t the only one who’s experimentations with Spark AR have lead her to making great effects. After creating some merch samples for brexit.shop -- a domain owned by her boss at THE PEOPLE° studio -- designer and DIGI-GALmember Harriet Davey accidentally created an ominous, morbid twist on a Brexit filter purely because it was the most recent file on her computer when she downloaded Spark AR. “I'd love to see some future filters push the boundaries and cover more taboo and contentious political issues,” the artist tells i-D.
For artist Ines Alpha, filters are a way of making reality more fantastic and futuristic. “People crave to be able to transform themselves," she says. Inspired by beauty, nature and science fiction, the e-make-up artist began creating her own realistic 3D make-up ideas before experimenting with how different textures would look across a human face -- even making cyberbabe Lil Miquela a unique floral facemask for her ‘birthday’.
After taking some intro sessions on building augmented reality experiences last year, Allan Berger got familiar with the world of AR video effects for social media and managed to create his first ever filter within minutes. One year on and Berger is chatting to us ahead of his entry to the F8 Hackathon, a competition where teams have to create innovative software programme solutions for education, communities and sustainable economic growth.
Instagram users will know Berger from the Dragonmuse4000 filter but also from his collaboration on a fairylike flowery filter named Truly Blooms with artist Hana Truly. The latter features in Grimes’s entirely AR musical Pretty Dark, alongside his extraterrestrial Cosmic Magnolia design.
With 7.7 billion people living on earth and around 1 billion of them using Instagram every month, we asked where he realistically sees the future of augmented reality heading: "I’m curious to see more ways of augmented realities enhancing our lives on this planet in many different areas," he responded. "May it be in education, health, transportation, art, fashion, beauty, sports -- in our homes and many more use cases in our day to day.”
Long term augmented reality expert Marc Wakefield’s filters are also featured in Grimes’s musical experiment. Widely known for his creepy clown filter that lead to him creating the Macphisto effect for U2 (a monster-like top hat and make-up effect Bono wore during the band's tour), his career naturally progressed from building standalone AR apps before getting involved with the creation of Instagram effects. Wakefield believes the accessibility of AR across social media will instinctively act as a starting point for newcomers to experiment with, but that “a lot of people are not fully aware of what AR actually is and a majority of the filter users probably don't know the complexities behind it. The cool thing about this is that it is getting users comfortable with seeing a digital overlay on the physical world.”
While it’s possible that this is just the tip of the AR iceberg, the medium is definitely making waves as a legitimate art form. Earlier this month the multidisciplinary femme-focussed platform HERVISIONS trialled brand new filters in a net art workshop titled Face-Up at the Tate Modern, showcasing this recent shift in technology and solidifying its existence in creative scenes. Director Zaiba Jabbar created the platform as it stemmed from her obsession with short moving image and how we experience visual stimuli as increasingly digital human beings, who spend huge amounts of time on social media.
From wearable contact lenses to mixed reality features, what will happen next in the world of augmented reality is promising but unclear. Still, minus the flying cars and the ability to put a token into your microwave to create a fresh Big Mac like that scene in Spy Kids, it truly feels like we’re on our way to living in the future that science fiction always promised us.