If you've been browsing Twitter, Instagram, or Vine lately, there's a good chance you've borne witness to the part-horrifying, part-amazing phenomenon that is My Idol: a free Chinese iPhone app that takes selfies and turns them into singing, dancing cartoon avatars dredged straight from the depths of the uncanny valley.
These 3D puppets are like slightly more realistic versions of Xbox Live avatars. They've got the same bobbleheads, but you can dress them in traditional Chinese clothes, make them sing karaoke, or celebrate holidays you've likely never heard of. It's the sort of thing everyone gets addicted to in an episode of Black Mirror before they forget how to get dressed or eat. It's stupid and goofy, but who cares when you can make wonders like this:
Or take selfies like this:
Or, of course, you can just relax and get weird:
Anyway, it's impossible not be entranced by all this, so here's how you actually use My Idol. A word of warning, though: the app is in Chinese, and although an English language version is reportedly coming out soon, until then, the interface is a little disorientating. (And although there is a guide for non-Chinese speakers, being confused by My Idol isn't going to stop just because you can read the instructions.)
To start, just download the app, and it will prompt you to take a selfie. (If you're looking for the app on iOS, search for "Huanshi" — the company that makes it. There is another app named "MyIdol," but that's a different thing altogether.) After taking your picture, you'll be asked to line up a load of markers with parts of your face. These will become the digital strings that will pull your mouth, eyes, and ears into various expressions, some convincing and some ghoulish.
"Maybe I'll be happier in the digital world."
Next, you get to play dress up. You can tinker with your eye color, skin tone, hair, glasses, and try out a whole bunch of different clothes and outfits. Some of them seem to be branded as part of a Chinese TV show or video game, but for the most part, they're pretty much what you'd find in a standard wardrobe — jeans and T-shirts on one end, and panda outfits on the other.
You can also switch your avatar between female and male (the main difference is a slightly thinner build for the female models) and tinker with its age. This parameter goes from a baby mode that gives you a beachball-round head and globular eyes, to a weatherworn old-timer setting that makes you look a little like Tommy Lee Jones.
"Yes. Now I am a happy human. Look at my long, gorgeous hair."
Finally, once your avatar has been dressed to your liking, you can take it out for a spin. The button with the portrait icon lets you flip through a bunch of poses for your avatar, before giving you the option to share them via Chinese social media sites or save them to your phone.
The button with the movie icon is best though, letting you choreograph your avatar with preset dances, songs, and commonplace gestures, like, uh, riding a motorbike into the sunset or pumping iron in the gym. You can tap the green button on the right to save or share the clip, or use the button on the left to record your own audio.
Again, the language barrier almost certainly means there are depths to My Idol we've not discovered, but it's still incredibly fun for such a simple app. Plus, as you can upload anyone's face via your camera roll, it also makes for a good, low-key way to troll friends and enemies. Or, you know, you can make your dog sing "Sexy Back" in a schoolgirl outfit. Whatever you like.
when u make a MyIdol for ur dog pic.twitter.com/GdRp5lVL2p— Mariel O'Reilly (@marbear378) April 23, 2015