When we think of augmented reality face filters, we tend to think of goofy novelties like Halloween masks, face swapping, or inadvertent racist caricatures. As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out yesterday, AR could go far beyond that, putting objects in real space with sophisticated tracking tech. But if Facebook thinks of augmented reality as an integral part of its platform, there’s one simple filter that’s about to become incredibly useful. It’s virtual makeup, and it’s going to be great.
By “virtual makeup,” I’m not talking about meticulous airbrushing that can perfectly retouch your selfies, or some far-future tech for holographic glasses. What I want is simple: a flexible cosmetics filter that works on video messaging or Facebook Live. Think TV makeup, but applied by the camera, just convincingly enough that you’d have to look carefully to notice.
This is real technology already, it’s just a little rough
As someone whose job includes appearing on Facebook Live and Snapchat, AR cosmetics would fill a very particular need in my life. These quick social videos are one of the few times I regret never learning to put on makeup properly. I seem a little bit washed-out in them at the best of times, and I’m usually filming at conferences and festivals, where I’m fighting jet lag and a half-dozen strains of flu. I don’t need perfection, but I’d love to see a little color and contrast instead of looking like a sleep-deprived ghost.
Most people don’t have that precise problem, but there are plenty of situations where makeup is implicitly obligatory. This isn’t good or fair; people just think of made-up faces as what women “normally” look like, so deviating from that is considered slovenly. But while we’re figuring out how to dismantle that system, we can at least make its requirements trivial to meet... at least for people who do a lot of FaceTime and conference calls, anyway.
And to be clear, you can already use augmented reality makeup. Last month, we wrote about a partnership between cosmetics retailer Sephora and augmented reality company ModiFace, which lets people test products or see tutorials on their own face. The results look something like this:
It’s not perfect; as you may have noticed, some of my eyelashes are floating above my hair. But it’s close enough that I could imagine using a more polished version on a real video, and even this limited system tracks my face pretty well. Of course, Sephora’s tool isn’t supposed to create a substitute for makeup — it’s designed to show you what you’d look like in real, fairly expensive products. But if companies like Facebook turn phone-based augmented reality into a serious, practical technology, that’s bound to change. Modiface even announced live streaming support a few weeks ago, although it’s still rolling out.
If AR actually sticks around — which is admittedly a big “if” — we’re probably a few years away from YouTube makeup artists selling custom lipstick packs the way people sell iMessage stickers now. Big retailers will counter with free products that run ads on your mascara. You’ll participate in brand activations that offer all those lipsticks from 50 Shades Darker. Maybe The Pirate Bay will have a makeup aisle. It’s not as cool as the holo-clothing from Psycho-Pass, but it’s one of the first meaningful steps toward it.
I’m not going to throw out my eyeliner, or give up on my eternal (and probably futile) quest for the perfect cat’s-eye wing, because physical makeup application is a fascinating art. But it’s something I want to do for fun, not rote obligation — the same way somebody might love driving, but hate commuting to work. So please, go ahead, Facebook. Give me a makeover.