Virtual makeup is not a particularly new use of augmented reality. There are plenty of those kinds of filters on Snapchat (remember that app?) and Instagram. Sephora also launched an AR mirror and app ages ago. But L’Oreal’s new series of filters is part of its first “digital makeup line,” the idea being that, during the pandemic, we live in “a world where the camera is always on,” according to the company. These filters are meant to help the grubbiest among us feel pretty, oh so pretty, during an endless stream of Zoom meetings.
OK. I’ll bite. You won’t see me repurposing a DSLR camera as a webcam so all my coworkers can see my every pore and blemish, so I may as well try to turn on my camera and look less like a hobgoblin during work meetings—even if this is like, four years after Meitu’s heyday.
First thing’s first: L’Oreal’s digital makeup line is called “Signature Faces.” According to Refinery29, the 10 filters created for this virtual line were developed in partnership with VIRTUE, Vice’s creative agency. Behind the lewks themselves is Val Garland and 3D artists. Garland is L’Oreal Paris’s global makeup director and, apparently, a judge on the BBC’s Glow Up. This means nothing to me, a heathen who hasn’t changed her “makeup” routine in 10 years. Technologically speaking, the filters are available on Snapchat, Instagram, and Google Duo for mobile. On desktop, you can download Snapcam to use the filters on Twitch, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams. (The instructions are pretty easy per L’Oreal’s how-to page.)
My editor passed this news my way early enough this morning that I had showered after a morning run and finished my skincare routine, but had not yet applied any makeup. These were perfect testing conditions for what was likely to be an AR-fueled nightmare. And L’Oreal did not disappoint.
While the models in L’Oreal’s demo video of course look gorgeous while wearing digital pearls on their eyelids and gold glitter lashes (you read that correctly), I am but a lowly tech blogger who spends a good 8-10 hours a day hunched over a keyboard. My results were…less successful. Technically, the filters are divided up into three collections: Volumizing Capsules, Plump Shot, and Fire Match. Again, these are words that mean nothing to me, but from what I can glean, Volumizing Capsules are sparkly bits, Fire Match is dramatic eyeshadow, and Plump Shot…well, I still have no idea what that is.
Some of the filters made my eyes look like they were having a regrettable allergic reaction. Others made me look like a reject from the Capital in those Hunger Games movies, or a backup dancer that Lady Gaga fired for incompetence. Left Shark, but for makeup. Most of the looks were of the Very Bold category—I don’t know how else to describe having metal eyelids or moving lipstick. On Instagram, the only one I kind of liked was an option to try out different lipstick shades. But even then, L’Oreal insisted on giving me glitter freckles. The worst was an Instagram filter that gave me “Bambi Eyes.” As in…there was a neon Bambi, the Disney deer with a traumatic childhood, leaping around and I had to “blink to catch him,” all while my digital eyeliner alternated from dark blue to neon pink.
While I can see a person doing this with friends over a Zoom hangout, I am perplexed as to why some write-ups proposed this as a work-appropriate solution. If you work in the fashion or beauty industry, sure. But the rest of us? Very few people are out here thinking: “Hmm, yes, I have an important meeting with a client but feel too put upon to moisturize. Let me just add these digital pearl studs to my eyes. That’ll do the trick.” Then again, months into this pandemic, some of us can’t keep our dicks in our pants during Zoom calls so perhaps this is not quite so wildly farfetched after all.
In any case, L’Oreal is no stranger to using technology—it’s actually one of the more pioneering beauty brands out there. The company made a sun-sensing wearable tracker, sensors that can measure your skin’s pH levels, and even a customizable skincare-dispensing gadget that uses AR, NFC, and AI. That’s why it’s a little disappointing that this “digital makeup line” is so 2015. What I, a tired schlub, would like is a more subtle AR that automatically depuffs my eyes and banishes my dark circles. (Though, to be fair, a blurry 720p built-in webcam on your laptop does a pretty good job of that.) In any case, after assaulting my eyes, I decided to manually do my makeup. It took 10 minutes, and I looked normal enough, though perhaps not quite as fabulous. But you know what, no one has complained about my lack of makeup on Zoom so far. I take that as permission to remain a gremlin for the rest of the pandemic.