In the Air
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In the Air – Art+Auction's Gossip Column

Digital Artists Virtually Swap Faces With Brad Pitt and Marilyn Monroe

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Prepare to have your mind blown. Arturo Castro, one of the developers behind the openFrameworks programming platform, and new media artist Kyle McDonald (who recently hijacked an entire Mac store’s worth of laptops), have created an augmented reality program that virtually replaces your face with someone else’s — in real time.

The surreal video documentation of the project shows Castro and McDonald trying on the faces of Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, and Brad Pitt, among others. The lo-fi, polygonal masks that cover the artists’ true faces aren’t going to fool anyone into believing they’re video-chatting with a movie star, but they’re real enough to be totally creepy.

As the artists move, so too do the virtual models layered over their heads. As Kyle McDonald mugs for the computer camera, so does his Michael Jackson face. McDonald pouts as Dali, makes a speech as Steve Jobs, and blows a kiss as Paris Hilton. The virtual face layers are semi-transparent, so there’s a solid physicality and depth behind the masks.

Check out the two videos embedded below, with Arturo Castro’s here:

And MacDonald’s, which used a slightly better blending algorithm between virtual and real, here:

Given our mass fluency with the Internet and our tendency to believe that what we see on the screen is real, Castro and MacDonald’s project leads to some pretty scary prospects. Could we virtually impersonate someone else over Skype? “Faces” could also be like a vocoder  for video chatting. Maybe someday the program will make it into a thriller movie as a way for an evil genius to blackmail the UN without giving their identity away.

The possibilities are endless.

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