Ines Alpha has brought her intuitive creative eye to the world of tech, bringing 3D makeup into the mainstream, with her Snapchat and Instagram filters that provide a surreal and imaginative escape from daily life. In her own words, she started by "blurring the frontier between real and virtual" and accidentally became a 3D makeup artist. Alpha works with rapidly changing technologies to conceptualise new futures within the makeup and beauty space, her work is optimistic, exciting and boundary-less and she is only just getting started.
Could you tell us how you came to be an ‘e-makeup’/ ‘3D-makeup’ artist?
I started as an art director in advertising specialising in cosmetics, luxury and fashion. I’ve worked in this industry for 7 years, so I’ve seen a wide range of beauty photography and makeup artists' works. I was already quite obsessed with pigments, colours, textures, and how physical makeup could transform your face or tell different stories.
While working daily on beauty campaigns, I was experimenting with 3D softwares just for fun. At that time, I met Panteros666, a music producer, with whom I started making video clips where CGI would meet and mix with our reality, our physical world. The first music video we made, which I’m still super proud of is called BabyF16, it’s mostly iridescent creatures and blobs populating our planet. I was already fascinated by the idea of making reality more fantastic and surreal, blurring the frontier between real and virtual.
One day, I decided to unite two of my favourite things and skills: makeup and 3D. I started adding 3D elements onto people’s faces. Accidentally I was creating my own vision of the future of beauty, I was becoming a 3D makeup artist.
The combination of tech and make-up in your work is exciting in that it breaks down stereotypically oppositional categories. What is your personal relationship with make-up? Has it been a lifelong interest/love?
I’ve always been into makeup, makeup that can accessorise or complete a look, a touch of colour or more crazy looks to express someone’s personality or get into another character/avatar, even though I’ve always been quite an introvert so never felt confident or comfortable enough to wear that kind of makeup on the street. I’ve never been into makeup that conceals, hides or transforms your features so you can look closer to the trendiest beauty standards.
I’m not against it, whatever makes someone more comfortable in their skin is cool to me, but not everyone has the time, talent or money to have access to this kind of makeup. I have a more fun and creative approach.
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Your work has been described as futuristic 3D face make-up that a “robot might wear to the MET Gala in the year 3052” and a lot of what you design imagines a heightened fantastical, futuristic space. How do you personally conceptualise the future and do you see designing a future aesthetic as an innately optimistic act in our current socio-economic climate?
The reason why I have always been so eager to escape our physical world to go about fantasising about other realities is because ours has felt rather sad, dystopian and dull during the last decades, in contrast to the initial promise of what “our idealised future” would be. On a more intimate level, I’ve always felt a lot of joy from dreaming and imagining otherworldly beings, shapes, movements and materials. I feel emancipated through designing a world of my own.
Needless to say, during the current pandemic, we are all experiencing an unprecedented level of bleakness and anxiety. My only fulfilling escape now more than ever is to create fantastic shapes and colourful iridescent textures, they help me stay optimistic. I can’t say that I’m designing a potential future, or how humans could evolve following societal evolution and technological advances. I'm creating my personal vision of it.
What I create is what I’d like to see and experience in my life. I’m not warning anyone or pushing any transhuman agenda. Tech is so fast-growing and taking more and more space in our daily lives. I sincerely hope that my work and the work of other digital artists can inspire developers to design a better world.
To give us an insight into your creative process: how did you go about designing and creating Holoctopus? It is your first filter of 2021 and is an amazing otherworldly holographic, half-human half-octopus 3D makeup look. Could you talk us through the process of creating this filter?
When I created this half human half-octopus design, it was just after the first lockdown started. I moved to my parents, so I wasn’t quarantined alone. Everyone was super scared and completely lost. We had to wear masks to go outside for the first time in our life (wearing masks wasn’t very common in France). I had more time on my own than many of us, work had definitely slowed down.
I had just discovered this app from Maxon called Move which allows you to take videos of yourself, track your face in a second, import it in Cinema4D (my 3D software). This app is truly time-saving in my workflow. So, I had this version of myself recorded and imported into my 3D scene and I thought I could create anti-covid digital face masks! The idea was very simple and intuitive at the start.
As I’m highly inspired by sea creatures, I decided to attach tentacles to my mouth and cheeks and see how it would look. Later on, I adapted it to augmented reality as a filter for Instagram. It’s a very different technology than what I can do with postproduction (cinema4D), it’s less realistic, the movements are less natural and organic, but still, the magic happens and people kind of feel they’re underwater and they have fun being a virtual holographic octopus for a second.
I know a lot of people who enjoy your AR filters, myself included. They remind me of visiting a purikura in Japan, augmenting reality in this way is definitely popular amongst those of us who spend a lot of time on the Internet and social media. Is it important for you that your work is democratised and can be accessible to anyone with a smartphone access and social media?
Of course! When I started doing 3D makeup artworks, I immediately thought of ways to democratise this new generation of makeup. Because how can it be makeup, if no one can try it on? On a personal level, doing makeup is also creating tools for people to play with and use however they like. Like a makeup palette, you have several colours and textures, and you choose from them and you mix them to create your own look.
When I started with postproduction, I loved the fact that it looked like it could be real, like it could be living on the person’s skin. I wanted people to doubt, I wanted their brain to be confused. At that time, there were already augmented reality tools I could have used but I didn’t know how to technically do it. It wasn’t that accessible to everyone, still experimental.
Artists like Jeremy Bailey have been playing with AR for quite a long time! But you could only see their work in galleries or videos. I had to wait for Snapchat and Instagram to launch their software (respectively Lens Studio and Spark AR) to start adapting my designs to AR and see people play and share my creations!
Next step that I’m already working on is to create 3D makeup palettes that people can use and apply 3D elements to their face in any way they want, changing shape, textures and colours, like they could do with physical makeup! But, for now, it’s not an easy thing to technically achieve.
“I hope that the modern digital tools we have will bring about positive social change, promote diversity, unlock creativity and normalise self-expression in beauty.”
The digital world is evolving at a wild speed, and a lot of people spend just as much time online as they do offline today. In the future, if the URL and IRL (in real life) self are interchangeable, how do you see this impacting our societal definitions of ‘beauty?’
I believe URL beauty can help diversify IRL beauty. As people enjoy more freedom to create any kind of digital selves. When you think about all the digital tools here to help us push further reality. Of course, the limitations of reality always have pushed artists to create abstract paintings, poems or film to alter them. My creed is that anyone should be able to be whoever they want to be and present themselves in the way they want to.
Now, it’s also possible to have multiple avatars. The Internet mimics real life where different facets of ourselves are revealed depending on where we are, at the office, at parties, on our Instagram stories, visiting grandparents, hungover on a Sunday morning and so on.
Could you expand on that?
Online, we’re not the same person on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and so on. People were, pre-Internet, already used to wear different masks, personas. Digital selves can definitely bring people more confidence, AR filters are already helping a whole lot. You can transform yourself into anything in a second. AR filters, as physical makeup, are definitely helping overcome public shyness, either in IRL or URL.
The only issue would be to re-install rigid beauty standards in the digital space, where you would have to specifically wear the right, fashion-imposed filters to look pretty. That would lead to a puerile sheep-like behaviour where everyone would be looking exactly the same! Making people feel isolated, excluded and misunderstood for wanting to wear different ones. I hope that the modern digital tools we have will bring about positive social change, promote diversity, unlock creativity and normalise self-expression in beauty.
There is a lot more diversity today in role models for younger people than there was a decade ago due to social media and the internet. However, beauty and physical appearance is seemingly prioritised more than ever on these primarily visual platforms. What advice would you give to your younger self about carving out your own niche and finding your way amongst societies expectations?
People are obsessed with appearance and beauty. Even more today with social media. It must be so hard to express yourself and show yourself to the world when you feel that you don’t fit in. It requires so much courage. And when you’re younger, it’s pretty rare to be brave enough to do that. But feeling that you don’t fit in also means that you’re unique, that you’re maybe unusual. Which we all are! So, why not embrace that individuality? Being different is the most beautiful thing to me, it just means being ourselves!
Beauty is personal, it’s subjective, it’s an emotion. Someone comfortable with their sexuality, body, and appearance can only be the most beautiful person. Beauty is anyone who has enough self-confidence to embody and express their personality in all its forms. It’s very difficult to find that confidence and to find your purpose or your own way of living and doing your things. It takes time. But no one should put too much pressure on themselves, just trust yourself, find people that encourage yourself, things will come if you put your heart into it. Always experiment, try different things and remember to be patient.
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You have worked on many exciting collaborations with brands and fellow artists. I especially loved your collaborations with Selfridges and Hunter Schafer. How do you go about finding symbiosis with a collaborator/brand creatively for these projects? Is there a collaboration/project that stands out in your mind as a personal favourite?
I don’t have any favourites really! I have had the chance to collaborate with so many amazing, talented and inspiring people, I’m so thankful for that, it is very precious to me. I had the great chance to apply my creations to people I really look up to like Salvjiia, Hungry, Charli XCX, Hunter Schafer… I am honoured I could work with brands I was dreaming of working with, while I was at the advertising company, like Dior, Pucci, Burberry, Nike and more.
It’s such a pleasure to be able to collaborate with people you have an artistic connection with. Someone or a brand that understands what you do and respects your art and vision. That is priceless. Most of the people I collaborated with I have never met in person! So, the collaborations that stand out a little bit more are the people I have met by chance like Sheidlina, who was passing by in Paris (she’s from Russia), Charlotte Free who lives in Los Angeles, who came to my place right after a Chanel runway or Nana Youngrongkim that I filmed one afternoon in Seoul!
What is your dream for the future of 3D make up? What excites you about the future?
Technologies are evolving really fast. Soon enough we will be able to see augmented reality with our own eyes, certainly using contact lenses. Imagine that, wearing 3D makeup in the streets? My work is definitely evolving with technology, it will change and adapt to the new possibilities, software, phone capacities, new devices (AR glasses, VR headset, AR contact lenses…).
I might very soon be able to make one of my dreams come true: create a digital makeup palette, where everyone will be able to apply digital elements to their face using their fingers, touching their face like physical makeup, or touching their reflection or a screen! I’ve already experimented with that technology collaborating with Marpi and Eliza Stuthers Jobin. The project is called Supermorphia, and it uses a laptop, AR, a tactile screen, and a real-time engine (Unity). For now, it’s too powerful to work on a phone, unfortunately. But I'm working on a Snapchat version that will be less detailed but still pretty fun and exciting.
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