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INES ALPHA, reshaping notions of beauty with 3D make-up

Interview by Laura Cabiscol

Hi-resolution/times square (2020)

In our digital age, ideas of beauty are being continuously transformed. The imagination and creativity of artists like ines alpha are at the forefront of these transformations, pushing to reimagine what beauty can be.

She is a 3D make-up artist, creating fantastic and whimsical makeup looks using various 3D rendering softwares, and her work has been exhibited at Tate Modern and Art Basel Miami, amongst many other places. She has also collaborated with artists the likes of Charli XCX. Through her mix of make-up and technology, she started to envision what the complete aesthetic freedom of digital software could mean for the future of beauty.

One of her first 3D endeavours was a project with her longtime sound collaborator Panteros666, Baby F16. In this video, one can already notice alpha’s liking of the fantastic, as she was adding “iridescent figures to our planet”. Panteros666 also features in the Interspecies Gossip project, a photography and video series from Grow your Own Cloud where alpha worked on showing growing digital living organisms on human skin, and her musician counterpart imagined the sounds those organisms would make sprinkling in our skin.

Her project Supermorphia, in collaboration with artist and programmer Eliza SJ and Marpi Studio, took her 3D looks to the next level and allowed for her digital make-up to be applied in real-time. For this interactive experience, she used Hyprface, a real-time facial motion capture technology that picks up a face’s motions and allows her to overlap the digital makeup. She’s also made some of her creations widely accessible, adapting them like Instagram and Snapchat filters. 

ines alpha is fond of working with other creatives, and one of her latest projects is in collaboration with Madrona, a Las Vegas-based Indigenous make-up and performance artist known for her bold looks and bizarre videos who uses her face as a canvas.

Then, alpha used her tracking software to turn that art into a wearable 3D creation. Inspired by their shared mood and keyword, “otherworldly”, and an oceanic design vision, the filter combines the cool tones and a geometric makeup design with water-like 3D iridescent moving shapes to transport the user to another world. 

In a world so determined by beauty standards, which in turn have been determined by digital beauty (“Snapchat Dysmorphia” is a thing, Google it. Significant amounts of people seek plastic surgery to look more like their Instagram and Snapchat filters), it’s important to think about the social and mental effects of the widely used AR face filters.

Because even though unrealistic beauty standards are nothing new, comparing ourselves not only to edited images of celebrities or models but to an airbrushed and enhanced version of ourselves is. How can we free ourselves from these beauty norms?

ines alpha’s suggestion: Go crazy, get weird! While most filters nowadays seem to reproduce current standards in a more extreme way, why limit ourselves to that? The digital realm is a place to reinvent ourselves and try new identities, and 3D makeup presents a chance for people to open up to new notions of beauty, “see themselves differently and escape, even deconstruct the beauty standards”.

supermorphia (2020). In collaboration with Eliza Struthers Jobin and Marpi

For those who are not familiar with your work, tell us a bit about yourself and your background. When did your interest in the make-up start, how did you first get into 3D, and when did it click to combine the two?

I’m ines alpha, I’m a digital artist based in Paris, and I’ve specialised in what I called 3D makeup, which is makeup but using digital softwares 🙂 I’m originally an art director in advertising. I’ve worked in an ad company for 7 years, mostly on beauty (skincare and makeup) and fashion campaigns. I’ve always been obsessed with makeup, the pigments, the colours, the textures, and how it reacts to the skin… 

At the same time, I was also self-learning 3D in my spare time, creating video clips in collaboration with the music producer Panteros666. Our first notable work is called “Baby F16” where I was already trying to make reality more fantastic, adding iridescent creatures to our planet. 

One day I thought of uniting two of my favourite things, which are 3D and makeup, trying to envisage what the future of beauty could look like with the complete aesthetic freedom digital softwares can bring, and accidentally started my 3D makeup artist career.

What opportunities do you think technology enables for those who don’t “fit in” within the current beauty standards and find a field of experimentation with AR and face filters?

In the digital realm, you can be anyone or anything. You are free to look however you want to. You can even have multiple avatars. You don’t have to follow any rules that society has unconsciously or consciously imposed on us.

You don’t have to be that perfect human with the perfect DNA, ticking all the boxes of the (harder and harder to reach) beauty standards. What’s amazing about using face filters is that you can transform yourself into almost anything in a second. You don’t have to learn a new skill to have any specific talent; spend hours doing your makeup; it’s effortless.

And if you want to put more effort in, you can learn how to develop your own face filters (all the tutorials are available for free online) and create your own fantasies and share them with the world. I think it enables people to see themselves in so many different ways that it can only help them open their minds to other types of beauty; at least, I hope so!

I think what’s also great is that it definitely helps feeling more comfortable with yourself, overcome digital public shyness, giving you the self-confidence to show yourself out there.

You have recently collaborated on a project with Madrona, a makeup artist that lives miles away from you and who you’ve never had the chance to meet in person (yet!). How did that collaboration come to be, and how was the process of working together?

OMG, I truly hope I will meet Madrona in person one day; she’s one of the loveliest and most inspirational people I’ve collaborated with. She’s so naturally talented; I’m so impressed by each of her creations. We made this first video collaboration back in 2019.

I don’t remember who contacted who first, haha I sent her my technical instructions to get her video and added 3D makeup in post-production. The Internet is such a blessing for our generation. I could not be more thankful to be able to live in an era where you can contact anyone from around the globe and work with them from a distance so easily.

It can only create the best artistic connections! Very randomly this year, HUH contacted me and proposed to do a collaboration with Madrona again; SAY NO MORE; of course, I was up to it. We first discussed the concept; our keyword was “Otherworldly”. She made her makeup first, sent me some pictures and videos, and I started from there to build the 3D parts for the final AR project.

Which tools and programs do you usually use for your creations, and what’s your creative process?

I use Cinema4D for 3D modelling and animation, Spark AR and Lens Studio for augmented reality filters. After Effects/photoshop when I do post-produced work, of course. My creative process really depends on the project! Sometimes I get into my software and start creating from scratch there; sometimes, I try to follow a new tutorial and adapt it to a design…

For some projects, specially commissioned work, I start by sketching ideas before 3D modelling. But my favourite way of working is experimenting in 3D from the start, it surprises me more, and I like to build stuff little by little instead of trying to reproduce a drawing which could be frustrating and limiting for me (and I don’t draw that well).

Being openly different and pushing boundaries is exhausting and can come with many reflections and doubts.  Where do you find motivation and inspiration to move forward in difficult times?

I think I find inspiration in other creators’ work. There are so many super-talented people out there that continuously share their amazing work; it gives me hope and motivation to keep working hard on my artistic practice!

Sometimes it can also be frustrating seeing so many productions when you’re doing nothing much, you feel you should be making art, but you cannot. But you need to remind yourself in those moments that it’s going to pass and that time is going to do its job, and you’re going to feel better soon. Creativity requires time. It’s impossible and inhuman to feel inspired and motivated constantly.

How do you understand beauty differently since you got into 3D makeup? Do you think face filters are or will be disrupting the beauty standards as the digital world continues to evolve at full speed and people spend more and more time in digital realms?

I think 3D makeup and digital makeup are good ways to help people see themselves differently and escape even deconstruct beauty standards. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to stay optimistic as the most popular face filters are the ones that make you look like an Instagram model.

Perfect skin, retouched body, flawless makeup, almond shape eyes, plumped lips… Creating a new beauty norm in the digital world. It’s crazy to think that the possibilities are endless in this world, yet people tend to reproduce what they know in the physical world but in a more extreme way.

At least it’s accessible to everyone! Being pretty now can be so expensive. Quality makeup and skincare products, plastic surgery, injections… I’m happy that people can feel more comfortable with themselves using those beautifying filters, but what happens when the filter goes off? I personally cannot look at myself in the mirror. I hope people will be bored with seeking physical perfection and understand that beauty relies on something deeper and more emotional. 

For now, face filters are just something fun to use on socials, but soon enough, it’ll be some accessory your digital avatar can wear, so let’s see how it evolves and how people are going to use them to express their personalities.

What excites you about the future regarding AR and 3D make-up, and where would you like to see the field going?

I’m excited about how the technologies will evolve and how, very soon, we’ll see people wearing digital makeup AND clothes in the streets with our own eyes!!

You couldn’t live without…

My 5 senses. That’s what’s missing in AR and VR. For now, you can only see and hear, but I wonder how we’ll be able to add touch, taste and fragrance in the future.

(Media courtesy of the artist)
On Key

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