FaceFries app sparks life in virtual communication


Step aside, Snapchat: A new social media phenomenon is on the horizon. The recently launched app, FaceFries, developed by SFU professor Steve DiPaola and UBC professor Liane Gabora, allows you to share not just photos, but a 3D talking animation of your face — or your favourite celebrity, for that matter.

The start-up company, FaceCo, developed out of DiPaola’s artificial intelligence and human expression research, conducted at iVizLab with the SFU Surrey Cognitive Sciences and Interactive Art and Technology programs. The company’s first project, FaceFries, was recently picked up by Apple. Launched last week, the app is already in the Top 60 entertainment app downloads in the Apple App store.

“A lot of what you see on Facebook, or Tumblr, or these kinds of social media is still based on text chat — we were hoping to do something more social, with thinking, breathing, animated humans,” DiPaola said. “We’re interested in bringing the spark of life back into computer systems.”

The technology detects where your face is and allows you to record commentary using the iPhone or iPad microphone. It also allows you to combine multiple faces to create a large ensemble of animated friends, family members or characters who can talk and sing. According to DiPaola, the app gives colour and creativity to digital mediums, allowing human expression to take centre stage.

The animations can be shared through Facebook and other social networks from anywhere around the world. “Two sisters in two different places could put their faces together and sing happy birthday to their mom,” DiPaola explained.

Currently, you can experiment with your avatar’s personas in a number of different ways, with the option of turning yourself or someone else’s photo into a zombie, clown, tattooed person, or an older version of the character.

“[People] hit the ‘re-fry’ button a few times and they see another version of themselves.” DiPaola explained that the app is a sort of social commentary and can be used to experiment with ideas of identity. “I’m interested in gender politics, seeing yourself over, and seeing yourself in different ways.”

Self-awareness and awareness of others is the real driving force behind the app, according to DiPaola. “Our long-term goal is to play with this essence of selfness, so you can understand people by talking through them. It’s an entertainment app at the moment, but that’s the direction we want to go.”