It's getting harder and harder to typecast emoji characters. Are they the Esperanto of the digital age, an international language that brings people together one delectable piece of cake and laughing ghost at a time? Are they the basis of long-form storytelling or a music video or a feature film—or are they tolerable only at the length of a text to a friend?
In any of these free-range emoji scenarios, the fun of the medium is in the interpretation. Each user is apt to communicate even a similar thought to someone else's with a uniquely selected string of characters. There’s a level of creativity on the part of both sender and recipient in the direction and decoding.
Emojify, Pan tells Co.Design, "creates a piece of artwork in emoji style." The company launched a series of pop art pieces that demonstrate the effect—essentially doing to Marilyn Monroe what Andy did long ago. The app translates her canned grin into a dada field of emoji, including a couple of elephants, purple grapes, teardrops, and a whole lot more. Che’s revolutionary gaze becomes clusters of colorful non sequiturs. Einstein’s meek visage is done a cheerful service, drawn with a wide array of smileys.
Pan considers Emojify an alternative to Instagram filters, a less mood-layering way to customize photos that's also a "cheeky and self-referential way to reflect upon our use of technology and media."
It does this in much the same way that ASCII art generated shapes using just lines of text. VoidWorks developed an algorithm that gauges the color and brightness, or "luminosity," of each emoji character and then sequences them in ascending order. Upload your photo, and Emojify will break it down into a grid of pixels. The app then determines the average brightness levels of the units and puts them into a hierarchy. The final step involves swapping out the pixels for emoji.
The meaning or individual personalities of the emoji, then, don’t figure into the process—though you can zoom in on any part and have a lot of fun picking through the thousands of characters now in your images, trying to discern hidden meaning. Pan also hopes the frames for Emojify art are bigger than a smartphone screen. That’s only half of the experience, he says, encouraging users to print out their creations and display them. Who knows, maybe one day you'll see an emojiful Steven Colbert in the National Portrait Gallery?