• 04.25.17

The Future Of Makeup? A Living Skin Made Of Light

Lady Gaga’s Bowie tribute was only the beginning.

The Future Of Makeup? A Living Skin Made Of Light
[Screenshot: Disney]

The words “makeup lamps” probably conjure up images of models donning mascara in L’Oréal commercials, scrutinizing their eyelashes with a magnifying mirror. In fact, Makeup Lamps, a new project from Disney Research, couldn’t be more opposite. It imagines a future of faces without makeup–at least for actors on stage.


Makeup Lamps is a face-tracking projection system that paints your skin in digital pixels. It can add wrinkles, dynamic light and shadow, and, of course, the illusion of makeup on someone’s face–transforming you from sad clown to Heath Ledger’s psychotic Joker without applying a single smear face paint.

Of course, we’ve seen this projection mapping trick before. Most notably, Lady Gaga gave a tribute to David Bowie’s looks through the ages at the 2016 Grammy Awards, all with the assistance of Intel’s facial mapping technology. But watch the performance closely, and you’ll see that the virtual face often can’t keep up with Gaga’s real one. So her real mouth can clash with the pixels, destroying any illusion.

[Image: Disney]
The secret of Makeup Lamps is that it can handle facial projection mapping fast enough to feel real. In just 10 milliseconds–many times faster than similar systems like Microsoft’s Kinect body tracker–it can read an expression and project responsive pixels. And that’s not just the result of fast processing. Disney cuts down on its response time by predicting the next movement an actor will make, which probably sounds like magic until you say a few words inside your own skin. You can begin to feel the elasticity and physics of your face, stretching and rebounding like rubber. However unpredictable our actions may be, once we begin a motion big or small, we tend to complete it–which Disney guesstimates through Kalman filtering.

It’s easy to imagine how Disney could use such technology–like in its own parks, which are filled with live performers. But researchers offered another possibility that may seem obvious: Makeup Lamps could let users preview their makeup for the day. And such a future, filled with projection mapped bathroom mirrors, sounds almost feasible–or it would, if all these augmented-reality apps right on our phones weren’t beating Disney Research to the punch. 

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.