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Snapchat filters: the engineering behind augmented-reality selfies

If you've been seeing selfies enhanced with dog noses and flower crowns lately, and you wondered where they all came from, the answer is Snapchat, the social network preferred by people born during or after the (sigh) 1990s. The mobile app allows people to look into a magic mirror of sorts by altering and enhancing their faces in real time with a different set of filters every day. In this video, we explain how the technology works.

Snapchat has been around since 2011, but it wasn’t until last fall that the platform introduced “lenses,” the filters that distort or accessorize faces in real time. (You may recall seeing clips of people with bush baby eyes puking rainbows around that time.)

The feature came from a Ukrainian startup called Looksery, which Snapchat acquired for $150 million. Looksery envisioned the app as a solution for people who feel insecure during video communication and want to “modify [their] eye color, nose size, facial shape, and skin.”

But the more popular filters are often the ones that don’t beautify but rather make people laugh:

Filters are also pretty fun when they fail — when they misread your face and assume, for instance, that your nostrils are eyeballs:

Augmented reality is something teens might shrug at, but to those of us born before smartphones existed, this technology is like sorcery. So we looked through Looksery’s patents to find out how it works. Check out the video above for a peek into the engineering behind Snapchat’s filters.


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