The REFACE App Has Turned Me Into Narcissus

Image: Shutterstock, Gif: Alex Cranz

If you’ve ever wanted to know what your face would look like carelessly pasted over Jason Momoa or Cardi B’s bone structure, a new app will let you do that. REFACE maps and plasters your face onto another, an innovation that surely had noble intentions but has instead served to create some truly eldritch horrors. Knowingly unleashing them upon the world is at least half the fun.

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To wit: Me, merged with Shakira, writhing in a headdress, in a gif I sent to my best friend. Her response: “I am completely freaked out by this.”

I, on the other hand, am utterly enamored.

Gif: Alex Cranz
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Ostensibly, REFACE is a kind of “deepfake” program which uses algorithms to sort out what you look like in 3D from a 2D photo, then, using yet more algorithms adapts that eerie simulacrum to pre-existing footage. The scare quotes around “deepfake” are because what REFACE is doing seems to be only a step above a Snapchat face swap feature. It does not give me knowledge of what I would look like as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad or as a giant baby, butt-shooting voluminous amounts of talcum powder into the air. Instead, it gives me a horrifying approximation of that baby wearing a mask made out of my face—an image that makes me laugh and, when I share it with others to amuse or freak them out, gives me the attention I desperately crave.

I cannot overstate how much I am enjoying this app. Gizmodo editor Bryan Menegus has grown so tired of the nonstop deluge of Cranz-as-Xena and Cranz-as-Batman, and Cranz-as-some-toddler gifs that he not so subtly suggested everyone read an article on how to handle an attention-seeking child.

The burn was indeed sick, but I’m not going to say I don’t love the attention these gifs easily afford me. I’ve always been someone who delights in horrible gifs. A tortured shout of “Craaaanz!” after I’ve sent someone something horrid is music to my ears. I like being the center of attention, even if it’s because I sent someone a gif of a hot dog being pushed through a pickle that made them feel sick to their stomach.

To be clear, there have been plenty of other apps that have afforded me that attention. Giphy has let me have a gif for every occasion, while Bitmoji has allowed me to slide into DMs with the suaveness of that nerd from high school who genuinely thinks that 20 years later, they’re now the cool one. But REFACE feels like it takes things to the next step of depravity, a merging of these two predecessors that allows me to come up with a witty, personalized response complete with my very own Eugene Levy eyebrows.

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Everyone around me has felt differently on the matter. Co-workers scream when my gifs slither into Slack. My brother told me to “lose this number” after I texted one to him. My dad went to Twitter to tell me to change my name.

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The responses can be plotted along a scale beginning with repugnance and ending with outright revulsion.

So far there have only been three outliers: my mother, the mother of my godson, and former Gizmodo EIC Kelly Bourdet, who simply said, “It doesn’t really look like you.”

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Exactly one person (my brother’s girlfriend) has seen REFACE for the jewel it is. She immediately downloaded it and spammed her own gifs back to me.

I was glad that she seemed to get it; truly, I struggle to understand the hate for an app that so neatly appeals to—and rewards—our vanity. For me, it’s no different than spamming images of yourself on social media.

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The fact is, Reface is as much an uncanny valley generator as it is a gif creator. The images it produces are close enough to the real thing to be useful for figuring out a new haircut, or for learning that you resemble John Cusack.

Gif: Alex Cranz
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But the images are also often on the verge of being too real. People who know me in real life know I am not a man, a dancer, or a toy cowboy. And the sight of me with cheeks and chin winnowed down, eyes unusually large, and mouth shockingly expressive is alarming. But I love it for the very same reason. I feel I am a person best captured in motion. I hate 90% of photos of me ever taken, but I will marvel at my visage in video form. Now I can easily produce a loose facsimile of myself in digital cosplay, and that’s wonderful. The screams of terror are just a bonus.

Senior Consumer Tech Editor. Trained her dog to do fist bumps. Once wrote for Lifetime. Tips encouraged via Secure Drop, Proton Mail, or DM for Signal.

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DISCUSSION

Would you idiots stop uploading your facial data into every god damn app that comes out?