Sometimes I sit down with friends & record the interesting things they say - Episode 2: Ines Alpha

I’ve known Ines alias Ines Alpha for years, so this conversation was especially fun to record. Over the course of our friendship I’ve watched Ines evolve into the artist that she is. Her otherworldly 3D makeup has inspired a lot of people to question and broaden their interpretation of beauty, and experiment with self-expression in a totally new way. I hope you enjoy hearing Ines explain how she’s gotten to where she’s going.

Here’s the interview.

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INES: "My name is Ines Marzat, that’s my real name. Ines Alpha is my artist name. I’m 34 years old, I live in Paris and I’m a digital artist. Also, I — what I like to call myself is a 3d makeup artist because I do makeup but in three dimensions."

Eliza : Ines hasn’t always considered herself an artist, or even really that creative. Which might be a bit surprising to hear. Ines is colourful. As in literally she wears a lot of colour — she’s very easy to spot in a crowd. But also colourful in the range of cultural and aesthetic inspiration she infuses into her work and life. The more alien the output, the better. She relies on a mix of 3D and related softwares to create her fantastical aesthetic.

"I went to an applied school where I learned a bit of 3D, but back in the day 3D software was like, super scary and really like… the design was bad. It wasn’t like… the user interface wasn’t cool. You didn’t understand anything.

And back then I didn’t know any artists using 3D software to make cool stuff. 3D software, for me at that time — when I was 19, 20 years old — it was used to make like, architecture or, yea engineering stuff. Designing objects, stuff like this. Or making big movies. I didn’t want to be that person behind the computer all night doing very intricate stuff… I was like, ‘oh no I can’t be that person.’ I’m not like, patient enough.

And then later on there were all these um… all the 3D software evolved and Cinema 4D, which is the software that I use, it became like a good 3D software when you’re starting out with 3D. It’s really made for art directors because you can easily achieve animation or make shapes with tools… their tools are really… like you can make stuff very quickly. Which is crazy."

Before turning her artistic practice into her full time gig, Ines worked as an art director in the advertising industry. She’s worked on a lot of beauty campaigns, which has meant getting to know the strict beauty standards that dictate the industry from the inside out. A foundation that would come in handy in her work as an artist.

And we’ll come back to that. But it was around this time that she met French music producer Panteros666, with whom she’d go on to collaborate pretty extensively.

"Yeah, I’d started doing 3D when I met — not exactly when I met… So I met Panteros666 who is a music producer, he mostly does techno music or house music and when we met he needed someone to help him with visuals. And as I was, I mean I’m still an art director, but I helped him with like, animation and after effects. I even made him a little Flash website where you click on different images that are like, GIFS, and [they would] trigger a sound effect and you could like, turn the sound effects on and off so you have all the parts of the music all together and it was… I think it’s not online anymore but it was a very fun project to do. Made with Flash. Like, it’s old.

And then we started making video clips together. The first one we made together was Baby-F16 and it was my first time integrating 3D with video, my first step into augmented reality. Even though it’s not real-time augmented reality, for me it’s still augmenting reality because you add 3D elements in the real world to make it more fantastic or magic. And thats what I’ve always liked to do.

It’s also a time saver. Rendering a full 3D image is super long. But if you render just a small part of it it’s… yea, it saves time. Of course, that’s not why I wanted to do augmented reality, but it’s a bonus because you don’t have to render the whole landscape.

So yea, I started doing that and at that time the Sea Punk trend was happening and there were like, all these 3D artists making visuals with antique columns and sculpture busts and palm trees, you know? It was also the start of 3D software being more accessible to everyone. And you had all those free 3D objects on Turbo Squid and everything. So when you didn’t know how to make 3D you could just pick random 3D objects, add the shaders, the materials you wanted in your 3D software, and ‘wow I’m an artist!’

So I started like this. With cyborgs and a very sci-fi-ish universe, and I did a couple of video clips with Panteros as well and then I was looking at… just searching for my way of expressing myself.

Like, what’s my art? I don’t know. I was just like, experimenting with 3D at that point, but I didn’t know what my style was. What did I want to say to the world?

Because I mean, I’ve always wanted to be an artist and at the same time I didn’t feel that I was capable of being an artist. When you’re an artist you’re not sure you’re going to earn a living with it and I needed to earn a living so that’s… Yea, that was like… That’s why I went to a fashion management school. Because I was like, ‘agh, I want to work in a creative field but I’m not an artist and I’m not a creative person. It’s too difficult. I’m not confident enough, I’m not capable of doing that.’

Now I’m like, ‘yea maybe I am, a little bit,’ but at that time I really wasn’t confident enough. I was really, really lost. So after that management school I decided to do an internship in an advertising company because I was like ‘Ok, I can be a creative person, but I dont have to be very creative because it’s advertising, so I’m still like a slave, like, ‘Give me orders, I’ll do what you want. But I’ll still try to give you some good ideas, and you won’t listen but it’s not personal if you don’t listen to me. That’s ok, I won’t take it too personally.’ And you can earn quite a good living that way.

So little by little, and while I was doing all that stuff with Panteros too, I earned more confidence. With age and also by experimenting. Because you start creating stuff and you get compliments from others and you see that people are interested in what you do, so you’re like ‘maybe what I do is not that bad…Ok, interesting…’

One day I remember we were at my parents with Victor (Panteros666,) close to the chimney. It was winter and I was like, ‘hmmm…’ I was thinking, and I had all these images of beauty photographers I’d saved from work that I love and I was like, ‘what if I add 3D elements on faces and then it’s makeup. But in 3D. And it’s like… 3D Makeup!’

And I just like, added 3D on the faces of models that I had on my computer from beauty photographers’ pictures. I posted that on Instagram and I was like, ‘Oh that’s cool, I like it. I’m going to do more.’ And I did more, and people seemed to like it."

If you’ve spent any amount of time on Snapchat or Instagram, chances are you’ve come across Ines’ work at some point.

Actually, she was making 3D makeup before face filters were a thing. She borrowed from the pipeline she’d developed while collaborating with Panteros666, using a mix of Cinema 4D and After Effects to render out her strange shapes and textures, which Ines would then fix onto her face using hand drawn tracking points and some clever post production.

After doing a couple of looks on herself, people started sending her videos of their own faces, and she would apply her makeup to them.

But the dream has always been for people to be able to put it on themselves, and interpret her makeup in their own way.

"It’s for everyone. It’s literally made for everyone to wear. And it’s democratizing something very new and that’s… When all that software came out, since I didn’t know how to code and because I didn’t know how to, yea, democratize my work… And because when I started doing 3D makeup I was… There was already a lot of augmented reality out there.

You must know Jeremy Bailey,the artist. He was doing a lot of crazy stuff with augmented reality before. Way before Snapchat filters. So I was like, ‘I need to do this in augmented reality. That’s the only way people are going to wear my creations. What is makeup if no one can wear it? Otherwise it’s just like, a video. No, I want to have people… I want to have like, a makeup collection or something. I want it to be real. I want it to be like, something that people can wear.

And when all that software came out like Lens Studio and Spark AR, I was like ‘I REALLY need to learn this software because that’s the only way people will be able to wear my designs.

I didn’t know what the purpose was for my work if people couldn’t apply my creations, if it just had to stay in the videos and in the photos. Even though I do still like the high definition render of a video or a photo that I might do with my whole post production workflow, with after effects and stuff. But for me it couldn’t stay just like this because my purpose was to — my purpose is still to push the boundaries of beauty and makeup further. I can’t do that without people trying it on and using it in a more personal way.

Sometimes people try my filters and I don’t — I can never anticipate how they will use it. It’s always very different, so it’s funny to see how people use them and if they’re just like, taking another selfie. Or are they telling a story? Or are they in the skin of a new character? So that’s really interesting."

For those who haven’t discovered her work yet, Ines’s 3D makeup offers a lot more than a 3D render of the powders, creams, colours and tints we’ve come to expect from IRL makeup. She offers us things like scales, gills and tendrils to play with. Everything somehow feels very much alive. There are lots of jiggly bits, wavy bits and other otherwise unidentifiable alien-looking bits available to us once we step into her universe.

"When something exists, it makes sound at some point. Except if you’re deaf. So that’s why if I want to make 3D makeup feel real and if I want to make it live, it has to make some sounds. Otherwise it’s out in space. So if I want to bring things onto our planet, it has to make some sound. I still work a lot with Panteros666. I like for him to make like, a musical background because it gives like, a mood. And also, I like to link some sound effects to the animation of the 3D makeup. At the very least I make an eye blinking sound effect, like when you blink it makes a ‘blub blub’ sound, bringing the person into another world. It makes the person more like a cyborg or a trans human or an android. So yea, no sound is really important. Like sometimes you make an animation and you’re like ‘meh…’ and then you add the sound and you’re like ‘Whaaat,’ (laughs) and really that happens very often."

Over the years, through sheer trial and error, Ines has rallied together a select bunch of creative developers and CGI artists who are excited about her vision, and who can help Ines translate her ideas into the many face filters and other brand collaborations she’s released.

"There are the programmers that help me make filters and then there are the programmers/3D designers that help me for post-production. Because most of the work collaborations that I did these past months are with brands like Bimba Y Lola, Dior, H&M… These are big post production projects and I can’t handle it all by myself. It’s really hard and it’s very machine consuming and time consuming and some stuff I just don’t know how to do technically. So I have to work with post production houses.

I remember the first time I collaborated with a post production house, company. It was when we did the "CLEAR" video clip with Panteros."

Sometimes you work with 3D designers and they’re just coders. Or they’re just like, designers — like they know the software by heart but they’re not creative — and that didn’t work. I like the result of the video clip, but they couldn’t… they didn’t understand our style, our vision.

So in the end, because time is running by, you have to be like, quick. And you can’t make those guys work and work again and again ‘till you have the results you want. So you make them work, and work again but then you have to stop.

It’s frustrating to work with someone that’s got the technical keys to make what you have in mind but they are not in your head and they don’t understand what you have in mind. And you can’t do the job technically for them. So that’s very frustrating when it happens.

So now I know people that I can trust. And that know and understand my style. and who like what I do.

Yea… I have to have a workflow, a very precise workflow if I need… because most of the time the deadlines are really short, unfortunately, so yea, you have to have a very precise workflow. I have my agenda and I know when everything needs to be done, and how many days I need to get the sketches, the concept, the ideas. Then when I have that, how many days do I need for the 3D designer to make the 3D model. And then I will send this 3D model to the filter developer if the project is a filter. If it’s a video then the production house will handle everything once my sketches are approved by the client. Yea… I need to be very precise and organized otherwise it’s impossible to deliver anything.

Sometimes I use the software a little, like for instance when I want to experiment on textures. Whether it be for post production or for the filter, because I have my own ways of making my textures and I like to experiment and I like to make textures that don’t exist.

Like, to play with the software to achieve a result that I don’t really expect. I’ll have something in mind that I want to try and then I’ll use the software to I change the colours a little bit and I’ll add a normal map or I’ll add a reflection map that’s from an image that is not an environment image but I think it looks cool in the environment channel… So I like to play with that a little bit.

And then I send the file back to the developer, saying ‘Oh I like how the texture looks like this, so you can use those for the final project.’ Because I like… I’m quite, um, exigent…I have my own standards for the render so it’s really important that I like the textures or the color grading and stuff like that.

And usually if I do — If I give feedback to the 3D designer it will take ages, so I’d rather take the file, experiment, do the thing myself, and then OK, that’s the final render. I’m happy. Otherwise I will be frustrated."

While Ines’ standards speak to the aesthetic quality of her work, they also speak to a very inclusive, fluid interpretation of beauty and self expression, one that positions itself in direct contrast to her home country’s historically conservative tastes.

"I’ve always been… Not eccentric because still it’s France and Paris, but my mother — so my parents were fashion designers and my mother has always worn… not crazy clothes, but colourful with prints. And my mother always told me that when she was younger, she used to always wear pink. Pink everything. Even her car was pink. I’ve always dreamed of being that person, always in pink. So I think it, yea… imprinted in my brain.

France is super conservative in terms of look. And that’s really a shame. Every time I go to London, I will — If I hear comments it’s compliments. Usually. It’s people like, ‘oh I love your shoes.’ Paris? Never. If they love the shoes they will be maybe envious or jealous but usually they’re like ‘ew, so ugly!’ And they say that out loud, so you can hear it so they have… I don’t know, they like that you hear that you’re… that they are making bad jokes about you. So yea, that’s really frustrating. I wish I could just go outside and wear whatever.

I think it comes from that frustration that in Paris you can’t go outside thinking ‘Fuck ev-’ I mean you can, and I try to do that… sometimes I go outside wearing a lot of colours and my buffalo shoes and my crazy crazy makeup — For Paris it is crazy. But for like, Tokyo, New York or LA it’s not at all. And so you go out there and people look at you and they make comments… And I’m always wearing — when I’m walking outside I always have my headphones on so that I don’t hear the comments but mostly every time I don’t wear my headphones I hear them."

At first her motivation with 3D makeup was simple: to re-imagine makeup and have fun with self expression. The attention that her work has garnered has since motivated her to take a closer look at why it is that she’s so interested in all of this at all.

"When I started it was really like, oh I’m going to add 3D on people’s faces and it’s fun. End of story. And with time, when I started to get some interviews, I was like ‘Agh, I need to have something to say. Something more than it’s just fun!’ Because when you do art you want to say something to the world.

And I mean, my main purpose is to have fun with makeup and beauty but when you go deeper in that thought it means a lot of things in the beauty industry. And I’ve started reading a lot of books about beauty, about the beauty industry, the beauty of the women which is really different from that of the man, and the history behind that and I was like, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I doing a vision of the future of beauty? And why is it so weird [a vision]?’

It’s because deep inside — and now it’s outside — I want beauty to be more weird, I want people to be more tolerant. I want beauty and makeup to be for everyone, every culture. I want, yea, a new kind of beauty where it’s more mixed and people can get crazy and where you don’t need to doubt yourself and you can be really confident however you go out there [in the world].

So yea.

Beauty isn’t just about being beautiful like ticking all the boxes of ‘what is beauty?’ And it’s also like… being beautiful for me is (to?) have the confidence to do whatever you want with your body and your appearance. So if you want to be totally bare skinned without any makeup and you think you’re beautiful that way, I will think you’re beautiful that way, and you will be beautiful that way. If you want to wear a crazy veil in 3D that moves like an underwater creature then that’s fine to me too.

My vision of beauty can be both extremes. Without anything, without a crazy 3D mask. I’m doing 3D masks because I’m having fun with that and I want to broaden the spectrum of the possibilities. I want to give people more tools and inspiration to play with their appearance.

Forget all those rules that we’ve been learning from the start. Especially for.. I mean for women or for everyone. Like, we should be able to go to a job interview with crazy makeup on if we want to. That shouldn’t be scary or weird."

We hit on an interesting idea here: that to be expressive — to wear loud clothes for example, or colourful hair and makeup doesn’t necessarily mean an attention grab or a desire to shock or disturb. Can a person be expressive just for the sake of it?

"That’s what I get a lot, even from some friends because I’m always complaining, ‘Ah I got comments… People are looking at me in the subway and on the streets… I’m tired of that!’ And some friend would say, ‘Yea, but Ines, I mean, look at you! You want to be seen.’

And like, no. I’m not dressing like this because I want to be seen. I’m dressing like this because deep down inside I’m super dark, so outside I want to be colourful! (Laughs)

No, I mean everyone has his own, her own darkness but I dress like this because I want to have fun with my appearance. But that’s not because I want to be seen, it’s just my style. And I like to go outside and wear colours and my silver jacket just because… I like it.

But I don’t — and that, I admit is very weird — I actually don’t want to be seen. I hate it. That’s why I’m always wearing my headphones. Because I don’t want to hear anything. And that’s also why I walk super fast. And I really don’t want to be seen, actually. But I don’t want to be dressed in camouflage colours either.

I would just say that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover (laughs). But when you have an opinion on someone, before judging them get to know them deeper inside. Because sometimes, yea you want to show that you’re happy in the [Instagram] story but behind the scenes you’re crying. So yea, you don’t know. But we’re all wearing masks at some point because that’s how society was made."

Here the Internet comes in handy. Identities can be tried on and tested out at will and played with in a way the physical world doesn’t quite yield to, yet. Touted by the press as the ‘Leader of the 3D Makeup Revolution,’ Ines is one of — if not the first, to bring 3D makeup to social media. She heads a wave of artists and creatives interested in exploring the representation of the self through the medium of the face filter.

"I don’t know… it’s super weird to think that people can be inspired by what you do. And that people… sometimes people come and tell me “oh you were the first one to do that… blah blah blah,” and I’m like, really? Am I the first one do have done something? Is it still possible to do something for the first time in our era? You know? So it’s like, I guess… I don’t want to sound prétencieux, pretentious, but yea I think I’m the first one to have done makeup in 3D and to have created digital makeup. Which is super weird because I really don’t want to sound pretentious but I think… wow, I did that. It’s super weird.

You know that like… imposter syndrome? Very typical for girls. And I’m definitely in that syndrome. Like, no I can’t have created anything. It’s impossible. Not because I’m a girl but I don’t know, I’ve grown up in that world where I can’t create anything because I’m not capable of doing that.

But… but I have. So yea, that’s crazy.

But there are a lot of creators that have very interesting visions of the self. So that’s really, really really cool.

I think @exitstimulation, he's really interesting. And Andy Picci who is from Switzerland. He questions the perception of self, the selfie, a lot, and the use of Internet more globally. It's really interesting as well. Johwska of course, who was the first to use that very simple function of the glossy skin. Even though that exists in post production for a long time, she was the first to democratize that effect. So I think it’s cool.

And there are like… There’s this guy called @alwayscodingsomething, he makes crazy stuff with AR. But he doesn’t only work with Spark AR. I think he does a lot of other things with coding. And every time I see his posts I’m like ‘uh, I’m such a stupid person.” Who else… There’s a Russian guy — I think he’s from Russia — called @n.repliansky? Something like that? And he makes crazy masks. He has a really specific design. It’s very post apocalyptic futuristic masks and I really like his aesthetic. Yea, there are lot of creators that I really love."

Ok, so if this is a revolution, then what are we fighting for?

"I think we’re fighting for a different vision of beauty, and a different way of expressing ourselves. A more accessible way to express ourselves.

And also since people are spending so much time online and expressing themselves so much online in videos, in photos and until now the … either you’d be, I was going to say a ‘normal person’ or an influencer… But you’d just post a picture of yourself and it’s just you and maybe you’re beautiful and maybe you can retouch your photos, but it’s just you. Or you’re like, an artist or creative person and you do crazy looks and makeup and that’s how you express yourself.

But now you have all this digital makeup available for everyone. So instantly you can transform yourself into something else. Which people were not capable of before. So in a second you can be… you can have a strange face, or you can be an elf or I don’t know what kind of character from another planet, depending on the kind of filters you like. So I think that changes the perception of who we are a lot, how we perceive ourselves and how we want to show ourselves to the world.

I completely understand that people want to play different characters and different roles online. Because you can be whoever you want to be. People won’t be judging you as much as they might in the streets. Or… differently. Because people online, on Instagram at least, it’s people that are interested in you. So if they follow you, they want to see you as who you are. So they shouldn’t be judging. Even though.. Some followers are haters at the same time. They love you and they hate you at the same time.

So yea, I think it’s a good thing and it’s a good experiment as well. Like, this new generation of filter creators, they really ask questions about appearance. And because filters are not just about wearing beautiful flower crowns and fake eyelashes —  which I hate. I truly think… Every time I try those filters on, I’m like, ‘why am I ugly?’ Those filters are supposed to make you more beautiful and more in the beauty standards [but they don’t cater to every face]."

Interestingly, while Ines’ work challenges traditional beauty standards, it has also attracted the attention of some of the beauty and fashion brands that normally cater to those standards. Ines welcomes these collaborations as an opportunity to nudge things gently toward a more inclusive space.

Dior was really interesting because it’s a very conservative beauty brand. Still, they were open to work with an artist like me who makes ‘weird’ beauty. So even though they… It’s a collaboration so I had to make my work fit with the Dior aesthetic and brand, so I couldn’t be so weird. Still, for Dior what I did is very weird. So in a way, even though it’s still a very beautiful, standard model in the video — I mean ‘standard’ in the way of beauty standards nowadays. The whiter you are the more beautiful you are, the skinnier you are, the more beautiful you are… so she’s… This model is a little bit weird because her eyes are a little bit like, widespread? A little. She has a little alien face. So for our era, she’s kind of a ‘weird’ model… Still, she’s very white and Irish and standard but yea… Do that’s a step. And adding that layer of weirdness with 3D is another step. So still, it’s very beautiful and very glittery and it’s luxury and it’s very Dior. But it’s a step towards making beauty a little bit weirder. So if I can do that at least, it’s cool. I’ve done — I think I’ve done my job.

And I think there are a lot of things left to do with 3D makeup so I’m still super excited. Even if [for now] it’s just working on the face, maybe sooner or later we’ll have the possibility to add the body. Which would be super exciting.

And like, for instance what we’re doing together — you, Marpi & myself — it’s a step further in what I’m doing and it’s been… from the start my goal was to one day be able to apply 3D makeup like you apply eyeliner, so with your own tools and with your own finger and what we’re doing together with Unity —  even though I still don’t know how to use it, so hopefully I’m working with you guys to achieve that. But it’s… that’s something that I would have never been able to do before. And now that I can collaborate with people like you, it’s like a dream come true to be able to do that and in some months or years maybe there will be a function in Spark AR or whatever that will be automatic where you can draw on your face.

But for now we have to develop it ourselves and for me that’s big. It’s huge. And I think it will… like we’re working on a tactile screen, but maybe for the next exhibition we will work on a holographic screen or maybe with Magic Leap, that would be amazing. Next step!

But our project for the Koenig gallery is really exciting. The tactile 3D makeup, I really can’t wait to put that out. It’s going to be super cool. The last test you made with the crystals — yea I can’t wait to see it. And I have two other collaborations with brands and I think will… I’ll see what comes up in the future but I think I need more personal time to rethink 3D makeup a little bit, because for now I’m doing what I know. It’s what I’ve been building for two years."

Ines is talking about a project that she and I are working on with another artist, Marpi. It’s been a really fun challenge mashing together our different styles and aesthetics. I’m really excited for people to see it. Coming soon!

Now to round off our conversation.

I asked Ines for a few final thoughts on self expression, confidence and creative work, which had us circle back to imposter syndrome.

"Sometimes I think you can relate… for a lot of people you can relate more to yourself wearing a filter, or to you doing plastic surgery, or makeup or I don’t know, changing genders. Like, sometimes you feel more comfortable with yourself and more yourself when you are transformed, either with a filter or whatever.

Even though I’m really into ‘be yourself, embrace your flaws, and show yourself to the world how you are naturally,’ at the same time sometimes it’s difficult to show yourself how you are very naturally. Like I’m the first person to look at the camera in selfie mode and I’m like ‘uhh this angle is like so ugly. I need the proper light…’ and then I don’t want to show my real face today so I’m going to wear a filter so it’s more funny. Or just because it’s different and I don’t want to show my face to the world. Without the filters I think I wouldn’t show myself that much.

But it’s also not because I show myself a lot [online], or because I wear a lot of colors, that I’m super confident. And I think it’s good to show people that side of things. Because sometimes it’s like… When I was younger — and I’m still not confident, but when I was younger I was even less confident then now — I didn’t have any… I mean my only role models were my parents, maybe. And when you see artists you like, you’re like “Oh, they’re artists, they’re like, so strong and so confident and I’m not on their level, I will never be able to be one of those people.’

But when you talk to those people in reality, you see that they have flaws and they aren’t that confident. So I think it’s good to tell people."

Alright, so that wraps up our chat. Thank you so much Ines. It somehow seems so fitting to end a conversation with someone who creates such otherworldly experiences on such a human note.

Sometimes I sit down with friends who do fun creative, digital things, generally, and I record the interesting things they have to say. If you're into it, keep your eyes and ears peeled for more.

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