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In 2020, many tattoo artists aren't satisfied with simply creating art on skin, they want to diversify their portfolios and break into multiple industries. For example, many tattooers have explored other social media platforms (aside from Instagram) and made names for themselves on YouTube and TikTok. On the other hand, other artists lend their creativity and design skills to the fields of illustration, graphic design and fine art. When it comes to New York based tattooer Cavan Infante, he spends a great deal of his free time designing and creating interactive face filters for Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

Infante's face filters began as a hobby, but in the past few months they've allowed the tattooer to gain notoriety in ways he never thought possible. 26 weeks ago, Infante began creating the filter "Facetattoos_01," which incorporates a pair of green sunglasses and numerous face tattoos. It's since rapidly grown in popularity and has been picked up by celebrities like Brooklyn Beckham. Now, it's been nominated for a Webby Award and Infante is headed down a path never walked by a tattooer before. We caught up with the tech saavy tattooer to learn about why he got into making face filters and what about this filter stands out against the hundreds of thousands of others on social media.

What inspired you to start making filters for social media and how did you go about learning how to make them?

I saw a lot of digital content creators making face tattoo filters, but while they knew how to make the filters, they didn’t have the knowledge of how tattoos should flow on the face and look in the skin. I knew how to do the latter but not the former. Thankfully, platforms like Lens Studio and SparkAR have made it WAY easier to get into, because you don’t have to do all the tough engineering stuff like facial detection or programming the facial mesh to deform.

I’m not *the* best tattooer or *the* best 3d artist, but I’m a better 3d artist than most tattooers, and I’m definitely a better tattooer than most 3d artists. Hanging out in this part of the Venn diagram positions me to do really well in the areas both fall short in.

So if you’re capable of drawing and have a vague understanding of 3d, you realize your existing skill set gets you 70% of the way there. At that point it mostly becomes “why not?” Just hop on YouTube and do it badly until you’re doing it decently.

What’s your process for creating a face filter?

It’s a pretty typical creative workflow. Start with loose ideas, reduce to a rough sketch, focus on the overall shapes and silhouette. Once the layout flows, then you start bringing out details and carving out the shapes to sit the way you need them to more precisely. Then it's a game of getting the texture and opacity right so once it's on the face, it looks like a tattoo IN the skin, not a vinyl decal ON the skin.

There’s a lot of small tweaks on my iPad and airdropping it to my laptop so I can test it wrapped on a face, it's never quite the same as laying flat as an image. That’s something that's super similar to tattooing. I was really picky while setting this one up. I kept applying the tattoos to the face, then going back to my iPad and making changes, then airdrop and re import the new graphic. I revised and airdropped this file over 32 times to get it right. #pedanticlife #detailsmatter

Where do you find inspiration for the filters you’ve created?

A little bit of everywhere. Some of the prettiest banners you can find are in old paintings in The Met. When it comes to lettering, I’m pulling inspiration from everything ranging from signage and engravings, to old illuminated manuscripts, to West Coast tattoo script, to poorly scrawled trashy tattoos (which i love. Don’t knock crappy tattoos, they’ve got an interesting feel to them). One of my friends has handwriting like an architect that I can't get enough of. To me it's less about “good vs. bad”, it's about what’s appropriate for the tone you’re aiming for. Beautiful cursive looks like shit on a punk flyer.

When it comes to finding visual inspiration, living in New York is basically cheating. You’re having your eyes beaten in with every kind of ad, art, graffiti, fashion, whatever—constantly. Even the way snow sits on trash bags is this gorgeous dichotomy of matte white curves on gloss black wrinkles. You’re getting all of the inspiration you can manage, all of the time. It just comes down to how you redeploy that information to your work once your brain soaks it in.

I think about this quote I saw of Ian Hubert talking about his process. He said he gets most of his work done in a:

“Deceptive free time unit, which is the area between when I think I should go to bed and decide to poke at one more thing, and when I actually go to bed like three hours later”

If that doesn’t describe my workflow, I don't know what does.

What are the biggest challenges of creating face filters?

The interactive features probably. The tattoos aren’t too difficult because I’ve been doing that for a decade and drawing my whole life, but once you start doing interactive stuff like animations and interactions that trigger on someone blinking or opening their mouth, you’re dealing with node editors or scripting and that’s a bit of a brain-melter when you’re a noob to it.

Other than that it's just the waiting game of submitting a filter and waiting on IG/FB to approve it. My recent one took over a month and a half to get approved and that just sucks when you have no way to know when it’ll be visible.

Take us through the filter you’re nominated for. Where did you find inspiration for it?

This one is a mixed bag. There’s placeholder text like Lorem Ipsum on a really flowy banner. For those not familiar, its a placeholder text you use in design when you’re doing the formatting and you’re not sweating the copy yet. I use it all the time in my banners when I’m just messing around.

I find myself using that “Mediocrity is a sin” line a lot. At this point I don’t remember if I was quoting something or if I came up with it, but I’ve done it a lot over the years including murals on walls. It's a good perfectionists manifesto. I should probably get it tattooed on me already.

The green shades I modeled off a pair I got from Crap Eyewear. I was wearing them a lot around the time I started this project and it's just a nice addition to having something above the tattoos for depth purposes.

As with my flash sheets, I always have stuff I know I’ll use, like the designs that make me start them, but when I’m building around those, I always use what I consider “junk drawer” items, things that you can throw anywhere to make it work that are generic enough to fit a lot of tones. Hard to go wrong with flowers or small stuff like teeth and tears.

My favorites are the plant vase on the cheek with KACL in vertical text, both are references to the show "Frasier," one being based on a painting in his condo behind the kitchen, and KACL being the fictional radio station he works at. I love that my toughest looking filter is full of decidedly un-tough things.

How did this filter start taking off and were you surprised by it's success?

I’ve absolutely been surprised by the way this one took off. I definitely liked this one, but I had put more effort into other ones that never took off the same way on an attention level.

If I were tracking the analytics on my other ones it’d be like 100k views here, 500k views there, one is around 1.2 million.... then I’d look at this one and it’d be at 90million, 180 million, 220million. People started tagging me when it was getting used by more e-famous people, which spread it even more. Now its cruising at like 402 million views and its nominated for a Webby? That escalated quickly.

How have you modeled your other filters off this one?

I’ve recently dropped one that was similar to this, but based on the pandemic. Lots of virus themed tattoos, a ventilation mask and a toilet paper halo. I took what I learned in this one and added a little bit more interactivity like getting the mask to stretch when you open your mouth. That took me forever to figure out.

How were you approached by Webby and what's the process like of being considered for nomination?

Honestly, I was so surprised to see an email from Webby in my inbox. Getting noticed by that kind of organization had me way flattered and mildly lightheaded. Also because my inbox is a total spam war zone and I have like 48,000 unread emails, Seeing ANYTHING relevant at all is actually pretty outstanding.

They encouraged me to apply back in February, then I just recently got a notification that I made the cut of the top 5 as a nominee, and I guess we’ll see how it goes from here. I’m also up for a Webby’s People’s Voice Award so feel free to hop on and vote for me! Those are determined by the public unlike the main awards.

What would it mean to you if you won a Webby and what do you hope will come of this visibility?

I think awards are only as relevant to the nominated as their reverence for the organization that is awarding them. For me, getting recognized by The Webby’s is cool enough on its own, but winning one would be ssiiqqqq. The internet is my most enduring love. Why wouldn’t I be ecstatic about winning a Webby?

Trent Reznor has one, Jerry Seinfeld has one, Grimes, Bjork, Michel Gondry, Fucking David Bowie and Prince! I’m in no way equating my accomplishments with theirs obviously, but come on, who wouldn’t like to share that kind of commonality?

If nothing else I’d love for the tattoo industry to have more representation in something tech related. The cross section of art and technology is where I want to live (RIP F.A.T. Labs), and I’ve always hated that the bulk of the industry is so slow to pivot into tech related stuff. I do love that it took like two years for most tattooers to get tablets and Photoshop and start integrating that into their workflow, that was rad! Of course a bunch of crusty old luddites in the industry hate anything new so it birthed a ridiculous online spat about “these kids and their iPads.". Fuck ‘em. Adapt or die.

Where do you see the future of filters going and how would you like to be a part of it?

Filters and tattoos are alike in that it's something we choose to modify about how we present ourselves to the world through visual modification. Granted filters are ephemeral and don’t have the permanence of real world tattoos, but when you’re being viewed through the same digital platforms either way, what is “real” becomes less and less important. Especially during this current situation we’re in. Our whole lives are online, so how you are perceived through the internet is as close to real as we’re gone get for a while.

The future of filters is gonna have hand and gesture tracking, and more surreal interactive effects that involve more augmented reality wizardry. I’d also expect the street to go both directions, where people will use AR filters on reference images and integrate that look into their real world tattoos. Computers are really good at things humans are bad at, both super precision and complete randomization. Nobody does particle effects like a simulation.

Someone who’s stuff I’ve been following for years is Zach Lieberman. He’s doing visual work through coding that blows my mind all the time, so much of that aesthetic could be chopped up and remixed into tattoos. Also people like Ian Hubert, who have made programs like Blender way more accessible, think about a tattoo that exists in the real world, but when scanned digitally has 3d elements that orbit around it. Not just a QR code tattoo that plays a video (I saw that, that was tight) but actual image recognition that is 3d tracked in real time, and has elements that float around it etc. There’s a lot you can do with this.

I would love to bring what I’ve learned in tattooing and maybe hang out with people who are modifying 3d printers to tattoo. I want tattoo robots already! I’ve always have my gripes about the industry and its public perception; I want tattooing to feel modern and be topical and fun; not some snapshot of “this is what it was like 100 years ago, and that's what it’ll look like 100 years from now,” fuck that. Art should be relevant, tattoos should be relevant.