Bringing a whole new meaning to “self-styled”
For the last fifteen years I’ve sported a military-grade buzz cut, but not today. Today I am resplendent in an enormous shock of pink curls. Yesterday, it was long and green. Tomorrow, I think I might try an orange Mohawk.
This is not because I’ve suddenly become a wig fanatic, but all thanks to the latest app from Toca Boca, Toca Hair Salon Me. As its name suggests, it allows you to put your own face into a digital avatar and then style and colour their hair to your heart’s content. You can even add accessories like hats and glasses, change the color of their clothes, and pose them for a photo.
Like everything the developer does, it’s all perfectly intuitive. Start by browsing the pictures on your device, or taking another in-app so you don’t have to pop out and boot the camera. Then fit your chosen image into one of four face shapes and sizes, adjust the apps’ estimation of where the mouth and eyes are, and style away.
The technology behind this is seriously impressive. So long as your photo is a pretty tight fit for the chosen head and you get the eyes and mouth right, it brings your avatar to life with uncanny accuracy. The first time I saw myself in the chair, closing my eyes against the hairspray, twisting away from the dryer and emitting little ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ noises of appreciation, it actually creeped me out so much I had to put the iPad down and walk away.
But I soon came back, and the weirdness faded to be replaced with glee as I photographed myself over and over again pulling stupid faces and marvelling as my expressions of vacant idiocy were animated, styled, and frozen in posterity for all to see.
And of course, my kids did the same a thousand fold. They took photos of themselves, each other, their parents, random bits of furniture, and giggled uproariously as they washed their hair and provided them with elaborate rainbow coiffures. They even put a moustache on their Mum.
The styling tools at your disposal are largely the same as those in Toca Hair Salon 2. You can miraculously grow hair, cut and shave it, wash and dry it, color it, curl and straighten it. It doesn’t sound like a huge set of options, but you can use them all to micromanage areas of hair on the same head, allowing the creation of some outrageous styles.
Given that the use of photorealistic customers of your choice is a pretty big addition, I wasn’t remotely disappointed that Toca Hair Salon Me failed to add any new options over its predecessor. I was surprised, however, that the palette of accessories you can pin on them got reduced. There are still rosettes and fake noses galore to play with; I just can’t really see why the developers chose to include less this time round.
On the flip side, you don’t, of course, have to stick to photos of your family, or even of people. You can flip up some almost monstrous creations by using random images or photos of objects. And as for pets, well, the app made me wish heartily that I had one. After I write this I’m going to camp in the garden with the iPad and wait for one of the neighbourhood cats to stroll by.
My family and I have never not had fun with a Toca Boca app, but this is the first one that feels truly magical and transformative, that made me stop and admire the art and the science that had gone into creating it. It’s astonishing fun: I actually find myself wishing it had upped the ante on the Salon tool set so I could give it a perfect score with a clear conscience.