Transforming Yourself (Hopefully) On Purpose: How To Use Zoom Filters Like Tanuki

Guest Post by Jason Tubinis

Using software to transform yourself in a Zoom meeting is so simple you can do it by accident! Just ask Rod Ponton, who appeared in a meeting with the 394th Judicial District Court of Texas as a fluffy white kitten. The now-famous video of Judge Gibbs Bauer gently informing Mr. Ponton that he has a ‘Zoom filter’ on while the kitten’s eyes dart madly around (presumably capturing the actual Mr. Ponton’s efforts to disable the filter) shows how easy, hilarious, and potentially mortifying customizing your video conferencing software can be.

These filters use your camera to track the motion of your face/body and translate the movement onto a computer generated model. The filter then replaces your normal camera feed with a ‘fake’ video source that your video conferencing software thinks is the image coming from your camera. The actual concept behind the video filters is very straightforward, but the technology that enables it is incredibly advanced: facial recognition, motion tracking (both of which are technologies that have seen huge advances thanks to Artificial Intelligence), and highly customized CG models all work in tandem to replace your normal video with a talking, blinking, and moving shark/Shiba inu/red panda/whatever.

If you’d like to play around or test some of this software, there are some issues you should consider:

  • It’s highly recommended you create a free Zoom account separate from your school/work account. That way you can mess around all you’d like without the worry that you might show up for class as a red panda.
  • The software is free to try, but some will have an option to further customize it with real money. Be mindful of what you click on and whether that model of anthropomorphic alligator wearing a biker jacket and sunglasses is worth $9.99.
  • The software can be pretty demanding on your hardware. Very simple filters might be fine, but the really fancy ones can put some serious stress on older phones or laptops. At best the animation will be a bit choppy, but at worst it may drain/damage your battery or make you unable to meaningfully use video conferencing software.

Disclaimers aside, here are some easy suggestions to try out:

animaze imageAnimaze ( Available free on Steam for PC or as an iPhone app. Provides you with a small set of characters to choose from with some in-app currency to buy more premium models. Very easy to set up and run. Mainly focused on fully replacing your entire video with a CG model. Animaze from Facerig is also available to use with WebEx, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet. How to Video (1 min.) or How To Video (12 min.)

snapchat filter image

Snap Camera ( Provided by Snapchat. Available free for PC and Mac. Emphasizes the “augmented reality” (AR for short) aspect by putting CG accessories on your video. Imagine wacky hats, outfits, or if you’ve ever wanted to look like a werewolf. (Snap Camera also works well with Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. How To Video (2 min.) or How To Video (3 min.)

Zoom Filters imageZoom ( Zoom has its own (very limited) set of built in filters. Just head to Preferences > “Background & Filters” > “Video Filters”. These are very basic filters and virtual “stickers”, but these are the easiest, least demanding filters available. They’re also the ones that are easiest to accidentally enable in a real meeting/class, so be careful! How To Blog Post (2 min. read)

If this seems like a fad, you might be right! But it is a fun one that doesn’t cost anything to play with at a very superficial level, and it might be just the thing to liven up your weekly Zoom call with friends or family. Welcome to 2021: the only year weirder than 2020 (so far)!


Metadata Services & Special Collections Librarian at UGA Law Library