Meet Piper ZY, the creator behind the AR manicure city that went viral on TikTok

DEC 27, 2021

From the infamous, endless stream of new metaverses to the advancing sector of augmented reality (AR), we see the continuing deep saturation of virtual reality as part of our new normal. One artist leaning into this rapidly expanding world is popular TikTok AR creator Piper ZY. As part of her series, 100 days of Augmented Reality Art, Piper ZY debuted her unique ‘Day 12’ creation that sent the platform into a frenzy: AR nails.

That’s right, move over duck nails, it looks like AR nails could be the next big thing. The Chicago-based artist and self-declared futurist sat down with Screen Shot to breakdown her latest creation as well as all things AR in art and fashion.

Why get real fake nails when you can get fake fake nails?

The AR manicure which features an animated little city on the nail—complete with miniature cars, skyscrapers and even an orbiting moon—was the latest concept of an artist who is not bound by the material obstacles of the real world. In fact, it was the limitless potential of the virtual space that inspired Piper ZY to develop the ‘City Nail Project’. “I think a new form of visual luxury will be the level of detail that is possible outside of physical restraints,” she said.

She brought up the notion of the metaverse in her explanation for the inspiration behind her AR manicure, citing that she imagines it as a space where there would be a changing sense of scale, easily distortable materials and endless room for detail. “There is so much amazing and detailed nail, makeup jewellery, [fashion], and hair artistry out there, and I realised it can be detailed with AR as well, and then animated,” the artist continued.

It is the expansiveness of such virtual realities, for expressive and inspired creativity, that has led Piper ZY to describe herself as a futurist—a person deeply fascinated and dedicated to the possibilities of the future—and fuelled the creative flow behind the AR manicure, “I have a constant feeling of an alternative realm, just slightly different from reality, and I always want to materialise it.”

“I love to create things I have never seen before and that I imagine are based far into the future. There is something poetic to me that faraway realms we can’t [possibly] imagine do exist, but time is the distance. My goal is to express a feeling and a moment in time, whether that is in the year 2021 or supposed to be 2221,” she continued. This fascination with the distortion of reality became Piper ZY’s artistic calling even before her entanglement with AR.

She described her childhood interactions with creativity, including one in which she would mentally produce music videos and fashion shows to the sound of her favourite songs. It was the seemingly revolutionary, reality-pushing artists she grew up with who inspired Piper ZY to make the shift herself, “I love artists who push the limits of reality and create a moment from an alternate timeline. After focusing on distortions of reality in oil painting, in 2016 I started making AR outfits and concepts for my own small music video projects, but with traditional editing software,” she shared.

For those of us who aren’t visionaries like Piper ZY, it can be hard to imagine such overwhelming future realities—I mean, every time I see a metaverse-related headline, I spiral. Not to mention, I am still not 100 per cent sure what NFTs are or how they work. So, it comes as no surprise that I’m bewildered by the skill and technical development of AR. And if you can relate to that too, don’t worry, the AR artist explained to us the complex process behind the physical development of the ‘City Nail Project’.

“The project uses a target tracker to place an AR element onto a real image or flat surface. Usually, the target image needs to be quite a bit larger than a nail and totally flat to work well,” she divulged. To overcome this, “I had to bring out acrylic paint to create an illusion of flatness on the target nail for it to work, and use a thumb,” Piper ZY continued. Once she had the tracker working effectively, she was then able to add the necessary details for her city: including the buildings, moving elements and any aspects that required animation. “From there, the city nail pops up when the camera is pointed at the original nail.”

The AR artist’s most popular creation thus far has amassed around one million views and swathes of support on TikTok—with many calling for more nail designs and suggestions for the creator to enter the realm of NFTs. But what makes the world of AR so enrapturing for users? What is the secret formula for its popularity? Well, Piper ZY thinks she has the answer.