Costume Parties

Virtual Costumes

Filters and lens are video effects that allow people attending an online party to “put-on” virtual costumes.

Built-in filters. The Zoom videoconferencing software has a number of built-in filters. (We don’t know about other video-conferencing platforms.) Zoom filters include hats and hair decorations; sunglasses, goggles and other eye-ware; animal ears and noses; and even mustaches: Zoom filters can also frame your video or change coloration.

Add-on effects using Virtual Cameras. A virtual camera usually refers to an application, separate from the video-conferencing platform. It will take as input one or more video feeds, add enhancements to them, and then output a video feed that other applications can recognize as coming from a “camera” such as a webcam.

Many video-conferencing applications let the user choose which system camera (or virtual camera) acts as the input for video-conferencing. Different virtual cameras have many different capabilities. Some (e.g., ManyCam) act like a television production studio, allowing layers, lower-third banners, stickers, and picture-in-picture (such as a TV weather forecaster standing in front of a moving weather map). Others have built-in face tracking software, so that two-dimensional virtual hats and face masks move with the person being videoed. At least one (i.e., Snap Camera) has built-in body tracking and 3-D modeling software, that not only tracks various parts of the body, but allows faces to be morphed like a CGI graphic, and allows 3-D virtual objects to be added to the video feed.

Two gilded and glittery masks

You can find images of masks, such as the two gilded and glittery ones above, using Google. You can then make the backgrounds transparent using image processing software like Photoshop. They can then be added to some of the virtual camera software. (The two masks above can each be converted for ManyCam and Snap Camera.)

ManyCam ( has a free version that includes a watermark. (The paid version does not.) There are thousands of already-created masks that can be downloaded for it. The interface is powerful but complex, with lots of features. However, it is easy to use their online creator page to make your own 2-D hats and masks:

Snap Camera ( is also free and has a simpler user interface. It has a better face tracker than ManyCam. However its content creation tool (the free Lens Studio –, is much more difficult to learn and use.

If you are going to use both a virtual mask (or hat) and a virtual background (see below), try to keep the mask close to the head (that is, not have feathers or extensions that stick way up in the air). Mask extensions beyond the head can confuse the part of the software that distinguishes the virtual background from your body. This may make the mask (and head) flash on and off.

Virtual Backgrounds

Virtual backgrounds can help create a “party” feel. Just make sure there are lots of people in the image having fun.

By now, most folks know how to use virtual backgrounds in Zoom. Virtual backgrounds are often used to “hide” the bedroom or kitchen from where the user is connecting. They often are intended to be more corporate, more stately (e.g., scenes from Yale), or more outdoors (e.g., a beach with gently swaying palm trees), usually with few or no people.

In contrast, a virtual background filled with people helps create a party mood – especially for a costume party.