32-year-old Alexey Ivanov was inspired by the faux retro film 'Kung Fury'.
In the past week, there's a chance you've seen everyone you know and follow on social media spam the hell out of your feed with variations of a generic, retro, 1980s-looking logo (which you can make for yourself here). This logo has been especially popular on Twitter, where people have used it to make random quips in chromed-out neon, computer generated writing.
If you've been perplexed by the sudden popularity of this thing, you'll be pleased to know that not even the creator of the Retro Wave text generator (as the meme creation tool is officially known) can say why it's such a viral success. The internet is weird.
Nonetheless, Motherboard recently had a Skype chat with Alexey Ivanov, the 32-year-old, Ukrainian founder of PhotoFunia—the online home of the Retro Wave text generator. We discussed the success of the meme and what nostalgia means to him. Ivanov also told some of his story up to now.
Ivanov's company PhotoFunia launched in 2007, with Ivanov doing the coding, his wife Marina as "Photoshop wizard," and a friend from Russia who joined three years ago. Marina is behind all of the graphics and effects you see on the website and apps.
They're not doing it for the downloads—Ivanov wrote that he doesn't even enjoy the publicity that much—but it's a decent break from his day job in an unrelated industry.
"When we started back in 2007 we had simple photo effects where user uploaded one photo, and we superimposed it on billboards," Ivanov wrote to Motherboard. "Later, we figured we could do something with automated face detection and started doing effects with faces."
A few years ago, they figured out that just manipulating text could be a hit.
Since they released the Retro Wave generator in July, it's been used 1.5 million times — 500,000 since October 5 alone, showing the sudden surge in popularity. It's most-used in the U.S., India, Russia and Japan, in that order. In the past week, It's had its own Twitter moment, and been covered by NY Mag, The Next Web, and probably plastered all over your social timelines. What a time.
"To be honest I still can't figure out who started it," Ivanov said.
Ivanov said Retro Wave was born after he watched the 1980s-spoof film Kung Fury, released in 2015. Yeah, you knew that pattern looked familiar. "So you can safely say that it was Fury's idea," he said. Around that time, he also started revisiting old Nintendo games, including Contra and Super Mario. Below is my interview with Ivanov, condensed and edited from our Skype text conversation.
What is it about the 80s nostalgia that's struck such a chord with this? Why are people going crazy over it?
Well, there is something magical about 80s, the way people imagined future. I think it all started with Kung Fury. People have always been nostalgic about 80s but it did need a kick to actually explode.
And Kung Fury was that kick?
Well, at least one of them :) A serious one. There is also Synth pop, Vapourwave or whatever it is called.
Do you think we are, in a way, making a return to 80s visual aesthetics for illustrating future concepts?
History repeats itself, for example fashion trends come back every 20 years, but this is different. This is clear nostalgia. The big hype will (most probably) disappear in a week or so. There are a lot of young people who have never witnessed 80s with their own eyes who actually find it cool.
It's very hard to explain the love and affection that people have to the old and so imperfect things, like VHS, old pinhole cameras. Although your brain understands that those light leaks and discoloured images are simply imperfections of the technology, we still try to reproduce it with Instagram filters.
Your team really got the nostalgia of the 80s right for Americans with this generator. But being from Ukraine, did (or do you now) you experience that same kind of nostalgia? I assume there's been a lot of crossover for both cultures. So I guess what I'm asking is, what influenced you growing up?
Humanity has reached the point when nothing new can impress. Every year we get faster phones, cameras with more megapixels and movies where superheroes do more than gods. And at some point we simply feel that the changes are incremental and start looking back.
"Humanity has reached the point when nothing new can impress."
Well, I was born in 80s, and 80s in USSR were not as bright as you might imagine. But I was raised watching Hollywood movies on VHS and I could see what America 80s were like through a pinhole. Back to the Future is my favourite movie (ever). It's hard to say how many (hundreds of) times I've seen that trilogy.
With an everyday job you need to do something fun and different, something that could possibly make someone smile. Don't know, I'm just happy when I see someone enjoying what we do.
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