Here Is the Exact Video Filter That Created Lawyer Cat
When Texas lawyer Dan Ponton engaged a filter on his computer, mistakenly transforming himself into a cat while testifying remotely in front of a judge in the state’s 394th Judicial District, Debugger wasted no time jumping on the story.
How to Use a Cat Filter Like the One in the Viral Zoom Courtroom Video
And-perhaps most importantly-how to turn it off
I like a challenge, so naturally, I dove right in. We wanted to determine exactly which filter Ponton had used so that anyone who wanted to become a Zoom cat themselves could do so. My first thought — like everyone else — was that Ponton likely switched on a filter in the Zoom program itself. Zoom does have video filters, but a quick perusal revealed that they’re fairly basic. You can superimpose a halo on your head, but the cat filter was nowhere to be found.
My next thought was the Snap Camera app, which lets you apply Snapchat filters to your computer’s webcam feed in realtime. If you want to become a Lawyer Cat right now, Snap Camera is your best bet — it’s modern software that is easy to install and use, and it’s compatible with today’s webcams and third-party programs like Zoom and Skype. Snap Camera does have a variety of cat filters — as well as filters that make you look like you’re giving a TED Talk or becoming a potato — though I still didn’t find the exact filter from Ponton’s video.
Thankfully, I never part with tech gear.
I wrote up a tutorial on using Snap Camera to become a Lawyer Cat. At the same time, my editors and I were doing more digging. Other journalists, including Rachel Metz at CNN, were on the story too. The conclusion? Although Snap Camera is still the best way to easily become a Zoom cat today, it looked likely that Ponton had actually fallen victim to a bug from the ancient program Dell Webcam Central, which a chemistry professor — writing in 2013 — said had turned him into a cat during a crucial job interview. We added this new tip at the last minute and went to press. It was a solid bit of breaking news journalism. I fully expect the Pulitzer committee to come knocking.
Author Thomas Smith held a livestreamed discussion and demo based on this article. You can see it here.
I didn’t want to stop there, though. So I kept digging into the specifics of the Dell Webcam Central program. The software appears to have been packaged with Dell laptops in the early 2000s. It seems to have been discontinued around 2012 and doesn’t support modern operating systems like Windows 10. I still desperately wanted to try it myself, though.
Thankfully, I never part with tech gear. So the next morning, I rummaged around in an old box I have in my office labeled “Archived Tech” and found an ancient Dell Inspiron N4010 laptop. According to Amazon, the Inspiron N4010 originally came out more than a decade ago. I likely got mine in 2010. Its battery was completely dead, but I connected it to wall power, bypassed a dual-boot Linux OS I had installed on it at some point, and got it up and running. I found the Dell Webcam Central program, opened it up, and clicked over to “Avatars.”
And there it was in all its perfect, kitschy glory: the exact video filter that had produced Lawyer Cat!
It was immediately obvious I had found what I was looking for. Switching the Dell’s embedded webcam on, I saw my face transform into an animated, blinking cat in real time. I quickly made a YouTube video documenting my findings. Then, I set about testing Dell Webcam Central — and trying to get it working on a modern computer.
Dell doesn’t provide a direct download link to the Webcam Central program. But in searching around online, I found an old forum post on the Dell website from 2014 that included a link to some software that claimed to be Webcam Central. The software came directly from Dell, so I felt comfortable installing it on my modern PC. But its name was confusing — it was listed as the driver for a Dell SX2210 monitor, not a software program.
If you do choose to transform into Lawyer Cat, make sure you use your powers for good.
I downloaded the 130-megabyte file and unzipped it. It did contain drivers for the monitor but also a Setup.exe file, which I ran. I had hit the jackpot — the installer was for Webcam Central, and it ran fine on my Windows 10 PC. After a hilarious install screen showing an early 2000s clip art graphic of a man in front of a webcam — complete with sunglasses and a crushed aspect ratio — I had the program installed. I opened it up, connected it to my Logitech HD webcam, paged over to “Avatars,” and selected the cat filter. Success! There I was, again transformed into Lawyer Cat, but this time on a modern PC.
I started to test the program. One immediate conclusion? The cat avatar is extremely challenging to switch off once you’ve engaged it. There’s no off button for Dell’s cat filter — the only way I could disable it once I’d switched it on was to exit the “Avatars” screen and go back to the main “Video Effects” panel or to restart Webcam Central entirely. I’m not sure how Ponton mistakenly enabled the avatar. But it’s not surprising that he had trouble switching it off.
The filters in Dell Webcam Central, it turns out, are also much less complex than those available today in programs like Snap Camera. The Webcam Central cat avatar appears to blink its eyes when you blink and look either to the left or right as you turn your head. But other than that, it doesn’t perform any of the visual magic of a modern Snapchat filter, which can mimic your facial expressions flawlessly.
Another finding was that Webcam Central actually has a second cat filter that turns you into a tabby cat instead of a white kitten. You can also be a baby, an alien, multiple dogs, a knockoff of Count Chocula, and quite disturbingly, a caricature of an African American man.
I found that on my modern PC, I could record static videos as Lawyer Cat, but I couldn’t apply the cat filter in realtime on a Zoom call. Why? It appears that for older Dell webcams, Webcam Central may have been both the software that you’d use to interact with your camera and the driver for the camera itself. If Webcam Central acted as the driver on old webcams, it likely applied its filters at the hardware level, before the video stream from a webcam was handed off to other programs like Zoom or Skype. That’s another reason why the filter was likely so hard for Ponton to remove. It also explains why the download for Webcam Central was packaged as a driver instead of a software program.
Ultimately, there’s good news and bad news for Lawyer Cat wannabees. Unless you have an antique Dell computer of your own, you’ll likely be hard-pressed to appear as Lawyer Cat the next time you hold a Zoom meeting or go to court. Again, if you want a similar effect, your best bet is probably Snap Camera. But if you don’t mind installing ancient software on your modern PC and messing around a bit with settings, you can record your own static Lawyer Cat videos right now.
To do so, download the Dell Webcam Central program as I described. Open it up, and select your webcam in the lower left. Click the mask icon to open “Avatars.” Select the cat avatar or any other avatar that you want to use. Make sure you’ve selected “Record Videos” at the top of the screen. Next, press the big orange camera icon in the center of the screen. After a few seconds, the software will start recording you as Lawyer Cat. You can find the recording in the “Dell WebCam Central” directory in your computer’s “Documents” folder.
If you do choose to transform into Lawyer Cat, make sure you use your powers for good. Defend the innocent — or at least advocate for something appropriately related, like animal rights or net neutrality. And remember, don’t throw those old laptops away; as I discovered, they may come in handy after all.