Lunch'n Learn: Building Augmented Reality Experiences with Facebook’s Spark Studio

As we adjust to ‘the new normal’ a lot of conversations with clients, agencies and creatives are around shifting approaches in engagement strategy. We’ve seen experiential and brand experience planning put on hold until social distancing measures are lifted, and influencer budgets have also dried up as brands look to do more with less and protect revenue and margins as best they can in the current climate.

One thing however that we seen more interest around is AR content-based experiences. If done well, it can be a great way of cost-effectively reaching a large audience with an interactive and shareable experience.

Here at B&T we’re excited to see how the rapidly changing landscape of mobile AR can link more seamlessly into more performance-focussed models that help not only drive engagement and brand loyalty but also drive significant revenue for brands.

We ran a workshop in the office before the Covid-19 lockdown over one of our Lunch’n Learn’s. With Spark running on our office living room screen we took the team through building a filter from start to finish. We brainstormed using the B&T logo as a pair of glasses and then everyone was able to come and play with the assets and project in Photoshop and Spark to see how building a filter (albeit a simple one) works using Facebook’s Spark AR Studio (the flying Sausages were Owen’s idea). 1. Here’s the final product the team built:

2. Here’s a quick overview of everything you need to know about Spark AR

  • It’s easy to use. It may look daunting at first glance but the UI interface is intuitive and within minutes you’ll be creating your first AR experience with relative ease. Facebook has deliberately focussed on building Spark for ‘creators’ as opposed to developers, and it shows.

  • A familiar workflow. While the focus of Spark is on creators, anyone used to 3D design in programs like Maya or C4D are instantly at home. Everything is where it needs to be for people familiar with working in 3D environments. It’s one of the reasons that such a large community of designers and developers have emerged so quickly because the programme has been built to enable designers to move over as quickly as possible.

  • Built-in demo projects, assets and great documentation. Spark comes with a load of great templates to get you started. The documentation is also concise and easy to use which really helps make it accessible for anyone. There’s also a built-in library of 3D objects from other Spark creators and Sketchfab meaning anyone can quickly throw assets together into a project and build their first filter.

  • A fantastic community. The official FB group has a lively network of creators so any questions around the software or filter design are quickly answered. It’s also a way of finding great talent if you’re a brand or agency who’s looking to collaborate on an upcoming campaign. Members of the Spark team are also active giving feedback, advice and help with issues.

  • Built for different audiences. Spark uses something called a Patch Editor to help people build interactive filters quickly and easily. It’s a way to build complex features by dragging and dropping different elements together, without a single line of code in sight. For those who want to build something from scratch, there’s also a traditional console for developers who want complete control.

Aside from the above, there’s also a rapidly growing YouTube community and sites like Catchar to help get new creators creating and collaborating quickly. Also, for those people looking to shortcut the filter creation process, you can now find effects, source files and presets on popular marketplaces like Evanto and Gumroad.

This is only the beginning, AR filters are not going anywhere soon. Spark is only just out of beta and we’re only now beginning to see brands experiment with the latest tools and technology. Imagine if filters were a genuine creative option for your next campaign, big or small? And imagine if you were able to get it into the hands of your audience cost-effectively with paid campaigns and seamlessly integrate your next product launch? There’s a very exciting future for AR ahead.

Here are 5 quick tips from us:

  • Inspiration. The best filters or concepts are being discussed within the official Spark AR Facebook group. Make sure you keep an eye on the latest discussions and projects to see what’s being created to help spark your next idea.

  • Learn by doing. Facebook have created an amazing tool with Spark. It’s simple and easy to pickup for newcomers, but also incredibly powerful if you know what you’re doing. The project examples and tutorials are the best way to get to grips and begin creating.

  • Restrictions: Bear in mind there are different restrictions for what you can create on a personal vs. brand account. Similarly, there are also some features and functionality you’ll see on big-budget filters which are reserved exclusively for Facebook brand partners.

  • Evolving Guidelines: As this is a relatively new platform, the guidelines are constantly changing. Filters that were previously approved can suddenly be in breach of guidelines and vice versa. Best to keep abreast of the updates here.

  • Approvals: It’s worth noting that at times approvals for filters can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to be approved. This is all dependent on Spark’s moderation team and the number of filters submitted at any one time, so make sure you build in plenty of time for approvals before your project needs to go live.

So what are you waiting for? Here’s a roundup of some good resources and tutorials if you want to learn more or give it a go...

Here’s where you can download Spark and also look at the demo projects and documentation

Here’s a great set of YouTube tutorials to help get you started

Here’s a link to the FB community to find and see the latest work from Spark’s community of creators.


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