As we kick off the new year, we’re continuing our Q&A series with Spark AR creators. Today, we’re catching up with Boon Jun Aw, a Singapore-based creator and co-founder of GOWAAA. In our interview, Boon shares where he finds inspiration for this work, his love for video games, and his practical advice for working successfully on brand projects. Let’s dig in!
Could you tell us a little about your career thus far?
I worked in the environmental engineering sector after I graduated from university, but after discovering AR, my girlfriend and I co-founded GOWAAA, an AR company headquartered in Singapore in February 2020. The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was probably not the best time to start a company, but we’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to create 100+ AR effects in the APAC region since then and even became a member of the Spark AR Partner Network! I’m quite proud of what we have achieved given that we literally started from zero.
What got you interested in AR creation?
I chanced upon AR in 2019 when I was looking for something fun to learn as a hobby and quickly found Spark AR. I don’t have a coding or designing background, but I’ve always enjoyed creating things that are procedural. I guess this gave me the technical skill sets for being flexible and able to create a wide range of different AR effects.
How did you learn to create AR effects?
I always recommend reading the official documentation for the effect you want to know more about – I had zero background in AR and that’s the resource that got me started. The first tutorial I read was the (now defunct) Eating Pizza tutorial and what helped me understand the shader logic was the Light Leak tutorial (which remains as one of my favorite shader tutorials!). I understand that reading documentation requires more patience than watching video tutorials, but I promise that reading it is worth it!
Tell us about the Spark AR Effects you’ve created.
I’ve published 100+ AR effects, and have worked with brands, collaborated with artists and made some experimental projects. The first Spark AR effect I published was simply three face meshes with your own face texture that appears when you open your mouth. I’ll never forget the reaction from my friend who thought that it was a little bit creepy. Looking back now, it was so bad that it was good (laughs).
What’s your favorite effect, so far?
My favorite is an effect called Chiralgram, which is inspired by a video game. The effect mimics the two types of hologram effects found in the game and it’s the first effect that got me to fully understand the concept of UV distortion. With the exception of the noise texture and SFX, Chiralgram is 100% procedural using SDF, UV distortion, and particle systems.
Where do you find inspiration for the effects you create?
Besides Spark AR Community, which is still my main source of inspiration, I’m often inspired by video games – everything from the game mechanics and interactive storytelling design, to the UX/UI. I often don’t have much time to play games, so I rely on watching game playthroughs or game design discussions to find inspiration.
What Spark AR Studio features and apps do you use for creation?
Render Passes is one of my favorite features in Spark AR Studio, because it opens up endless visual effects. I like it so much that I wrote a tutorial about it because it may be tough for new creators at first when learning about Render Passes. I also love that we have access to vertex attributes and transformation, which I use often to create procedural shaders for my AR effects!
For 3D modelling software, Blender is my go-to since it’s free and there are so many resources available online. The Spark AR Toolkit plugin for Blender has also been really useful for me on triangle reductions.
Do you have a favorite AR creator?
If you script or are learning how to script in Spark AR, you should totally follow Pofu (@pofu.dev) from Taiwan. His scripting tools are overwhelmingly useful and really easy to use!
What’s something you want to say to creators who are just starting out?
Something I wish someone had said to me is that you are not alone in feeling you are not good enough, be it in terms of creativity, technical knowledge, or popularity. Honestly, these are very normal feelings — in fact, I feel these every day when reviewing posts in the Spark AR community because of how many great creators there are! But rather than dwelling on these feelings, I work on creating effects that I am proud of. Do your best to enjoy the AR creation process and do not feel pressured or think you are not good enough!
How do brands usually find you for AR projects?
Most of my clients have come through referrals, which is hugely thanks to the business development effort done by my GOWAAA team. Because I didn’t start out with any followers, my company didn’t either, so we spent a lot of effort networking before we fielded any inquiries. All the efforts have definitely paid off!
What are some common AR questions you hear from brands?
We often get enquiries about whether brands can use AR to lead users directly to their website, have a leaderboard to determine the winners for their AR game competition, or have a 2D static overlay of their marketing slogan and/or logo. I guess this is only normal because most brands only understand AR in the form of AR games, and it can be hard for marketers to understand 3D space or grasp that social AR is for personal sharing.
Because of this, I expect to see similar questions from brands in the near future. On the other hand, I am very excited to see more brands getting more interested in real-world AR effects and understanding that having many logos and messages in the AR filter will put users off!
What types of effects or use cases do you see brands investing in?
No doubt AR games are still the most popular type of AR effects regardless of industry. This is mainly because AR gaming is the easiest way for brands to get their followers to engage – for example, having people post a photo using their AR effect to potentially win a prize.
While I am not against AR games as there are really good branded AR game effects out there, I believe there are more ways AR effects can be used for brands to engage with their followers. For example, a face effect GOWAAA created for a milk tea brand featuring their top three drinks generated great traction during their campaign period, and I had lots of fun watching all the creative Instagram Stories that people shared of themselves using the face effect! I also recommend AR effects that use plane and target trackers, such as Grow A Coral and Blossom Your Day, which brands can use to engage their followers.
Do you have any tips or advice for how brands should promote and market effects?
One of the easiest ways for marketing an AR effect is to add a link sticker to your effect. It is also useful to promote the effect together with a demo video of how the effect should be used. Though these sound simple, it’s surprising how many brands don’t think to do this!
Facebook AR ads are also a great way to promote AR effects because they can lead users directly to your website, which can potentially drive sales.
What advice would you give to a creator hoping to work with brands?
Whether you are freelancing as a creator or have a company of your own, creating AR effects for brands is the same as running any other business: you need to have a proper business development, marketing, and sales plan to get the clients you want. It is also important to be well-versed in the Spark AR review policies and various capabilities of Spark AR so that you can advise your clients on what can and cannot be done.
What do you think the future of AR effects holds?
I am most excited to see AR effects that allow more than one user to interact with one another in real time, especially with strangers from a different part of the world. Being in this highly globalised world that is ironically becoming more divided, having a shared experience can really help people connect with each other and I believe AR is a tool that can achieve that!
We want to extend a massive thank you to Boon Jun for taking the time to chat with us about his experience with Spark AR and sharing great advice for working with brands and getting started as a creator. You can find more of his Spark AR effects on Instagram @gowaaaofficial and via gowaaa.com.
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