As we continue our interview series with Spark AR creators, today we’re catching up with Isabelle Udo, an Amsterdam-based designer and filmmaker known for her innovative use of organic materials, vibrant colors and emotive sound, to create immersive AR experiences. Isabelle shares her experience and perspective on building a career as an AR creator, some of the influences that have helped shape her artistic style, and offers some advice for creators aspiring to take on more brand AR projects.
Tell us a little about your career (so far)?
I’m currently a creative freelancer working for brands and agencies, though my professional career is just getting underway. Last year, I graduated as an experimental film director from the film academy in Brussels. Before that, I studied Interactive Media Design in the Netherlands.
My life has completely changed in the short span of a year. I moved from Brussels to Amsterdam and started working for an agency. This was around the same time I discovered Spark AR Studio, and once I started creating my own AR effects, that was it, I was hooked.
I decided to take the leap and started working for myself. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. The Spark AR Community has brought me many new friends online and offline. It’s an amazing feeling to be part of something so inclusive, creative and innovative. At the moment I’m in the process of creating a collective, and shifting from a freelancer to a small studio.
What got you interested in AR creation?
Visual storytelling is a skill I sharpened at the film academy in Brussels, and not surprisingly, it helped me a lot with learning how to concept ideas. I really love to develop well-rounded concepts that not only tell a story, but give the user a freedom to create their own narrative.
I love technology, so I’m always curious, always tinkering. For example, 3D modeling was something I wanted to explore, and while it was scary for me at first, I invested the time and now I’m a lot more comfortable. This is how I got into AR too, it was mostly curiosity and a desire to learn something new.
How did you learn (initially) to create AR effects?
The Spark AR Community is a great place to start for new creators to get a gist of what’s topical or timely. Through the community, I’ve made many new friends who motivate and inspire me — endlessly. There’s also a great knowledge sharing culture within the community, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
There are also some great places where you can learn more, some of my favorites are Spark AR TV, which is a great directory of how-to videos, and Josh Beckwith has some amazing video tutorials and templates, as does Mate Steinforth and Noland Chaliha.
How long have you been working on Spark AR projects?
Right after Spark AR opened up publishing on Instagram is when I submerged myself in the software and the community. Since I have a background in interactive design, using Spark AR Studio was fairly intuitive for me, but I’m still learning. It took a lot of trial and error to land on my visual style. The first filter I really loved was NARCISSIST.
It’s a simple filter but I think the concept is strong and easily understandable. I’ve since created about 50+ effects. These include personal effects, filters I made while working at an agency, branded effects I produced as a freelancer, and collaborations with other creators and artists.
And what’s your favorite effect, so far?
The coral crown in SOFISHTICATED is definitely one of my favourites. It’s not my most complex one, but I had a great time modeling the crown and seeing it come to life. With my MEDUSA effect, I had to overcome some much harder technical challenges. For example, making the snakes move individually while still reacting to the movement of the user, and then adding the open mouth trigger to make the snakes face the camera.
Where do you find inspiration for your effects?
Most of the time, ideas come to me when I’m not really thinking about them. I love long walks and for the last year I’ve been walking around Amsterdam almost every day for at least an hour. It really helps me clear my mind and make space for new ideas to surface. I keep my phone close and when a concept pops into my mind I’ll send myself a voice message.
I often find inspiration in nature. It really fascinates me how chaotically organized organic material can be, so I like to try and replicate that with AR (e.g., FACEPLANT, SOFISHTICATED, FUNGUY). Sometimes I look at popular culture to create an effect that I know will have great share-ability (e.g., Make it Rain, Kandinsky in Concert). Another subject that I really love to explore is greek mythology. There are many well known characters that lend themselves perfectly to effects due to their iconic story (e.g., MEDUSA, NARCISSIST, GOD/DES).
What are some of your go-to apps and creative tools?
Since I come from a design background, Adobe CS is like a second language — Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Premiere, Audition, Fuse, and Mixamo. I’m also using Blender, Cinema4D and Procreate. Recently, I’ve been dabbling with Cables.gl, Touch Designer, ARKit, Unity, and Marvelous Designer.
When you’re in Spark AR Studio, what features do you use most?
Hands down, my favorite tool in Spark AR Studio is the Patch Editor. I don’t have a programming background, so it was an amazing freedom to be able to code effects in a visual way. Using the Patch Editor, I can create really organic-looking movements by slightly adjusting each value sent through the patches. I also use this feature to create my growing effects — I’ve even created a few custom patches.
How important is audio in your AR effects?
To me, interactivity is one of the most important aspects of a great AR experience. For an effect to be really interactive, it should react to many different inputs like head movement, facial expressions, objects in the scene, and yes, sound is important too. It's exciting to see how the technology is becoming more immersive in a way where the environment of the user plays an important part of the look and feel of the effect. For example, in my Kandinsky in Concert effect, the 3D elements react individually to environmental sounds on different frequencies. This changes the look of the painting in the effect according to the environment.
How do brands find you for AR projects?
Most brands and agencies slide into my dm’s on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. Instagram is certainly the platform I use the most. My personal and digital identity are merged into one.
What are some common AR needs or interests you’re hearing from brands?
For the majority of people, AR is just like magic. Many clients don’t exactly know what goes into the production of an effect since there can be so many different approaches to take. Like 3D modeling, illustration, animation, 3D animation, procedural animation, coding, texturing, shaders, deployment, etc. I feel like there’s a lot of A and catch up brand teams are doing right now. This is also due to the speed in which new AR capabilities are emerging — sometimes weekly. This said, I’m happy to educate my clients and help coach them through what is and what isn’t possible in AR at that moment. Most of the time I can surprise them and elevate their ideas in ways they hadn’t considered.
What types of effects or use cases do you see brands investing in?
I think more brands are learning that AR experiences can be a powerful tool to tell a story, rather than just another container for their logo. Every brand has a different promise and the closer an effect comes to the brand’s messaging and emotion, the better it will perform. It’s our task as creators to help find this alignment and guide their story through the use of AR.
Do you have any tips or advice for how to promote and market effects?
I feel like the trick is to create concepts that appeal to a wide range of people. Our brains are already wired to like pleasing aesthetics — symmetry, color combinations, framing, composition. It’s important to keep good design fundamentals in mind. Presentation is also very important in my opinion. The creation of an effect doesn’t end when the effect is made. There needs to be a great demo video and an eye-catching effect icon. Coming from a film background, I really enjoy making interesting demo videos of my effects.
What advice do you have for other creators aspiring to do more AR brand projects?
For me, it’s important to stay true to my visual style. Most of the time, clients are reaching out to me because they love my style and this is something I hold dear. Try to find a pattern in your work that you will be able to hold onto. This will give you a clear visual code that will be easily readable by your audience and potential clients.
Do you have any advice for new AR creators?
Submerge yourself in the community. At first, you might feel a little bit lost but you will make many friends and learn a lot along the way. I truly believe knowledge should be shared in order for technology to evolve. As long as you are willing to invest your time the reward will be more than worth it!
What are you excited about when you think about the future of AR?
AR in retail is a space that I think a lot of us should keep our eyes on. That said, I’m generally very excited about what the future of AR will bring. This is only the beginning and we are at the forefront of a new era. I’m continually amazed by the pace of innovation in this industry. Anything imaginable will be possible!
Our thanks to Isabelle for taking the time to share her opinions and perspective. You can follow and find more of her Spark AR effects on Instagram @vi.de.or.bit or at her soon-to-launch studio website at www.videorbit.com
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