Experiencing the Future: AR Filters and Who’s Behind Them | Entrepreneurship

What was your first contact with augmented reality in practice? Do you remember? Some professionals from specific areas may have entered this universe very early, while many “lay on the subject” discovered the technology in 2016, with the launch of the game for smartphones Pokémon Go.

But a lot of people in Brazil only had their first experience with AR a lot less time ago, with the filters of apps like Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok.

Pokémon Go marked the first AR experience for many people (Image: David Grandmougin/Unsplash)

Augmented reality filters have been a huge hit on social media over the past three years. In the beginning, they were more fanciful, much more oriented to mixed reality, and even less technically evolved. But over time, it became difficult to differentiate what is a filter and what exists on the physical plane. Hair and eye color, makeup, tattoo, lip filling, eyelashes – is it real or not?

Well, something real is what creators and companies that work with AR filters have been achieving, in Brazil and in the world.

Some important numbers…

In May 2021, I participated in a Facebook innovation meeting that had as its theme the future of augmented and virtual reality. I must say that I was impressed to discover the numbers related to Spark AR, the platform that allows you to develop filters for your own social network and for Instagram.

According to the company, every month, more than 600 million people use AR resources on both networks. In April 2021, Brazil was in the Top 10 countries in the total number of active creators in Spark AR. Altogether, there are more than 400 thousand creators distributed in 190 countries and responsible for the development of more than 1.2 million effects in Spark. Something even cooler: more than half of Spark AR creators are women.

David Gueta with Spark AR augmented reality filters (Image: Press Release/Facebook)

David Gueta with Spark AR augmented reality filters (Image: Press Release/Facebook)

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If we look at the augmented reality market as a whole, we have monumental predictions for the coming years. According to a survey by Grand View Research, Inc., the global AR market was valued at $17.67 billion in 2020, and it is expected to have a 43.8% compound annual growth rate of 2021 to 2028, reaching US$ 340.16 billion in seven years.

According to data from the e-commerce platform Shopify, interactions with products that have AR content had a conversion rate 94% higher than that of products without AR – all at a time when AR content is supported. technology are still visible. Have you ever stopped to think about how all this is going to explode with the evolution of these media? Chips, glasses, wearables… There’s a lot ahead.

Project Aria

Project Aria (Image: Disclosure/Facebook)

It is not by chance that Facebook prepares its augmented reality glasses in partnership with Ray-Ban, which is expected to be launched in 2021. Apple is also already directing efforts towards its own products in this segment. Snap (remember him?) released, last month, a series of new tools for creators and companies through Lens Studio. It’s just a matter of time before all this is intrinsic to the way we relate to the world.

Returning to the creators: who are they?

Who is behind AR filters? There are a lot of young adults, curious and with a strong artistic streak, I would say. But that’s not necessarily the only profile. For this article, I interviewed some names you may have heard of (or, at least, whose filters you may have tried), and also professionals who are more backstage, in companies that provide this type of service to other large names.

Where are they from? Well, the people I talked to have a wide range of backgrounds: from architecture to dance, through brownie sales and “traditional” jobs, but always with a strong entrepreneurial streak. In many cases, the influential and visionary aspect of these professionals also stands out.

Jeph Araujo's Instagram profile already has over 1 million followers (Image: Reproduction/Instagram)

Jeph Araujo’s Instagram profile already has over 1 million followers (Image: Reproduction/Instagram)

Jeferson Araujo, or @jepharaujo for those who follow him on social media, was the first to tell me more about his trajectory and how his tattoo filters conquered the world. The augmented reality developer has more than 1 million followers on Instagram and has done work for big names and brands such as Disney and singer Pabllo Vittar – but that wasn’t always a goal for him.

Jeph developed filter for Disney (Image: Playback/Instagram)

Jeph developed filter for Disney (Image: Playback/Instagram)

“I did Architecture. I already had a lot of ease with 3D and these other technologies because in architecture I’ve always been more towards this side of 3D, you know, not so much in construction. After I graduated I only work with Instagram – I also work with GIFs, on another platform [dentro da rede social]. I started making filters just for fun, because I had no idea that it could be turned into a market, right? But they had a very quick response.”

Jeferson Araujo (@jepharaujo)

According to Jeph,  was “quite shocking” when his first customer showed up. He didn’t imagine that this activity would become a business. “It was really fast, you know? I started doing it, and they started asking: ‘make one for me too’, and I said: ‘it’s very simple, I’ll show you how to do it’. But people wanted me to do it”, says the developer.

For Bianca Garutti (@biancagarutti), another weighty name among what we call the “first wave” of Spark AR creators in Brazil, the beginning was also unconventional. A born entrepreneur, Bianca has a degree in Physics and has been a dance teacher, but currently works only with Instagram. According to her, 90% of the income comes from filters (which she also teaches courses on makeup in augmented reality), but there is still room for brownies, which she makes and sells on the social network.

Bianca Garutti is one of Spark AR's partner creators (Image: Reproduction/Spark AR)

Bianca Garutti is one of Spark AR’s partner creators (Image: Reproduction/Spark AR)

“I was already working with the filter when the pandemic started, but when it started, in fact, I couldn’t dance anymore. When everything stopped, I got 90% filter and 10% brownie. The percentage today is similar, but I’m also coming back with another business where I had a T-shirt brand, with filter prints that went viral.”

Bianca Garutti (@biancagarutti)

Bianca recently participated in a live on the platform Marne Levine, the Head of Global Partnerships, Business and Corporate Development at Facebook, during F8 2021. Bianca also appears in the documentary series Facebook LATAM Season, which talks about diversity and inclusion in business in throughout Latin America. Its portfolio includes more than 400 AR effects, and it has clients not only in Brazil, but in other countries, such as Australia, Egypt and the United States.

Vanessa Dutra is Mermaid Hipster on social media (Image: Reproduction/Spark AR)

Vanessa Dutra is Mermaid Hipster on social media (Image: Reproduction/Spark AR)

Vanessa Dutra, known as Sereia Hipster (@sereiahipster), reconciles the work with filters for Instagram with a “formal job”, as she defines it. Mermaid also participated in the documentary series Facebook LATAM Season. She has worked for brands such as Spotify and Samsung. In the creation part, his line is more focused on memes that exploded on social networks.

“I graduated in Design and already worked with visual communication in parallel projects. In addition, it was already investing in content for Instagram. In my formal job, I looked a lot at social media and tried to think of new ways to bring content in a fun, interesting way, to encourage people to connect – that’s when I saw the possibility of filters.”

Hipster Mermaid (@mermaidhipster)

The challenges in learning

As in many areas, the first wave of professionals began to venture into the world of Spark and augmented reality filters in a self-taught way. With little content in Portuguese, many appealed to material in other languages ​​and to a community of creators that has been built over the past three years.

“For me, learning to move was 100% within Spark, still in beta, when we didn’t have much material. It was a lot in the race, and we depended a lot on our colleagues too. Until today we are together and share a lot with our colleagues. Every week, practically, there are new things.”

Bianca Garutti (@biancagarutti)

The Hipster Mermaid also reported a similar experience:

“At the beginning, around 2018, I thought: ‘I’m going to Google how you do this!’. I went to page 10 looking for something, some direction. And I found a form that was for you to sign up and maybe get the possibility of making filters. This already in Spark AR, and it was a beta phase, there were only a few Americans and Russians. I applied and it took about three months to be approved. So much so that I had even forgotten. In that wave, they also approved people who later became my friends.”

Hipster Mermaid (@mermaidhipster)

A market with space for everyone

But if you think that the development of AR filters on social networks is exclusive to individual creators, be aware that there are also companies specializing in this type of service. This is the case of 20DASH, a startup led by CEO Denis Shirazi, who is an engineer and has more than 20 years of experience in the technology area; and this is also the case of Vitulo, which started with just one breeder, but already has a team of seven professionals – and growing.

20DASH is a company focused on three technological pillars – virtual reality, augmented reality and personal assistants – and has already served names such as Americanas, Via Varejo, Casas Bahia, Ponto Frio, Magazine Luiza, Pepsico, Burger King, Mars, Bradesco Seguros, Reebok International, Adidas International, among others.

Denis Shirazi is CEO of 20DASH, a company specialized in communication solutions with AR (Image: Divulgação/20DASH)

Denis Shirazi is CEO of 20DASH (Image: Disclosure/20DASH)

Talking to Denis Shirazi, I got to know another side of working with AR filters – behind the spotlight and thousands of followers, but also behind big brands.

“Celebrities were created, right? Influencers were created. But I don’t, if you go see mine on my profile, there’s nothing filtering, because [na 20DASH] it’s all facing is a concept for companies is how companies can explore this in some way. you will arrive [à minha empresa] if you know a big agency, if you are investing a lot of money on Facebook and need a super production. But I love that [o surgimento de influenciadores] happen, because it leverages the market.”

Denis Shirazi – 20DASH

Another advantage of a company is the possibility of embracing more paths within augmented reality. As the creators explained, the Spark AR world itself is huge, in terms of what is possible to create.

The complexity ends up making many people choose to specialize in some area (makeup, 3D, tattoo, and so on). When you bring together several professionals in a company, there are more chances of being able to meet any client’s needs.

“We are the arm of an agency. I’m not an agency, I don’t position myself with an agency, I position myself as an auxiliary arm of a Facebook agency. Facebook has an area called Creative Shop, and these people are always in contact with us.”

Denis Shirazi – 20DASH

But of course, the amount charged by companies tends to be higher. Denis says that a project with AR filters can reach R$100,000, while he sees individual creators charging much less.

“I don’t care about occurrence. There are times when you look and think ‘wow, the guy is charging R$ 500’, but I say that in the sense of ‘Guys, you have to value your work’. Those who sell for a very low price sometimes don’t even pay for energy [que consome]. I understand the Brazilian reality, and what happens. But it’s sad, right? And I also understand that sometimes it’s new people, who are just starting out, and want to learn, and that’s okay. We took a position where the more companies that are in this environment, it’s even better.”

Another good surprise was the interview with Gustavo Vitulo (@vitulox). When I went to him, on the recommendation of Bianca Garutti, I thought I would talk to another individual creator, when in fact, I was introduced to another company – which bears his last name and has a wonderful virtual office set up on Gather.

Gustavo Vitulo founded a company focused on AR solutions (Image: Reproduction/Vitulo)

Gustavo Vitulo founded a company focused on AR communication solutions (Image: Reproduction/Vitulo)

“I started creating when Spark started beta, back in 2018. You applied it and got a response as to whether it was going to be beta or not, and I was accepted early this year, when I started creating several filters – some were quite successful, like Faustão and Gugu, who had everyone running indoors.”
Gustavo Vitulo (@vitulox)

Vitulo has already served clients such as Calvin Klein, Microsoft, Samsung, Facebook, Amazon Prime Video, Loreal, iFood, Mercado Livre, Universal Music, League of Legends, Claro, Do Bem, Petrobras, Warner Music, Chevrolet and so on. His goal is to double the team by the end of the year, and plans for the future are already in place – they go beyond Instagram and your smartphone.

Currently, he claims that the average ticket for a basic augmented reality project in his company is R$20,000, and he does the counterpoint to creators who charge very low prices for such a service, especially when they are starting out.

“There are two ecosystems – and that’s okay – they coexist perfectly. There are people who get pissed off when a guy charges R$50 per filter, but he won’t compete with his audience, you know? It’s happened that, in many budgets, people charge five times less than us, and [a empresa] close with us, because we saw that we had a marketing vision, very well structured ideas. We always do an internal sprint design to offer ideas to the client totally without commitment, you know? So, we can have a vision of what works and what doesn’t.”

But Vitulo doesn’t dismiss the importance of personal branding, and gives advice to those starting out individually.

“I think that the influencer part, for the first contact, is essential for the company to know and know that you exist. I think it is not essential when making a purchase decision. I was already an influential creator when I started, in 2019, I reached almost 500,000 followers in a month – it was bizarre. But then it goes down, and that’s okay, because my specialization was different. I started building a company, which made perfect sense to me.”

Building the future with augmented reality

If for now Instagram filters are the work base for most of these professionals, the future holds much more challenges and possibilities, even on other platforms and with more resources.

TikTok, for example, is one of the expanding platforms, as Shirazi said:

“They are growing exponentially in Brazil because, with the pandemic, everyone wanted to see TikTok. They caught a bunch of people with a Facebook badge, or who had Facebook in their email, and said ‘dude, I’m hiring you’. They hired a lot of people in Brazil. Looks like they’re organizing things. TikTok’s heads are there in Hong Kong, there in China. So, there is a communication difficulty you feel. But they are structuring, they are coming, and with a huge interest potential, with a truckload of money, in soap opera advertisements…”

In addition, many of Facebook’s Spark AR partner creators also plan to train the next generation of professionals with augmented reality, while others are already dreaming of what the technology will bring to this segment 10 years from now.

“It’s the future of commerce, really. A lot of people are afraid because they only think about Instagram as it is today, with facial filters, but we are with proposals for filters that work on the rear camera, which will transform the environment. You will be able to start inserting clothes and things accordingly. So, I see this as the future that we used to watch a lot in movies and series recently.”

Bianca Garutti (@biancagarutti)

Spark AR

Spark AR Studio (Image: Disclosure/Facebook)

According to Jeph Araujo, the fear of investing all the cards in this was temporary. “Nowadays I’m not afraid. Soon, soon I’m going to announce a course I’m putting together with a company to train new breeders. Because it’s just the beginning, right?”, says the creator.

And, apparently, no one here is afraid to dream big:

“I think that taking into account the exponential growth of technology, in 10 years we will literally be… in people’s minds. Today, we still use a device (smartphone) to access this new layer, and we’re not satisfied with that, you know? I think we will be satisfied when this layer, what you see with augmented reality, is the new reality, in fact, whether through glasses, whether through a chip or any technology with a cochlear implant… But one one thing is certain: we’ll be there, whether by display, by totem, or by anything else.”

Gustavo Vitulo (@vitulox)

While this giant wave of innovation does not reach us, we are eagerly awaiting it, experiencing the future through filters on social networks.

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