Meet the creator behind the Spooky Welly Walk brief

By Priyanka Parmar

I got the chance to catch up with Paul, the creator who won the Roy Castle brief. Paul runs his own agency called Gloam and first came across the digital 3D world space in the 90s and worked in creative industries since, including being a radio producer at BBC 6 Music & Radio 2.

I asked him all about how his AR career started and what it was like to work on a brief with Poplar Studio, read what he has to say below.

How did you first get into AR and when did your AR career start? 

My very first time was when I went to university back in the nineties doing an architecture degree. I didn’t complete the degree, but I had my first experience of CAD there, not technically AR, but kind of that 3D world. So I learnt the basics and techniques of how to build a 3D world. 

As for actual AR, I worked for a charity last year and was invited by Facebook to their HQ in London. They had a new initiative called Social For Good and they wanted to get charities to use Facebook better. I was there for a full day where I got to talk one-on-one with the strategy people. I’ve been using Facebook a lot, so I kind of knew what it does from a marketing point of view, but then they said: ‘Oh, you should try out Spark AR’. 

I already knew people were creating these filters and I knew it was kind of a bit of a walled thing that you had to be invited into. Around that time, they made the software public, but they invited me in to try it. 

So, because the charity I worked for was a charity for a diverse group of people, they said that would be great because their new tool was about showing off what people look like. This was a tool where the user can be actually in the content [in comparison to usual marketing content which the consumer just views]. The guy from Facebook gave me a demo and I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be great for us’. So I spent the afternoon with him trying to build an effect and then I went off, pitched it back to my work and they signed it off. I made it and that was the first AR filter I did. It was just for Facebook and it was called “I love face equality”, and because the charity’s branding included a butterfly, that became the theme of the filter. 

The filter was an ‘I love face equality’ filter, which included billboards above the users’ head, 3D circling, flying butterflies around the users’ heads, blinking that triggered butterflies coming out their eyes and butterflies on the user’s face. Then we set up a little campaign because I knew that if you just have a filter, it’s not gonna be enough. That’s part one, part two was actually creating the campaign around it. 

We had a series of influencers, all of whom had some sort of physical condition. We got 10 of them to use the filter, saying what they wanted for face equality in 2020. Then they sent them all back to me and I posted them within a week to drum up attention. It gave us all social proof of people with these conditions using it, which meant that we got a lot more people using it as well. At least 10,000 people used it in the first week, which is pretty good. 

That’s amazing, did you get a lot of help from the Facebook team on promotion or did you kind of have to work out for yourself? 

Not at all, that was last I heard from Facebook. I already kind of knew the promotion part, and I spent a lot of time Googling it as well, just to figure out a bit more. There’s never been a real definitive guide on how to find filters or how to promote them and, as you know, they have frequently changed their platform. It could change next week. So yeah, it was just about trying to find out myself, test it, essentially see what I could do.

The Facebook community is amazing. You can ask them anything. I actually made a demo, posted it on there and loads of comments came back.  One great tip was that there was too much text, meaning not that it wouldn’t be approved but that, from a design point of view, it was probably too busy.

What was required in this brief that you won through Poplar Studio?

Probably the majority of filters I’ve made are charity-led, so this was a charity one that was an easy thing to me to go for, and easily the most fun because it was kid-centric. I think the audience was for three-to-six year olds, which means it’s going to be much more interactive and fun. My nephew was four and, by the time the brief came in, I was staying with him. I would actually run the brief past him and his mum for ideas. 

I kind of found out that, if I went through his books, I could learn pretty fast what sort of things he liked. That’s how I  knew that he loved the idea of things coming out of his mouth, or shaking his head. Visually I could sort of see, from his books, what it would look like and what the right interactions were for kids. 

A lot of things were a slight challenge there, though. A big question was: how could I do four unique things with the filter, rather than one thing times three or four? 

What was your favorite part of building this experience?

I’ve been doing creative stuff for 20 years or so. The creative is probably always the best bit, as ideas are quite hard when you don’t really understand what you’re trying to achieve. It’s good to spend a bit of time doing that research, like I did with his books and him, as well as understanding what the charity was doing this event for. 

The event was experiential, but because of COVID, it became a virtual event instead. Once I understood all that, the ideas then started coming, and once they started, they really began to fly. Then I had to kind of figure out, right, what four things could become four scenes in one? That kind of led me down the path a little bit, which was good. 

It was going to be a pumpkin patch, a frightful forest, a beastly bridge and spooky swamp. So the themes were there already. It was just trying to do a bit of research around what the idea around that was. So the best bit was definitely coming up with those interactions, the ideas. Then a challenge, I suppose, was how did I actually do that, because you can come up with an amazing idea, but you can only do certain things in Spark AR. And if I couldn’t do it, there were plenty of resources out there to learn it. 

You briefly touched on the challenges as well, whether it was fitting four ideas into the effect or just making it work in a Spark AR effect. What other challenges did you have and how did you overcome them? 

File size. Number one for most effects. I just made sure all the textures I used were super, super small, like making sure it was a 1024 square. Often I shrink that down a little bit just because it doesn’t need to be that big. I then put them through to make it even smaller.

The other one is that I’m not very good at scripting. That’s probably my biggest downfall, trying to source the instructions is quite hard when you have to have them aligned to separate scenes. But a friend of mine showed me and gave me some tips on what to do there. So we managed to have separate instructions for the start and for each scene. Each scene was a 360 degree pano and you could actually move the device. I chose that script because it allowed kids to shift around and see more behind them. This meant that the backgrounds of those scenes were much bigger than I had intended, but I was determined to try and make that work. I spent a lot of time trying to just compress those backgrounds smaller. 

Did the final effect differ from the brief that was originally pitched on Poplar Studio? 

Not so much. It’s fun to come up with the ideas and making the effect. Poplar Studio was quite good with the brief there, as you have to actually, visually send in a one-pager showing what each scene will look like, and put in a description for each scene. What it would look like, the interactions, the music, sound effects, colours, etc.

Once I got into the zone of thinking about it, I think I did the spooky frog one first, a very basic thing. From a creator point of view, and probably to win the brief, it’s always quite good to just make something quite fast, that takes about two or three hours to make. It involved just coming up with the concepts first and then making sure they worked when talking to the client. 

I was left alone pretty much for most of the time, then after a week or so I sent the client a few test links. Then, feedback started to come in. They were glowingly positive about all of the scenes apart from maybe that spooky one, where they just felt the interaction was a bit thin because it was just opening up your mouth and the frog at the front would croak. So I added the monster behind them. It was like they were croaking because they were scared of the monster behind them. And then I turned the user’s eyes green, like a frog. That kind of combination just made that scene a little bit more fuller. 

Lastly, I know you mentioned you worked with Spark AR for a while. Do you build AR effects on any other platforms?

Yes. I’ve done quite a few on Snapchat, but mainly on Spark AR, and I’m talking to TikTok about getting access to that. 

Thank you to Paul for taking the time to speak with me, you can find out more about Paul over on his social channels or website which are linked below.

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