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  • Andrew Baker VFX

Exploring Spark AR Studio

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Hey guys, welcome to a special VFX post today, thanks for tuning in. I wanted to talk to you quickly about Spark AR studio. This is a program put out by Facebook, actually. They are at the developers and Spark AR studio can be used for those Facebook filters you see, or the Instagram filters you see all over. And it does depend, you can't publish to both platforms at once. You can only publish to one that you choose. So you need to be a little strategic in how you think about that. But, I dove in and started creating some face filters of my own just to see what it was like, and it was surprisingly fun. And even more importantly, surprisingly easy!

Once you download Spark AR studio on your computer, you're given these sort of samples that you can click and learn how to break them down. If you don't know any 3D software or have experienced doing effects like that, that's actually okay. It's still pretty easy to set up. When you click to create a new project, you're automatically brought into a project with a pretty clear GUI. It's kind of similar to other 3d builders. If you're familiar with any of them, like Maya or Houdini or Blender, where you'll see an outliner with your different objects and the camera and the different lights or even microphone.

Start-up menu in Spark AR
Start-up menu in Spark AR

So to start building cool effects, it's actually really easy to just right click or hit the button to add object and each thing has a description telling you what it is. The easiest thing to do is just select face tracker and insert that and then to group it, just click on it in the panels and hit a face mask so that grouped - you'll see it parented under the face tracker. And instantly you can see that you've already made a filter, which is just a checkered board face.

Spark AR face tracking
Just a few clicks to face tracking

Now if you want to add to that, you'll just see the properties menu on the right hand side and hit the plus next to materials which automatically creates a new material defaulted to material0. I recommend if you're starting out, it doesn't matter so much, but if you're building a real project, you should come up with a clear naming convention because it can get confusing really fast. Now, if you select your material in the right hand side, under the properties, you'll see the shader type and it's defaulted to standard, which is pretty good. A flat type is good for certain materials, but it does not utilize the lights in the scene. So that's just important to remember. If you want to use the lights, then you'll use standard and you can just see really easily under the diffuse option the color and the texture options. Those are going to be pretty much the main things that you use. If you're just starting out, you can change color really easily or you can add a texture, which is also pretty easy to do. You would just need to add a texture map.You would just upload a texture map that you have created or obtain in some other way.

The other thing that is really easy and powerful about this program is that they've incorporated what they call the Spark library. Even though it's mostly Sketchfab, I think at least for right now, it's mostly Sketchfab. And if you click that in the lower left it brings up the library and you can just search for whatever 3d element you want. If you just click it and click import, it'll download it into your scene and it'll just take a few moments and then it will say "done" and you can exit out and under your assets you'll see it. You'll see the main asset collection, and grouped under, you'll see the 3D object and your material and textures. So really all you need to do is drag that up into your scene.

Spark AR Library
Spark Library has it all

If you want to track it to your face, you'll just drag it onto the face tracker. If you want it to be a static 3D object, then you'll just drag it into the focal distance or camera and there you go. It's instantly in your scene. You can see it's really easily. I'm on a Mac so it's command left click to drag the scene around so I can see from different angles and if you're not familiar with the transformative tools at the top, it's pretty, pretty simple. You have the transform, rotate and scale tools. So you're just going to select your object that you want and then you can select the transform to move it on the X, Y or Z axis. And you can also rotate or scale on those axis.

If you select the middle of the transform, you can just click and drag. If you select the middle on the scale, then you can go left and right to scale it up or down. Usually you're going to have to scale it down. The objects that you're bringing in are usually much too large for a scene for a face filter and then you'll just drag it to scale down. You just want to position it in space so that it's going to be in the frame and you'll see it on the right hand side in the device view. You can also select which device you want to be looking through. On the left hand side you can test it with your built in models they provide or you can test it with a web camera.

If you select the video icon and you have the real time simulations that you can test the different sims or where you can just test it with your own face. And that's kinda cool, I think. There's a lot more you can do with this, but I think we're going to end it there because I just wanted to really touch on it and just sort of shed a little bit of light on it. Just playing around, I've created a few filters of my own. When you publish the filters on Instagram, they're free to all your followers, so if you're interested in the filters that I created remember to follow me @andrewbakervfx.

The first filter I made was just a basic glasses and I put a shirt and tie on there, because I thought that would be kind of funny while I was sitting in my pajamas at the computer, if suddenly I can just be look like I was going to a business meeting or an interview or something. And then I sent that to my friends while I was in my bathrobe lounging around. The latest filter I just created is for Facebook only because Instagram hasn't incorporated it yet, but it is a fixed target tracker, which is really cool because I've seen them at all the conferences like Siggraph where they have these AR targets scattered around and you scan them with your phone and some 3D animation pops up in augmented reality and it's just really cool.

So I created one of those with a target that I put on my website so that visitors to my website ( could scan it and just get a free secret hidden message there. Anyways, Thank you so much for reading! I'm going to post more content soon. Let me know if you liked this post and share what filters you've made with Spark AR. Maybe I'll do more Spark AR content in the future, I just thought it was like a really cool and a pretty easy entry into AR effects that pretty much anyone could do with just like a webcam and computer.

Catch you in the next one!

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