A best practice guide for using augmented reality video
With so much focus placed upon the futuristic potential of AR, it can be easy to lose sight of the amazing capabilities we can get our hands on right now. An important aspect of this is the way AR can magically transform your existing creative assets - enabling you to re-purpose and re-imagine visual content in exciting new ways for your audience, in a far less resource-intensive way than you’d think.
One thing many brands are not short on is video content - it’s prioritised as a core part of the marketing mix and highly valued for storytelling. We’ve witnessed significant growth in ad spending on original digital programming, jumping by 68% since 2016, so it’s little surprise that more than 80% of advertisers define original video content as an ‘essential’ part of their media buy. Which is why it’s absolutely crucial to make that spend work as hard as possible - and AR is fantastic way to ensure that.
We’ve explored how you can use AR to leverage your video content, and how you can maximize ZapWorks’ feature set to create experiences that transcend traditional video, exciting your users with a new dimension of digital entertainment. You can also hear more from our Videographer, Matt Scott, on this topic in our recent Q&A.
Why video and AR go hand-in-hand
It’s certainly not a new assertion that video content is an incredibly popular and well-established medium for sharing your story with an audience. Whether it’s for marketing, community building or adding value to a customer purchase (or indeed, all three!) - video is the major medium for brand communications, particular in an era of easy social media embedding and increasingly stable mobile web.
What makes AR for video so different is that it not only provides another compelling discovery channel for your existing content, but it also compliments and expands upon your video’s messaging in a contextually sensitive way.
In terms of scale, AR can help your existing video content work harder by making it even more discoverable via your existing print and packaging assets. For example, if significant resources have gone into creating engaging, high-quality video content, then that’s worth celebrating on multiple platforms with compelling points of entry.
If you’ve got an incredible product showreel, why not have clients unlock it instantly via their smartphone from a business card or portfolio document? If you’re a brand seeking to reward customers for their loyalty to your product with exclusive video content, why just leverage YouTube and social sharing, when you can add a scannable code to your physical assets or packaging and turn them into a portal for customers to access digital content, in-store or at home?
Indeed, this unfulfilled potential of product packaging is something we’ve thought a lot about, and you can explore our ideas in more detail on our previous blog.
“In placement and timing, think about all the ways your story can embed itself in a user’s everyday life.”
- Aidan Wolf, Augmented Reality Storytelling, or the Elephant in the Room
AR + Video = More engagement
The second layer to this is that AR can re-situate your video content in ways that are far more engaging and surprising than usual video hosting methods. While scanning a code to unlock an embedded video in AR is great for discoverability, advances in alpha video integration mean that your existing video content can now ‘perform’ within the viewer’s real life environmental context, opening up a whole new range of possibilities.
A popular use case is within music and performance. If people have seen an amazing gig, it’s natural to want to relive that experience and share that journey with friends who couldn’t attend (or simply make them jealous!). If you’ve captured and finessed high-quality video, AR enables you to let that content intermingle with your users’ everyday lives, transforming a passive live video performance into an intimate personal concert. We could explain further...or you could simply enjoy Wyclef performing on our boardroom table and see exactly what we mean!
The power of alpha video
Alpha video is the key component in creating experiences as amazing as this. This content is defined by featuring areas of transparency, meaning it’s incredibly versatile for placing video content directly into a viewer’s environment via their smartphone.
In the context of AR, it’s best known as the technology that allows an object or person to come to ‘life’. A good way to think of it is in comparison to a green screen experience - instead of adding a simulated background, this background is absolutely wherever the user is viewing the experience via their smartphone. So it is truly dynamic and ever-changing - unlocking creative possibilities that you simply cannot harness with traditional video.
“Having somebody or something appear in the real world through a device is so captivating. It has that real life sci-fi element...The special effects we saw in films as kids now actually exist through devices we use every day. It’s like seeing Princess Leia’s message beamed from R2-D2!”
- Matt Scott, Videographer, Zappar
Another exciting element that AR brings to the table is the ability to enhance this pre-existing video content with a wide range of VFX - something our ZapWorks Studio toolkit supports in a really intuitive way. For example, you can access and then implement a wide array of pre-keyed content from the likes of ProductionCrate and Videoblocks which can really take your video experiences to the next level.
For example, if you had a 3D model or alpha video footage of a wizard character, you could easily add stormy weather effects and powerful elemental spells using alpha video content of those effects and bring them straight into ZapWorks. Take a look at the content we created in support of our ‘Layered’ report, in collaboration with Mindshare, as an example:
Making augmented reality video pop - motion graphics and ZapWorks Designer
But while these kind of experiences are visually impressive, it’s fair to say that a lot of creators entering the AR creation space for the first time can be quite intimidated by the very functionality that inspired them to get involved. After all, admiring and applying creative content are two very different things.
The great news is that enhancing video content in the AR space is largely about applying an existing video creation skillset. And better yet, while our fully fledged ZapWorks Studio package greatly expands the possibilities, lots of the characteristically cool effects of AR video content are actually possible using Designer, our browser-based drag and drop toolkit.
The most important aspect of this is not needing to laboriously re-skill or re-implement the motion graphics or video sequences that you’ve created in established video effects software. For example, content created in After Effects or Premiere can simply be outputted as a video file and brought directly into our Designer toolkit.
A commonly used but deeply effective method we’ve seen our ZapWorks community experiment with is utilising the first frame of the video content they’re using as part of the tracking image - for example, a ‘wanted’ poster of a character. That way, once the image is scanned, it simulates the character physically coming to life in full 3D, which delivers a real ‘wow factor’ for users.
The possibilities certainly don’t have to end there - and there’s lots of scope for experimentation for more advanced users to take advantage of. Our in-house videographer, Matt Scott, tells us more:
“A great thing to think about for more advanced users is integrating the design of motion graphics with the physical target. Bridging the transition between physical target and zap is one of the most important aspects to consider when making your experience as immersive, engaging and magical as possible. It’s a consideration unique to AR in the multimedia space. Masking that transition is when the user will be first captivated by your creation, so why not make it amazing?!”
- Matt Scott, Videographer, Zappar
The inclusion of motion graphics really adds a new layer of expression to your video content, when applied sensitively. It’s always important to bear in mind whether the video experience you're envisaging is going to be tracked to a single target image, as well as making sure your experience is appropriate and optimised to be consumed via a smartphone.
But again, if you’re a user familiar with After Effects or Premiere, there’s no need to embark on a whole new set of training to bring this valuable knowledge into your AR creation. It’s important to acknowledge that ZapWorks Studio lends itself to creating more complex and versatile experiences, but it’s completely viable to bring in animations created in these established products directly into your Designer creation process.
“Alpha video is a great way to simulate particle effects on mobile devices, as it doesn't run into the issues particle systems do when rendering on less powerful hardware, meaning more people get to enjoy your content”
- Sebastian Garcia Cardona, Head of Technical Support, Zappar
Common pitfalls to avoid when using video in AR
One crucial piece of advice to remember is that many of the design principles for AR video are no different to AR experiences in general, in the sense that context and content are both incredibly important.
We’d recommend spending some time with our ‘Three Cs’ approach to AR content creation for an expanded explanation, but in short, you need to make sure that you effectively put yourself in your user’s shoes when designing your AR video experience - the experience needs to be designed in a manner that maximizes their enjoyment, that rewards them for interacting with it and gives them a compelling reason to scan in the first place.
Nonetheless, while these guidelines can keep you focused on a user-centric design process, it shouldn’t be a barrier to trying things out!
“The best advice for this is to experiment - there are no hard and fast rules. However, the transition into and introduction of the video is just as important as its content, so be sure to consider this.”
- Matt Scott, Videographer, Zappar
Upskilling to AR - transitioning to a new dimension of creative work
If you’re a video content or motion graphics creator, adapting your established skill set to also deliver AR experiences is a great way to differentiate yourself in the job market and offer a genuinely valuable product to potential clients.
In our modern digital realm, multi-disciplinary creative professionals who are versatile and have the ability to switch between contemporary digital mediums are highly sought after. Meanwhile, the ability to import externally created motion graphics and alpha video into our ZapWorks toolkit greatly diminishes the need for complex training. We view AR holistically as part of a wider range of both established and emerging forms of digital creativity where good content is simply good content - so our focus is hero and adapt your current skill set rather than re-direct it.
“AR can add an extra dimension to your work, be it your showreel appearing tracked in 3D space on your business card, or you delivering AR-ready content to clients. Working in AR and being familiar with it keeps you at the forefront of digital technology, which can only be a good thing! Just because we’re not 3D artists, coders or game developers doesn't mean we can’t jump on the AR train!”
- Matt Scott, Videographer, Zappar
If you're thinking about harnessing the power of AR to take your video content to the next level, we'd love to hear about what you've got in mind - get in touch and let's see how we can help you on your AR journey. Our wide range of documentation is on-hand to get you on your way and to help you to make the absolute most of ZapWorks functionality, including utilising alpha video. Feel free to also reach out to our helpful community of AR enthusiasts and technical support staff on our ZapWorks Forum - there's always somebody available to provide feedback, inspiration or just to share ideas on current creative projects.