Seven steps to create an AR Holotwin

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Is it possible to create effective AR scenes without a team of tech-savvy designers? Or spend tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars? Is augmented reality finally ready to be used even by small and medium-sized businesses to solve their customers’ business problems? Here’s a step-by-step overview of what it took to create an AR holotwin and a QR code showing the end result. Readers can judge for themselves.

When it comes to augmented reality, we are seeing a seismic shift. The combination of the emergence of WebAR (based on a mobile browser rather than an app), combined with easier to use interfaces, opens the door to business use cases like never before. But is it something realistic for the industry as a whole to adopt?

Few print shops have the in-house expertise to deploy complex AR scenes. If it requires hiring a new person or assisting a third party, let’s face it, the market will be limited. Much like what would have happened with the digital printing market if the only printing device you could have bought in the 1990s was a high-speed inkjet press. But that’s not what happened. Eventually, smaller, cheaper digital presses came to market. At that time, digital printing took off. And if it were the same with augmented reality? What if it was now? That AR has become something even small and medium businesses can deploy internally? Would that change things? It could.

Prepare for change. In the July/August issue of Printing News, I’ll be featuring a startup called PaperJax that’s building its business on solutions powered by augmented reality. Each of its campaigns includes both a print and an AR component, and it sells and deploys these scenes with nothing but a software license, a digital and 360 camera, and a green screen. Therefore, the costs of creating these campaigns fit into the budgets of even small and medium-sized businesses, which all of its clients are. All PaperJax campaigns are also designed to generate revenue. In future articles, I will also profile other companies using augmented reality in real revenue-generating applications.

I’ve written before about how easy this process has become, and that even stores without tech-savvy designers can do it. But is it really true? If so, then I should be able to do that too. So I decided to find out.

Here is my step-by-step experiment…and the results.

Step 1: Configure a green screen.

I bought a green screen—basically, a sheet of lime green fabric with a hanging sleeve—from Amazon.com for $18. I used a piece of reclaimed wood and hung it on my office wall.

Step 2: Configure the video.

I set up my iPhone on an old desk and moved the desk back and forth until the video captured me from head to toe, but with as little unnecessary space as possible.

Step 3: Write a script.

I created a short test script and printed it in 24 point bold. I then taped the script to the top of the desk so it was about eye level from where I would be standing. This allowed me to read the script remotely but sound like I was talking directly to the camera.

Step 4: Take the video.

It took a few tries (OK, it took a lot of tries), but I finally got a hold that, for proof of concept, was pretty good. Any background noise will be recorded as part of the AR experience, so as you can see I ended up moving my video location to a quieter location to get a satisfying result.

Step 5: Prepare the video.

Since it was an iPhone video, it was shot in .MOV format and showed the environment around the green screen. I used Adobe Express to crop the video so it only shows me, with the green screen behind, and converted it to MP4. Then I used AirDrop to transfer the file to my computer.

Step 6: Configure the holotwin.

I logged into a test account on RealityBLU. I then followed these sets of instructions:

  1. Give the project a name. I chose “Meet My Holotwin”.
  2. Choose a startup screen. This is the first screen users see, with the big purple button, “START HERE”. I chose the simplest splash screen from the four standard options available. (Custom splash screens can be created.)
  3. Choose a reticle. This is a small stick figure that the viewer sees through their mobile phone screen and is used to place and anchor the holotwin to any flat surface in the user’s environment. I chose the one that was the simplest and that I thought would be easiest for viewers to read.
  4. Choose the number of buttons (up to four) to use in the AR scene. I picked one and labeled it “Learn More”. Since RealityBLU gave me free access to its WorldViewAR platform to create this holotwin, I added the hyperlink to its website. But you can use these buttons to point to anything: landing pages, downloadable content, donation platforms, or to perform other functions, like making a phone call, sending an email, or even launching Google Maps.
  5. Upload the video and choose a “chroma color”, which defaults to lime green used in green screens floating in white space (but can be changed if you use a different color background). As soon as the video was uploaded, the green screen background disappeared and I saw myself floating in white space as I spoke.
  6. Configure SEO/Social Sharing. I gave this experience a title, wrote a short description, and uploaded a screenshot of my holotwin that I could use as a thumbnail in corresponding text marketing.
  7. Save and preview. I clicked “save and preview” and in less than a minute I had a QR code and hyperlink on my screen ready to share in print, digital communications and social media.

Once the video was ready to upload, it took me no more than five minutes to follow these steps.

The hardest part of the experiment was getting the video right. Write a decent script that wasn’t too long. Deliver it in a way that wasn’t too boring. Don’t mess up the delivery. Make sure I didn’t accidentally reveal the mat by dragging the bottom of the green screen with my feet. Trying to keep my glasses on glare – all the things that are the standard job of professional videographers, but with a bit of effort, can be done without one.

When creating this experience, the biggest thing that was missing was better lighting. It would have made my holotwin look sharper, especially when zoomed to a larger size when viewed through a mobile screen. If I was operating in a print shop, with an actual studio setup, the holotwin would have been even crisper and clearer. But it’s a proof of concept, and for something put together in a morning in my home office, it drives home the point I was trying to make. If I can do it in my home office, you can do it in your print shop.

Is AR ready for widespread industry adoption? Judge for yourself and keep an eye out for the July issue of Printing News for how PaperJax uses holotwins and AR portals to drive customer business in real revenue-generating apps.

Please post your thoughts. Let’s generate the discussion.

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