It’s hard to believe it, but it has been a year since Lens Fest 2020. This annual event is when Snap reaches out to the developer community. That includes Snapchat lens creators as well as those who create experiences for other apps and websites using Snap’s camera API, camera kit.
Last year, the Lens Fest saw major updates to Snap’s creator software, Lens Studio, as well as a focus on creating lenses with social impact. So, what did this year’s three-day-long event bring?
A Whole Lot of Energy
Lens Fest isn’t just a developer’s conference. Because anyone can be a lens creator, the event is an opportunity for Snap to celebrate all of the people that contribute to their platform – professionally or otherwise.
“Lens Fest is our annual, global event that highlights innovation and creativity from every corner of the lens creator community,” Snap co-founder and CTO, Bobby Murphy, said during the welcome address. “More than 200M people engage with lenses every day… the possibilities are endless to fuse fun and productivity in our lives.”
Despite the growing focus on AR, Murphy stayed on brand, emphasizing that Snap is a “camera company” – one of the few big names in tech not pushing buzzwords. In a panel discussion at AWE in November, Murphy said that “the metaverse” was a term that Snap “has never used internally or externally to describe what we’re trying to build.”
“AR is enabling new ways for us to interact with one another and with the world around us,” Murphy said at Lens Fest. “AR grounds us with a view of the physical world and brings everything that is available in the digital world to us.”
Throughout the event, speakers expressed enthusiasm for the creative ecosystem built around Snap’s software, and increasingly, their hardware. This culminated in the inaugural Snap Lens Fest Awards which closed out the event. But, more on those later.
This year’s Lens Fest saw the launch of Lens Studio 4.10 including the World Mesh feature for depth-sensitive lenses built on the device’s onboard sensors, be that ARKit or ARCore.
Also included is an updated Physics engine for AR elements affected by gravity and other forces. Lens creators also have access to APIs from partners to include real-world live stats into lenses, and the Sounds library to make more audio-rich experiences.
Lens creators will also soon be able to begin making lenses mapped to local places similar to some of the larger-scale location-based Lenses that Snap has been exploring for the last few months through their recent partnerships with Sotheby’s and LACMA. Language around this update did specifically mention LiDAR, which is currently only offered by newer-model Apple devices.
Further, lens creators will soon have access to a new Call-To-Action feature allowing them to direct Snappers from their lenses to an outside page. That could help them drive traffic to an e-commerce site, raise awareness for organizations and institutions, share information, the sky’s the limit.
These new features will find their way to all Snap users once lens creators have had time to incorporate them into experiences. Some features are just for the lens creators, including new analytics so that creators can get a better understanding of which of their lenses have the most success and why.
Finally, Lens studio updates in 2022 will come out every two weeks instead of every two months as is their current schedule.
“A huge part of the barrier that we find with Lens Studio is how do we make it easier to develop in AR,” said AR engineer Jonathan Solichin. “We want to make Lens Studio the best way to develop in AR so the question isn’t how do I build, but what do I build.”
Snap announced the newest generation of Spectacles at the Snap Partner Summit in May with seven US creators. The program has been expanding ever since and is now worldwide. Earlier iterations of Spectacles were focused on recording and capturing content, but the model announced this year is the first to feature an actual display.
“Spectacles are our first pair of glasses that bring AR to life,” said Snap’s head of AR platform partnerships, Sophia Dominguez. “We’re already developing advanced, new capabilities.”
Those capabilities include the Endurance Mode feature that will allow wearers to adjust the display to achieve longer battery life. Spectacles wearers can also now connect with one another through Connected Lenses.
Spectacles are still currently a developer tool available in limited circulation by invitation and application. However, consumers look forward to a day when the hardware becomes readily available to the rest of us. If that day comes, we’ll be even more grateful for these early improvements.
“The promise of Spectacles is seeing imagination brought to life right in front of you,” said Spectacles Community Manager Eva Caiden. “Our goal is to learn and continue to improve the Spectacles experience.”
Community and Creator Announcements
Much of the big news at Lens Fest this year had to do with giving lens creators not just better hardware and software tools but also better social and financial resources.
“Our goal is to bring together both physical and digital experiences through the camera,” said VP of Platform Partnerships Konstantinos “KP” Papamiltiadis. “There are so many exciting things for us to build together and an exciting community to serve.”
Along these lines, Snap’s AR Innovation lab “GHOST” will now be accepting applications on a rolling basis. Snappers can also show their support to lens creators financially by sending them Gifts through story replies.
“The way that we think about GHOST is we want to be able to tap into communities from around the world to see how they are innovating to solve the problems that are important to them,” said creative technologist Shavonne Hart.
Lens creators will also be able to make money through Lens Packs – collections of related lenses that can be purchased by Camera Kit partner developers for use in their own engagements. Snap is also planning on expanding the Camera Kit beta program.
“Based on the initial success of our early partners, we’re excited to continue rolling out Camera Kit to more developers,” said Camera Kit Product Manager Benjamin Lo.
The First Lens Fest Awards
This year’s Lens Fest culminated in the first-ever Lens Fest Awards. Hosted by Snap’s Senior Lens Studio Community Specialist, Kaitlyn Benitez-Strine, the awards celebrated lenses and lens creators in nine categories: Environmental & Social Good, Art & Expression, Fashion & Beauty, Gaming, Information & Education, Creativity, Originality, Technical Skill, and Utility.
“It’s an honor to be here hosting the first-ever Lens Fest Awards,” said Benitez-Strine. “As for our judges, they come from across Snap and have brought their unique expertise and insights.”
Environmental & Social Good
The award for Best in Environment & Social Good went to Bleached Seas, a lens by Australia native Helena Papageorgiou that draws attention to the impacts of climate change on coral reefs. In accepting the award, Papageorgiou said that creating the lens “has been incredible and the response has been amazing.”
Art & Expression
The award for Best in Art & Expression was given to İVendedores, Presente!. Celebrating LA street vendors, the lens was part of the Monumental Perspectives partnership between Snap and LACMA and was created by lens creator Sallia Goldstein and artist Ruben Ochoa.
“Wow, this is insane,” Goldstein said in accepting the award. “To Ruben Ochoa, thank you so much for trusting me with your artistic vision.”
Fashion & Beauty
RTFKT Studios took home the Lens Fest Award for Best in Fashion & Beauty with the OG MetaJacket. Unlike RTFKTs better-known NFT collections, the MetaJacket lens is free to all Snapchatters, demonstrating the capabilities of AR fashion.
Aidan Wolf accepted the Lens Fest Award for Best in Gaming for his PONK. The multiplayer experience incorporates elements of classic video games in an AR experience that feels both new and familiar.
“I’m really excited to make experiences that can connect people so quickly, especially on a platform like Snapchat where I can reach so many people,” said Wolf.
Information & Education
The award for Best in Information & Education went to Leighton McDonald for BLACKSOUL GALLERY, a lens that celebrates black emerging artists by taking their work out of the gallery and bringing it into the viewer’s world.
“It’s an honor to be recognized for having an innovative and creative lens,” said McDonald. “This has been an amazing journey, and it’s just getting started.”
In a medium that inherently entails creativity, the most creative experience was awarded to Rock Hand by 2020CV. The musical game combines elements of classic musical play-along games like Guitar Hero and Piano Tiles.
“Thank you, Lens Fest, for this award,” 2020CV founder and CEO, Hart Woolery, said in accepting the award. “I am very humbled to receive any kind of recognition for my work and I hope you all had fun with Rock Hand.”
Again, a category that all AR experiences necessarily qualify for. The Lens Fest Award for Best in Originality went to Skin Thief by Denis Rossiev. Through the camera, the lens recognizes an individual and then uses body tracking technology to map the image onto other people in the camera’s field of view.
“I want to thank Snap for providing such awesome tools for people around the world to create and express themselves,” said Rossiev.
“We’re thrilled to win this award,” said founder and CEO Zac Duff. “At Jig, our goal is to allow anyone to share their knowledge with everyone in the best way possible – and everyone is on Snapchat.”
The award for Best in Utility went to Brielle Garcia’s Food Menu, an experience that illustrates the power of AR for showing viewers a dish in front of them before they actually place an order.
“I want to thank everyone at Snap for these amazing resources and tools,” Garcia said in accepting the award. “And I want to thank all of the other creators in this community: your creativity inspires and drives me.”
See You Next Year
In closing the awards, and so the whole event, Benitez-Strine summed up the atmosphere of the conference: “Thank you to all of the participants in the Lens Fest Awards for helping us to drive the future forward. We can’t wait to see what the future of AR holds.”