Lens Studio is a new Mac and Windows desktop app from Snap Inc. for creating, publishing, and sharing augmented reality objects and experiences in Snapchat, as overlays known as ‘Lenses’. The free software has several templates for getting started, and advanced tools for experienced users and professionals.
Image messaging app Snapchat first incorporated camera-based AR with the ‘Lenses’ feature in 2015, which enabled dramatically enhanced selfies using facial tracking. A major update in April 2017 expanded this to the environment in the form of ‘World Lenses’, making use of smartphones’ rear facing cameras to place virtual objects into live, real-world video capture. This form of smartphone-based AR has been bolstered by the introduction of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore SDKs for iOS and Android, respectively.
Snapchat World Lens content was previously limited to Snap Inc’s own updates and promotional tie-ins, but with Lens Studio it is now possible for anyone to start creating their own World Lens objects and environments (selfie Lens creation is not currently supported), as explained in the announcement on the official site.
“Whether you’re just starting to dabble in 2D animation or are a professional artist interested in creating your own experiences, Lens Studio makes sharing your creation with the world fast and fun!” writes Team Snap. “With the launch of Lens Studio, we’re excited to make Lenses more accessible to creators, and experiences within Snapchat more personal and diverse.”
The new Lens Studio site provides an overview of the software’s capabilities, as well as thorough guides and templates for getting started, all the way through to optimising and submitting your Lens for approval.
Lens Studio supports FBX and OBJ 3D model formats; the guide suggests those without access to modelling software like Maya or 3ds Max can grab assets from Sketchfab or Poly. For more experienced creators, it also explains the advanced scripting features enabled by the API. Once submitted, a unique Snapcode can be shared (digitally or printed on packaging, stickers, clothing, etc.) for anyone to unlock your Lens in Snapchat.
This is another indication that Snap Inc. intends to be a global force in augmented reality, but it has strong competition, as Facebook also just launched their AR Studio in open beta. Last year, Snap Inc. hired Hollywood effects artist Raffael Dickreuter as a “Concept and Augmented Reality Designer”, and CEO Evan Spiegel was seen wearing ‘prototype AR glasses’ soon after the company acquired Vergence Labs. The resulting Spectacles glasses, launched in November 2016, was seen as the first step towards augmented reality glasses, though function only as a wearable camera for now.