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Snap releases Lens Studio, a tool for creating your own AR effects

Snap releases Lens Studio, a tool for creating your own AR effects


Let a thousand hot dogs bloom

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Snap’s second official app is a tool that lets you design and build augmented reality lenses for Snapchat. The company today announced Lens Studio, a design app for Mac and Windows desktop computers. The app, which resembles the internal tools Snap uses to build lenses in Snapchat, can be downloaded here. A flood of new AR objects inside Snapchat could be a creative boon for the app, where 70 million users a day interact with lenses.

“This has been an amazing year for AR as a technology,” says Eitan Pilipski, who leads Snap’s camera platform team. “We’re really excited to take this tool, and make it as simple as possible for any creator out there to have a presence on Snapchat.”

The move marks the first time that average users — and advertisers — will be able to create AR lenses for Snapchat. Lens Studio will offer them templates and guides for getting started, for both two- and three-dimensional designs. A scripting API allows users to build additional effects into their designs — tapping an object to change its shape, for example, or altering it as the user walks closer to it.

“This has been an amazing year for AR as a technology.”

It’s a bid to make Snapchat the default place for flashy, viral AR experiences — think Dancing Hot Dog — at a time when deeper-pocketed rivals are circling. Facebook opened up its AR platform to developers on Tuesday, after introducing it at F8 earlier this year. Google and Apple have introduced AR platforms as well.

But while those companies might have more resources, Snap got off to an early start. The company says that its team has built more than 3,000 lenses to date, and that one-third of users play with them daily, for an average of three minutes apiece. The company has had success putting its fans to work: users created 95 percent of the geofilters in the app, the company says, making custom designs for cities and neighborhoods around the world.

For now, normal users will be limited to creating what Snap calls “world lenses” — effects captured using the rear-facing Snapchat camera. Separately, the company partnered with seven ad agencies and will let them build face filters, which advertisers will then be able to place inside Snapchat for a price.

Eventually, regular users might be able to make face filters as well, the company says. In the short term, letting ad agencies build lenses for their clients should bring new advertisers on to the platform. Before now, only Snap’s internal creative agency has been able to create the lenses, limiting supply and keeping prices high.

Once users have created an effect, Lens Studio will generate a unique Snapcode and deep link which, when tapped on the phone, will open it within Snapchat for 24 hours. (The Snapcode is viable for a year after it’s created, so users can unlock it multiple times.) There is no formal approval process to get lenses into Snapchat, though they must adhere to company guidelines.

After you create a lens, you can share it with friends

User-created lenses can also be shared from the camera screen, where you tap on an “i” button (for “information”) and then choose which friends you’d like to send it to. The creator’s name will be attached to the lens, and Lens Studio will offer creators metrics about how often their lens has been used.

Lens Studio is available globally, but only in English for the moment. Next year, Snap will launch a series of “Lens Studio challenges” designed to attract more developers. “We want to empower and evangelize a new ecosystem of creativity,” Pilipski says.