ChAR Digital was founded Benjamin Paruzynski, an official Snapchat Lens Creator and Creative Partner. Working with brands to shape their digital marketing, Paruzynski and his team create lenses, filters, and effects. Though he’s kept pretty busy between projects, I managed to catch up with the CEO to learn more about his digital journey.
Q: Tell us about ChAR Digital. What sparked the idea?
A: ChAR Digital really came out of necessity. Some of my lenses were getting popular and I was getting contacted by record labels so I felt like I needed to build a name for myself as a creator. This wasn’t foreign to me as I have run a small eBay business and mobile game dev business in the past. I saw the opportunity to do it again and I took it.
Q: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on (personally or professionally) so far?
A: My favorite lens I worked on was the True Jedi Lens. It’s designed to emulate the Lego Star Wars games but in AR; playing the game in the space around you. It was both challenging and fun to program, [but] I got to relive some nostalgia from when I used to play Lego Star Wars on the DS.
Q: Your company does AR Marketing — how do you describe this to people who don’t understand the world of machine learning?
A: My work doesn’t always include machine learning, but explaining ML or AR is an equally difficult task. I think my parents still don’t understand what I do. To potential clients I’ll explain that AR is a new marketing medium that has a greater impact on the younger generation compared to TV or social media ads because it is more personable and interacts with the user. But to peers, it usually goes like “you know those Snapchat things you put on your face? Yeah, I do that.”
Q: Do you think AR and digital marketing will eventually replace traditional print marketing completely?
A: I think digital ad media has already surpassed print marketing or anything physical. I do think that AR marketing and camera marketing will surpass other forms of digital media. The younger generation is so used to TV ad breaks that it’s easy to ignore or they will pay for premium versions of apps to avoid ads because they are annoying. I think AR bridges that gap by making this kind of marketing enjoyable so the user actually wants to view it and interact with it. Like when I create for music labels, I can make a face lens that makes the user look good and they can hear the good music — it’s a win/win. Snapchat has brought AR to the masses with every camera on every phone. As AR glasses or HMD devices become more popular and accessible, we may see that AR marketing is the preferred method of marketing.
Q: How long have you been using Snapchat and making your own lenses?
A: I’ve been making lenses ever since Snapchat has been giving users the ability to make lenses. I was one of the first five Official Lens Creators. Even before the Lens Studio program was available, I used to make Snapchat geofilters for different locations in my town, so I’ve been creating on Snapchat since 2015.
Q: What lens trends have been your favorite?
A: I’m not a big fan of any lens trends. When I make lenses I always try to make something unique rather than following what is popular. When looking on the lens explorer [page] there are a lot of post effect lenses or face warp lenses and I think it’s overdone and doesn’t show the full capability of the platform. I try to push myself to make effects that use my talents as a programmer to push the boundaries of what is possible in AR.
Q: What do you like about creating lenses and seeing people use them? What do you like about working with companies/brands?
A: Seeing people use my lenses is the best! Having people enjoy my work is the whole reason I do it — makes all the late nights worth it. Even better is seeing someone use a lens in a more creative way than it was originally intended. My job is to create tools for others to express their creativity, so seeing people use it and having fun is good affirmation rather than just seeing the amount of views.
I really like working with record labels because, often, they just send over a music track with no visuals, giving me a lot of creative freedom on anything visual, especially when putting it into a medium that is not limited to the 2D screenspace. I like taking how the song makes me feel and putting that into a visual format that makes others feel it as well. When working with any brand, TV, music, or gaming, it gives some direction to my creativity. As the saying goes “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”
Q: How important is it for you to be a digital creator? How important is it for companies to stay on top of digital trends?
A: Being a digital creator is my life. Almost out of necessity because I can’t do very much with my hands, hence if any task can be computer aided that is preferable. I like digital creation that can be turned into physical things. This includes AR, where one can view digital art in 3D space, but also embroidery or 3D printing where I can create a graphic or 3D model and turn it into a physical object.
I don’t often worry about companies staying up-to-date with trends. In the few years I have been running my business, I have found that it doesn’t work convincing a company that camera marketing is the future. If they don’t get it, they don’t get it.
Q: Do you think Snapchat will only increase in popularity in the future or die off like other social media platforms have?
A: As a part of stock Twitter, there are always Snapchat bears saying that it is dead every time IG steals one of their features. But that’s exactly why I think Snapchat will stay around — apps like TikTok and Snapchat are trend creators rather than IG and FB that are trend followers. As tech is getting better, Snapchat will be right on the heels of each upcoming development. If stagnation means that a platform will die, that’s the opposite of what Snapchat is doing.
Check out more of ChAR Digital’s work here.