Creator Conversations: An Interview With Julien Van Dorland

A conversation between Snapchat Lens Creators Jonah Cohn and Julien Van Dorland

Julien Van Dorland is a digital creator and entrepreneur who specializes in social augmented reality. He is an official lens creator at Snapchat, which allows him to work with some of the world’s biggest and most influential brands. Outside of his work with Snapchat, Julien has created multiple business ventures in the digital and fashion marketplace, including Arvable.

Jonah Cohn is an Augmented Reality (AR) artist specializing in creations for Snapchat and Instagram. Since 2018, Jonah has been enhancing the analog world around us through unique and attention-grabbing AR experiences. Obsessed with digital art since childhood, Jonah spent years perfecting his craft before offering his services professionally.

Jonah: Hello, Julien. Hello. If you could just give us a quick introduction of who you are.

Julien: Oh, yes, my name is from Julien Van Dorland. I’m from the Netherlands. I’m 20 years old. I work in the augmented reality space. And I currently work also with my software company creating a software involving Nike sneakers.

Jonah: Awesome. So just to get started. How did you get into augmented reality?

Julien: That’s a very good question. I started in 2014 creating a motion design. So I had some early experience with creating different kinds of animations and all that kind of stuff.

So I saw this Reddit page about Snapchat Lenses and one of my friends told me about it, so I just checked it out. I downloaded Lens Studio and I went from there. I joined a Discord community and met some cool people right there, built up some friendships and some contacts. And, yeah, that’s that’s just how I started using this program called Lens Studio.

Jonah: So obviously it started as a hobby and now it’s something that you partially make a living off of. So how did you learn to profit off of your augmented reality skills?

Julien: That’s also a very good question. Well, I first worked at an agency here in Amsterdam, which is called GoSpooky, and they are focusing on the social media space of a lot of different brands here in the Netherlands, but also outside of the Netherlands. And so, yeah, I was working there as a developer and I created some very good experiences there.

And then I saw, like, there’s a very big market in this. And not a lot of companies are offering this to different brands. So I registered my own business and I built up a network through just connecting with people in the augmented reality space and other kinds of brands.

And I just contacted them and reached out to them. I actually got some work for my internship at GoSpooky. So I’m now working with some other companies and I just got an email a few days ago about a project that I can work on. And so, yes, it’s very interesting.

Jonah: So, sort of building off that, what kinds of opportunities have opened up for you being an augmented reality developer and artist?

Julien: Because augmented reality is very new, it is also still hard to sell it to different companies and brands. It just opened up a lot of things because I’m an Official Lens Creator. Also, I visited Los Angeles two times in 2018 and 2019 and participated there in one of their hackathons. It’s called a Lensathon. You basically create a lens within four hours with your team and we won twice. So that was very, very cool. So, yeah, that opens some paths to contact with different people there. People gave some presentations there from Universal Music. That was very cool. When you were just building and working in this community, you will meet new people every day.

Jonah: Interesting. So you’ve only been to high school…you haven’t finished any official college degree or university. How have you been able to find success despite that?

Julien: Oh, I think just my past experience, I think because I started in 2014, now it’s 2020, so that’s six years of different experience in different fields and with AR, you combine all of this experience together.

So yeah. That’s a very good question.

I think it’s just combining the past experience into something new and that will create a new experience. And that way you can grow on that point. And I think a degree is not that important.

Currently [I’m]in my last year of university, so I don’t have a degree yet, but I will get it this year. And yeah, then like, I’m already working in this stuff in space and my university is very, very slow in implementing all of this new tech. So I’m kind of teaching them instead of them teaching me. So that’s very cool.

Jonah: A lot of companies obviously have no clue what augmented reality is because it’s such a new thing, especially on Snapchat. So how do you pitch your services to brands and companies who don’t know what AR is?

Julien: First, I explain to them what [is actually] AR. Basically, it’s just another layer of a reality to the real reality. So that can be 3D objects about a product, information about a product, anything about a brand. If you work with an artist, they have a specific idea…[but] we can use these kinds of assets that we already have or we can build new ones and create like this whole experience through them.

I think it’s very important to show your clients something that they can attach to and… it can be hard to like really understand what AR really is, so it’s good to show them different examples of different case studies other people have done or that you have done.

They can really understand it more. And also just look up all of the numbers and statistics a lens got. It’s also very important to show them all of these numbers like the reach and the potential right there, like how many views the lens can get and all that kind of stuff.

Jonah: Yeah, your most popular lenses have billions of views, correct?

Julien: Yes, I have like four point seven or four point eight billion views in total and one of my lenses [has] over one billion. So that’s incredible.

Jonah: So outside of AR what other ventures are you pursuing?

Julien: Currently, as I told you before, I’m working on this software company which is creating software involving Nike sneakers to automatically enter their drawings.

There are also like small lotteries on the sneakers app from Nike and from there you can enter with multiple accounts in these lotteries and then you have a bigger chance, like a higher chance, of winning this sneaker, this exclusive limited sneaker. And these sneakers go for like, I don’t know, they can go for like a thousand dollars or maybe even more if some famous people wear it.

So it’s interesting how that market works. So I’m currently working on this software company and releasing this software and very soon it’s in development, currently working with a few developers to create the website and software. It’s looking good. We are going in a good direction [and] planning to release within this year.

I hope so. And then, yeah, just do the marketing stuff and get people to use it first. I will start with a beta version and then it will go live. So, yeah, that’s one of the things I’m focusing on.

Jonah: Awesome. So I know you make tutorials on YouTube, so can you tell me a little bit about that, like why you do it and what you’ve learned and what it’s been able to do for you.

Julien: Yes. So I’m creating some AR tutorials on YouTube. I’m currently just focusing more not on the beginner stuff but more on the more experienced stuff because AR can be something new to some people, but if you really want to get into AR, you probably have some past experience in motion design, graphic design, or anything like that.

So you really want to get into AR you have some experience with that. So that’s why I’m currently making not a beginner tutorial, but more experienced tutorials. And I really enjoy that. I got like 600 subscribers or something like that. Not that much, but one of my tutorials is doing pretty well right now — it has two hundred and thirty likes or something and three thousand views.

It’s about this famous “Kira Kira” effect and it’s like sparkle effect from a famous app which got very popular back in the day, like a few years ago. And people were using it on Instagram a lot, so I re-created this effect for Snapchat basically.

And I made a tutorial on that. And that’s like really growing. It takes a lot of time to create a tutorial because you have to write a whole script and record everything, and then you have to like record your voice also and edit that with animation and make it cool so it can take some hours to make a tutorial — it is different than live streaming a game, for example.

Jonah: Definitely. So you do have nearly a million social media followers. What has that influence allowed you to do?

Julien: That’s interesting. I think it’s really not that much, actually, because Snapchat is different than Instagram. If you look at Instagram now, you can see the follower count of somebody. So if I have like almost a million followers on Instagram, then I will be a boom big business right there.

But yeah, it’s different on Snapchat because you cannot see how many people subscribe to you. Well, actually, I can see myself, but nobody else can see that. So it works a bit different. Yeah, I really have to make screenshots of that to show it to people.

Otherwise they wouldn’t know I have this many subscribers on my profile. So yeah, I had some people reaching out to me asking if I could promote this product or something like that. I don’t really, really want to do that. I don’t post a lot of stuff on my story because most of the time I’m just working on stuff and not that interesting stuff like most of the influencers are doing good, going to parties, all this crazy stuff like I don’t really have that much of that stuff. So I mean, like I’m like a ghost influencer if you want to call it that.

Jonah: I guess Snapchat is all about ghosts, so you fit in perfect.

Julien: Yes, that’s true!

Jonah: So, the final question. Obviously, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. So how has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business?

Julien: People are looking for alternative virtual ways. They are more open to new technologies like AR, so I’ve been making emails right now for a restaurant. They already have an app with AR. And I want to create these dishes that they have for their Instagram page so people can scroll through them and see these dishes before they order it online.

So that is really interesting, of course, and that will increase sales a lot because people can really see what they are ordering instead of just looking at a picture. And then maybe they will get something different. So with AR you can really see that dish come to life. So, yeah, I think it is growing in this space because, as I told you before, people are more open to new tech.

I’ve also organized a Covid hackathon, which got a lot of attention, a lot of press articles about that and a talk with Microsoft and some other companies and government organizations. So that was also very, very interesting to organize that.

Jonah: Awesome. Well, I think that’s all the questions we have for today, but if there are any closing words you want to say or any message or anything you want to shout out, then now would be the time to do that.

Julien: What I always like to say is, always stay with yourself and work very hard and learn from a lot of people, find the right people that can teach you and teach you the paths and the things, and then you will grow with that, with that person, to a new level and then learn some new experiences from that.

Follow Julien on YouTube, Snapchat, and his website.

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