Jonah Cohn doesn’t think Snapchat is going anywhere. One of the his so called “forever apps,” Snapchat has been part of the student’s life since 2013. Cohn must have found an endless supply of coffee because he’s not only a student, but a prodigious lens creator who’s active online in many digital creative circles.
I’d be tired making just one lens every few months, but he seems to churn them out one after the other — each one better than the last! Thankfully, Cohn had time to answer a few questions about his work so that we could learn more.
Q: How long have you been using Snapchat? When did you start making your own lenses?
A: I first downloaded Snapchat back in January of 2013, but only used it casually until I uploaded my first lens in September 2018. I wasn’t too serious about lens creation until something clicked at the beginning of this year. Since then, I have uploaded over 65 public lenses and a handful of lenses for clients.
Q: Which lens (of ones you’ve made or others) is your current favorite?
A: Picking a favorite lens is like picking a favorite child! I put care and attention into everything I put out. One lens that comes to mind as a turning point for me as a lens creator, just bringing things to the next level, is “Orbit.” This lens has a lot of subtle attention to detail not seen as often in lenses before it. Another one of my favorites is “Galactic Winter,” which is another space-themed lens, and also one of my most popular. A little known fact about it is that a majority of the initial concept was created on my laptop during a long Uber drive. I just felt inspired and knew I couldn’t let it slip.
Q: What do you like about creating lenses and seeing people use them?
A: I’ve been creating for as long as I can remember. From home videos to graphic design, to even some woodworking, I’ve done it all. AR is the first [tool] where people don’t just get to see my works, they get to experience them. They get to interact with them on a level unheard of in any other medium. I’m always looking for that “wow” moment when I see someone’s eyes light up after using one of my lenses.
Q: In what ways do your lenses currently use machine learning?
A: Many of my lenses use ML in some way or another. Whether it be a built-in segmentation texture, or a custom style transfer model, ML can always improve a lens. While I’ve technically been using machine learning in lenses since the start, my first lens to use SnapML, just days after it released, was “Paper Aesthetic,” a simple style transfer lens made to test out the new feature. After a few more days of experimenting, I released a “Rock, Paper, Scissors” lens where you compete against a bot using your actual hands to pick your symbol. I continued to create various SnapML lenses, including one which uses a banana texture to place you on a realistic looking banana.
Q: Did you build those ML models yourself?
A: During the early days of SnapML I almost exclusively used the Google Notebook provided by Snap, but since finding Fritz AI, I can’t think of any logical reason to go back to the Google workbook. Fritz is much more user friendly and produces higher quality models in a shorter time frame. (By the way, nobody told me to say any of that, those are my genuine, unbiased opinions!)
Q: As a Lens Studio Creator, what opportunities do you think a tool like SnapML provides?
A: SnapML provides the opportunity to step up your lenses to the next level of impressiveness. When paired with some creativity of your own, ML makes the impossible possible.
Q: Where do you see your career going — how important is it for you to be a digital creator?
A: For the past few months, being a lens creator has been my main form of income and quite literally puts food on the table for me. Being a digital creator is an inevitable part of my future, in some form or another, and I hope that being a Lens Creator will be something that will last forever. My Lens career is constantly evolving and I see no sign of it stopping.
Q: What projects are you currently working on?
I just released a lens using Fritz called “Wild Lines.” This lens uses their style transfer tools, and a custom shader I built within Lens Studio. I also have recently been working with makeup artist Carrie Esser (@makeupmadhouse) on a series of lenses based on their looks.