Piotar Boa is probably the man behind your favorite lenses. Known for his vast clientele list and innovative AR lenses, he’s a Lens Creator and Spark AR Partner and has worked with numerous brands to bring new AR experiences to millions of viewers. We caught up with the busy Italian to learn more about how he views the industry and what he hopes to see in the future.
Q: You’ve been doing AR work a long time, on different platforms (Spark AR, Lens Studio), and for both commercial and artistic purposes. How would you describe the differences between how you approach commercial work vs. creative work?
A: The main goal is always the same: give the users something new to express themselves and communicate what they feel [by] recording a video or taking a photo.
When I do creative work I always want to also share a new feature of Spark AR or Lens Studio to my audience and to the Creators community. It’s my way to “educate” / “teach” what it’s possible to achieve with AR or just to inspire people. I love when I see people using my filters/lenses to create a music video or to promote their local business or simply to engage with their friends.
At the beginning commercial work sometimes was really boring (creativity side talking) because brands didn’t want to [take] risks and they wanted to keep [things] simple, but after […] showing more cases studies my clients appreciated my work and trust[ed] me more and give me more freedom for the creativity.
Q: Where do you fit into things, when it comes to the spectrum between AR creativity for art and for commercial purposes?
A: I always prefer to talk with my clients and explain what works and what [doesn’t]. I have a large database of branded filters and lenses and this helped me a lot to understand how people use the AR experience and why. 90% of the time brands have no clue of that. They want a big, large logo on the screen and they are really optimistic because they would like to transform their followers into “human billboards.” But people are not dumb. So this is the first thing I teach to my clients.
The first thing I ask my clients is: “What’s your goal?” and according to their needs I try to create something special or with “Piotar Boa’s touch:” a new feature, a special 3D animation, a funny idea or a creativity never seen. I’m lucky because I’m Italian and I live in one of the most beautiful and inspiring countries and cultures of the world and this helps me a lot. At the same time I have been an entrepreneur for more than 25 years so I speak the same language of my clients and I know their needs and how they think.
Q: What do you see as the biggest barriers for getting brand and other commercial entities to engage more creatively with AR and MR?
A: The most important thing is that they didn’t understood that AR or MR is not another tool or software but “It’s a new platform” a “new internet” a “new world” where young generations are living, communicating, engaging, expressing who they are, and more and where they feel more comfortable to express themselves.
Marketing/decision makers inside the companies or the agencies really don’t know what AR is and what you can do [with it]. I worked with many big brands and agencies and our first calls were really embarrassing because I had to explain basic things to marketing people. How to solve this? Educating the clients and showing more case studies, more consulting or courses inside the marketing agencies.
People between 25–50 years old are using social media in an old school way: timeline, passive content, not using the camera to communicate or storytelling. They prefer to engage [by] typing on the keyboard and not opening the camera and recording a story using a filter or lens. I remember the first months in 2018 when I was testing filters in beta for Instagram, I struggled a lot to convince people to try filters. Many brands or Social Media Marketing agencies are too conservative and they prefer to not risk budget with new stuff that they are not able to manage internally.
Q : In what industries do you see the most potential for AR and MR experiences to become commonplace and/or accessible?
A: If I had to invest $100 million I would do it in these industries: Education, Gaming, Sports, Art Museums.
Q: You mentioned a common misconception about AR — that it’s just a new kind of software. Can you talk a bit more about that?
A: Sure. AR (XR) is not just a tool or software for creating digital images to be superimposed on reality. It is much more. I consider it a “new dimension” where everything can be augmented/enhanced with what you like without removing the reality that surrounds us.
It is a “new platform” where younger generations communicate and talk about themselves every day using the camera and they manage to involve even older friends or parents. If you notice the apps that are becoming popular among young people (10–19 years old) [they] are Snapchat, TikTok, Yubo, Sendit. For example, when you open Snapchat the first thing you see is “the camera” because the message Snapchat gives you is: “Come on, storytell yourself, use one of the beautiful lenses, record a video and send it to your friends or make it public.” Or TikTok invites you to participate in “challenges” using a particular theme or hashtag. They put the person at the center of the experience. They don’t invite the user to “look at what others are doing or what others have posted” … that is one option among many. Instead, Facebook and Instagram do the opposite, they make you more “voyeur” and passive.
It’s not a case that young people are spending more time on TikTok or Snapchat than Instagram or Facebook. And I hope they will change and revolutionize the old UI and UX of their apps. I don’t want to be misunderstood — I love Instagram and Facebook — but I would prefer that they were more modern and bold in the changes of UI and UX with new fresh ideas.
Q: What should current platforms for AR creation (i.e. Lens Studio, Spark AR, along with tools like Unity, Blender, Maya, etc.) be doing more of (or less of) to support both Creators and the commercial AR industry as a whole?
A: I think that all are doing a great job. I would like to [first] talk about Spark AR and Lens Studio. They are super. I love both. I started with Spark AR Studio in August 2017 and I had the privilege to work with awesome colleagues in the BETA phase and to contribute to the success of the AR in Zuckerberg’s ecosystem during the last three years. They introduced the Spark AR Partner Program to connect AR Creators with brands that want to have their own filter on Instagram and Facebook and I’m flattered to be the first and the only Italian Spark AR Partner.
Snapchat [is] the pioneer of AR and they introduced the first AR glasses (Spectacles). They always innovate with new super features like machine learning, 3D full body tracking, materials editor, tons of templates, and I really love it. They have an Official Lens Creator program with actually more than 200 professional Lens Creators with a verified badge on Snapchat.
What both are missing is one — in my opinion — really important thing: A good monetization program for creators. 90% of AR creators are pure artists, they really don’t like pitching to clients and dealing with contracts, lawyers, NDAs, banks, clients not respecting payment terms, etc. They would simply like to create, express what they feel, and have that visibility, that audience of people who follow and support them on social networks and who motivate them to create and innovate. They would prefer to be paid by the platform where they publish their AR filters or lenses and not by the users.
So the first platform that will truly understand the needs of creators and create a consistent model to pay them will win the challenge and move all the best creators to that platform.
Q: How would you compare AR to other digital experiences?
A: I prefer AR to VR for the reason that AR is not replacing your real world but “augmenting” and add[ing] new layers to your world. Sometimes you don’t like where you are living, your house, your furniture, and thanks to AR you can add what you really love and make you more happy or feel better. Or you can try on a new pair of sunglasses, or make up before going to buy them in store or online. It’s an experience where you are the main part because you can engage. It’s not a passive content like a photo or video where you simply watch it.
Q: You’ve said that you always start your more artistic work with a distinct focus on the end user — the person that will be interacting with the experience you create. Can you talk a bit more about that?
A: I like to give people a tool with which they can express themselves and their emotions or just add something cool to make them want to use the camera. A microphone to simulate a TV interview, or a silly AR filter with three mouths and big eyes to have fun with their friends, or a lens to make [the user] bald. My first goal is to make the user happy to use my AR experience, [and to] surprise and capture their attention.
Q: Are there any specific Lenses or AR filters of yours that you feel particularly proud of?
A: I created more than 300 AR filters and lenses so it’s very difficult to choose!
If I had to choose these maybe: Joker Mask on Instagram for the execution— I love the textures and the sound design. The Three Mouths on Instagram because I love to see people’s reactions using it. And Bald Skunk on Snapchat — it removes your hair and adds the tail of a skunk on your head.
Q: If you could make 2–3 wishes for the future of augmented and mixed reality — whether at the industry, platform, or experiential level — what would they be?
A: AR glasses for everyone so we can live new and super AR experiences. Fast and cheaper Internet connection worldwide, and consistent monetization models for AR creators.