All about CoastARs!

Last year I ran a little Kickstarter for little drink coasters that would display little AR characters! CoastARs are augmented reality drink coasters: you simply scan the QR code on the back of any CoastAR with your smartphone, then are taken to an in-browser (no extra apps necessary) AR experience where you can pick a World to view. Currently, there are three: Forest Friends, KitTEA Cats and ZillAR. Lots of visuals are up at the @CoastARs Instagram!

What is AR? Augmented reality is overlapping the real world with digital elements. In this case, the CoastARs work as recognizable marker for your phone’s camera, which then affixes the appropriate digital 3D asset to the marker. This is very different from VR, or virtual reality, which requires a headset and completely obscures your environment, putting you in a new place. 

CoastARs is possible thanks very much to the geniuses behind AR.js

Little did I know that I’d go from total Blender noob to helping friends to use it a year later. My process is to make front and side view sketches of a character, then model, rig, paint, and animate it. I feel like I’m constantly learning new techniques, a year after getting serious about CG for this project!

AR is super exciting to me, especially marker-based: having that physical tactile connection with the AR that is being generated actually does augment your experience of reality in a magical way. Manipulating AR with physical objects is a really natural way to play with the medium. I’ve found AR UIs can be bizarrely unwieldy. Much like animation, AR is an impossible medium: it lets the impossible come true, but goes further than that by actually putting it into your perceived reality! I look forward to what passthrough glasses will be like in a decade!

I’ve seen a lot of AR that plops an object into a space, but it lacks any context. Coming from an animated filmmaking background (heavy on narrative, which is context-dependent), I’m challenging myself to come up with non-location-specific AR that can bring its own context, or can be considered like a toy in that imaginative context is easy to apply (such as the ZillAR World). Depending on the holiday or seasons, there are automatic updates to some of the Worlds — for example, Christmastime was a hit with the Forest Friends and KitTEAs! Here is our old friend Snurffles all dressed up for Halloween:

For the different Worlds, I boiled down the ideas bouncing around in my head and distilled inspiration from Animal Crossing and Neko Atsume and all low-poly games of the 90’s. What would be fun to pose with a cup of tea? What would be fun to check in on multiple times a day? What would bring a sense of joy and comfort? I wanted the Worlds to feel alive– the Forest Friends are up to different activities depending on if it’s day or nighttime! One of the upcoming Worlds will be focused on cute foods– thinking about it from the perspective of “what would make a cute Instagram post?” tied in with foods appropriate for the time of day.

The last two years have been filled with the most immense life hardships I’ve ever had, so even making the time and having the energy to work on CoastARs was quite a challenge. But it’s at a good spot now, with updates coming along the way that I’m really excited for! It’s exhilarating to see someone playing with CoastARs for the first time, as most people have never played with physically-based AR! 

Of course, CoastARs are available for order in the US and will hopefully be popping up in art gallery gift shops soon!

Besides CoastARs, I have been professionally making Instagram Filters for large-name clients (WoW, Disney and Spotify to name a few). I really enjoy working in AR– there are so many amazing possibilities that would never have been dreamt up a decade ago! I hope to keep carrying these new possibilities forward with CoastARs.

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