19 August 2019

Masks and Filters

Everything you need to know about AR effects
on Facebook and Instagram

Yaroslav Kaplan
Most likely, you recently came across a photo, either in your news feed or stories of friends with digital objects superimposed on their faces. All of these dog ears, funny glasses and hats are called AR effects and they are gradually becoming an important part of the content we see on Facebook and Instagram.

In this article, we take a closer look at masks and filters and we will also tell you how to use them for marketing purposes.


What is it and where did it come from?
Where to find AR effects?
What kinds of effects are there?
How are AR effects used for business?
How much does it cost to create an AR effect?

1. What is it and where did it come from?
The purpose of the effects is to diversify the users' photos and videos on social networks via digital content in augmented reality.

AR filters and masks first appeared on Snapchat after they absorbed the Ukrainian startup Looksery in 2015. Facebook decided to keep up and bought the Belarusian company MSQRD that the very same year. We previously wrote about this.

In this article, we will focus specifically on Facebook and Instagram, and leave Snapchat for another time.

AR effects first appeared for Facebook’s in-app camera. At the end of 2017, the company released special software, called AR Studio (today known as Spark AR), as well as a series of instructional lessons to encourage artists around the world to create and upload their effects.
Facebook AR Studio, Marc Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg introduces the AR Studio at the F8 conference in 2017
Masks and filters are used for photos and videos (where stories reign supreme), therefore this functionality did not become particularly popular among Facebook users. Most of the stories on it are reposts from Instagram, and Facebook’s main content is still texts.

By the way, as you know, Instagram belongs to Facebook, so the appearance of AR effects in it was also a matter of time, especially if we take into account the social network’s focus on visual rather than textual content.

At first, filters and masks were published exclusively by Instagram itself, and access for third-party artists was restricted. Only in February 2019, we saw the launch of closed beta — limited access to the publication of AR effects for select authors. This was only for non-commercial use, meaning that mentioning a particular brand was prohibited.
After a while, the first effects from external artists began to appear on Instagram. Among them, for example, Johanna Jaskowska and Marc Wakefield. They published their art effects with all kinds of modulations and animations and earned thousands of subscribers because if you want to try on a mask you have to follow its creator.
On August 13, 2019, the beta mode was finally completed and anyone could get the opportunity to publish their creations not only on Facebook but also on Instagram.
2. Where to find AR effects?
There are several places where you can find and use AR filters and masks. A limited number of them are immediately available in the carousel at the bottom of the Facebook and Instagram camera interface.
Facebook AR маска Instagram AR фильтр Instagram AR маска
In the Facebook camera, "native" effects from the company’s developers will be available, as well as effects published on behalf of the pages to which you are subscribed. Additional effects will appear in the carousel if you upload a new author page, or follow a direct link that can only be given by the developer of the effect.
The following is an example of an AR mask link for FC Barcelona fans.
If we look at Instagram, similar mechanics work. In the carousel of the camera interface, you will find a number of predefined effects from the developers of the platform, as well as custom effects from the accounts that you follow. New effects are added to the carousel when you subscribe to its author.

The difference from Facebook is the ability to add an effect after you see it in someone’s story. There is a dedicated button for this.
Interface to add AR masks from stories on Instagram
Unlike Facebook, Instagram has a search feature in the effects catalog, even though it is currently available only to accounts that were registered in beta. If you have one, then scroll through the carousel all the way to the far right until you see the button that will take you to the catalog.
Interface to add AR masks from stories on Instagram
The catalog currently contains 14 headings, including Selfie, Love, Color & Light, Funny, etc. In each section, there are only a few dozen effects, which, of course, is only a fraction of their actual number. We do not know for sure the algorithms Instagram uses to add certain effects to the category. Search by effects, as well as the share function, are not yet available. It is likely that this obvious functionality will be added in the near future.
AR effects gallery on Instagram
And finally, let’s talk about the Lenslist service, whose authors collect AR effects for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. The effects are divided into categories, the best of them from famous artists are displayed on the main page, and on their blog, you can find a lot of useful information about filters and masks. In general, we recommend checking out Lenslist for inspiration, as well as following it on Facebook and Instagram.
3. What kinds of effects are there?
All modern smartphones have two cameras — one on the front and on the back. Each of them has its own types of AR effects.

Front-facing camera:
A) A facial mask is the most popular type of effect. The camera imposes an invisible grid on the face, which replicates its shape so that the mask fits as accurately as possible. You can apply several layers, for example, to smooth the skin and add tattooing.
B) 3D object. Everything that we wear on our heads in real life can be "worn" in augmented reality. Earrings, glasses, hats, etc. are superimposed on an invisible skull (similar to the grid mentioned in the paragraph above) over a real head. Thanks to this, the user can turn their head, and AR content will follow them.
C) Gestures and facial expressions. The front-facing camera is able to distinguish between a head tilt, mouth opening, raising your eyebrows and closing your eyes. Any of these actions can cause animation in the AR effect to achieve interactivity and greater user engagement. Gestures in effect games are especially popular when the user needs, for example, to control the gaming element with their head.
D) Background replacement. If the goal is to transfer the user to a special space or surroundings, Spark AR can replace the background behind the user. For example, weather reports are made in a similar way.
E) Hands tracking. In one of the latest Spark AR updates, palm recognition functionality was added. There are still few effects where it is used, but there is definitely a potential for such a solution.
Very often, the above methods are used in tandem and color correction and light filters are superimposed. In general, the functionality of creativity is quite extensive.

Rear-facing Camera:
AR effects can be applied not only to the face but also to the outside world. There are two ways of doing this:

A) Scan the marker. Our studio, for example, used the Ukrainian biometric passport as a marker to reproduce on it the brand Ukraine NOW.
B) Set the 3D object on a horizontal surface. In this case, no marker is needed, the camera itself determines where the "ground" is and places an AR object on it.
4. How AR effects are used for business?
With the advent of AR effects, more and more brands started including them in their advertising campaigns. The brands producing cosmetics, clothing, drinks, and food stand out particularly.

Some companies even got early access to the functionality of purchases through Instagram. For example, when you see a Ray-Ban post in the news feed, you can click on a product and try on the model of sunglasses. If you liked what you see, you could buy them with one click.
But even without the instant purchase option, AR effects can be an effective tool for engaging the audience. Our studio made the effect of an astronaut on the lunar surface for a company that is engaged in space technology, as well as masks of the ancient Greek gods for the corporate party of a pharmaceutical company.
Would you like to create your own AR mask or filter? Let our studio take care of this for you!
5. How much does it cost to create an AR effect?
As with any other software product, the price and terms of implementation depend on its complexity. The cost of the base mask without any 3D models will start at $ 100. Having said this, a complex AR game can have a budget of several thousand dollars.

However, complex does not always mean efficient. The goal of creating a mask or filter is to attract an audience and form positive emotions inside them. You do not necessarily have to create complex effects with many functions to accomplish this.

It is recommended to minimize the manifestation of the brand in the effect itself. Obviously, few people would like to share a video with a logo on their foreheads in stories. Therefore, in order to create a successful mask, the most important thing is the creativity and understanding of the value for the consumer.
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Тэги: Facebook, Instagram, stories, augmented reality, AR mask, AR filter, Spark AR, Snapchat, Lenses