Danny is a great example of using creativity for applied technology and for simply having fun. As you’ll learn in our conversation, he’s utilizing AR technology to explore how it influences behavior and attitude through his work at the University of Oregon. He’s also using it to make zombies dance. Believe it or not, the two are directly related. Here’s Danny:
SNAP: How does AR play into your work?
Danny Pimentel: I’ve always been interested in stories—whether they’re communicated through music, games, or movies—and how they can change the way we see the world and our place in it. As an Assistant Professor of Immersive Media Psychology at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, I focus on how immersive storytelling, via AR/VR platforms, can influence our attitudes and behaviors in the context of social and environmental issues.
I’ve been building and testing various AR and VR experiences to connect audiences with issues like climate change for many years. I took part in Snap’s Creator Residency Program in 2020 where I learned to use Lens Studio to adapt some of my existing projects to AR. Since then, Lens Studio has been integral to my research efforts, allowing me to create AR experiences for use in lab and field experiments.
So, how does that lead you to Monster Mash?
My dissertation research focused on how we can use VR to embody story characters, and how that embodiment can influence our attitudes and behaviors towards issues affecting those characters. I was excited to find out that Lens Studio provided creators with a 3D Body Template, allowing me to start creating embodied experiences for Snap.
I had the idea of a Halloween-themed Lens that would leverage this feature. I grew up playing games like Diablo II, and I remembered how you could play as a Necromancer capable of summoning and controlling the dead. Then, I thought about how funny it would be to use that power for a totally ridiculous reason: dancing. Combine that with the spirit of the “Monster Mash” song and viola!
Why did you start creating Lenses?
My primary motivation was always to create Lenses that served both academic and applied purposes. From an academic perspective, I wanted to create Lenses that I could test and use in experimental research. For example, I created a Lens called “Penguin Rescue” that allows users to clean and rehabilitate an oil-slicked penguin in their kitchen. I then tested how that Lens influenced pro-environmental attitudes in an online experiment, finding that it did contribute to connection and concern for the species.
I also didn’t want these experiences to wither away in a lab or be buried in a research paper somewhere. So, from an applied perspective, creating these AR experiences as Snap Lenses allow global audiences to experience my stories, and hopefully connect them to some of the issues and events that are important to me and my community.
How do you want to continue to innovate using AR?
Broadly, I want to continue to build immersive storytelling experiences for Snapchat users that change the way they think about certain social and environmental issues. I believe that Lenses can (and should) be fun, but I also believe that it is our responsibility as innovators to create meaningful experiences that leave audiences informed and inspired. I also hope to collaborate with non-governmental organizations and other brands that may not consider AR as an optimal vehicle for their messaging. I think there is a great opportunity for organizations to enter the AR space and engage audiences with meaningful, interactive, and personalized content.
Building upon my current research, I hope to continue using Lens Studio to create new, engaging ways to communicate environmental issues to the masses. For example, I am currently developing an experience for Snap Spectacles that uses Lens Studio’s Ground Segmentation Template to transform the user’s space into an Antarctic environment. Users can interact with a virtual paleoclimatologist to learn how to extract ice cores, analyze them, and identify unique markers that signal changes in the earth’s climate over time. It’s just one example of how AR can be used to envelop audiences in an informative but engaging narrative.
What advice would you give to others looking to create new Lenses?
Think outside of the box. Challenge existing design paradigms. If you’re trying to adapt some of your projects from 2D or 3D to AR, it’s important to justify that transition. In other words, don’t create AR content for AR’s sake. Identify how adapting your message to an AR platform adds value to you and the user. Identify what’s unique about AR, and what features you will be leveraging to amplify your outcome, whether it’s learning or entertainment. Also, follow other AR creators on social. I’m constantly inspired by the artists who share their work online.
Why do you use Snap AR over other AR software?
Prototyping is so easy! I was able to execute ideas within a matter of minutes/hours. Because the pipeline to get a Lens out into the wild is so efficient, I was also able to share my experiences with my collaborators for immediate feedback. All they needed was a mobile phone and Snapchat; no headsets or additional hardware required. This significantly improved my workflow and meant I was able to fast-track the development for most of my research projects. Beyond that, there are so many resources to get started. As someone who is not a software engineer, I found the vast number of tutorials and templates to be extremely helpful. They truly set you up for success and allow you to quickly get those ideas on screen.
Lastly, a big selling point is the reach of Snapchat. Ultimately, I believe Lens Studio, and by extension Snapchat, is an incredible vehicle to reach millions of people, giving them short, but impactful and immersive storytelling experiences around important topics to encourage positive outcomes for the user and their community.