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We caught up with Caspar Thykier, CEO & Co-Founder of Zappar, to talk about how their AR-enabled product is bringing AR & VR creation to the masses.

With a background in marketing and advertising, having been a board director at AMV BBDO and COO at the PR company Freuds, Caspar became interested in the opportunities within augmented reality when he helped set up VEEMEE nine years ago. Unfazed by the obstacles in the way in the early 00s, Caspar and his team set about exploring AR experiences with the goal to get everyone equipped with the tools they need to create their own virtual reality and augmented reality experiences. We caught up with Caspar to talk about their work on Angry Birds, the AR versus VR celebrity death match and about how exactly they making them accessible to everyone.

Zappar Zappar

Q: What are you working on at the moment?

A: A lot! Generally, we’re working on making short-formaugmented reality and virtual reality experiences accessible to anyone on the planet through our ZapWorks authoring tool as part of our mission to democratise this tech and help deliver high quality bite-size content experiences to the world. We’ve got some super exciting new features in the pipeline over the coming months which we’re putting the finishing touches on right now.

Separately, as a studio we’re continuing to do work on some pretty epic initiatives with our broad roster ofpartners from Warner Bros. to Hasbro, Rovio, PEZ, Engen in South Africa, SIG and Crown in packaging, our work in education and much more

Q: Tell us more aboutZappar.

A: We aspire to make the best tools to deliver short-form AR and VR experiences to empower the next generation of digital creatives and help them capture the value in this growing digital ecosystem and deliver the best short-form content experiences (we call them ‘zaps’) made for the new canvas of mobile and headsets.

We've spent the last five years making these zaps ourselves through our studio with our own proprietary platform for brands and businesses around the world. Having seen what AR and VR are capable of in moving the needle for clients in terms of engagement and sales we wanted to open this opportunity to deliver value up to more creative people and set the tools free.

We’re really reimagining what content can look like on the new creative canvas of mobile in the new digital experience economy. It’s just a super exciting time. 

Q: What’s the story behind Zappar?

A: Zappar was started by four founders - Dr. Simon Taylor, Connell Gauld, Kirk Ewing and I. Simon wrote his PhD on image recognition on handheld devices whilst in the Engineering Department of the University of Cambridge. Connell (also from the Engineering Department at the University of Cambridge) then built the platform around Simon's algorithm. Kirk’s background is in games development and licensing world having worked on a number of Triple A titles for console and as an agent for people like Rockstar Games before he set up his own consultancy working with brands to navigate the gaming space.

What’s great is that we each bring a totally different set of skills to the table all of which are really important when trying to capture the value in augmented reality as a mass market consumer facing proposition and start a new business.

Q: Tell us more aboutZapWorks - how exactly are you bringing AR to the masses?

A: ZapWorks basically takes all our knowledge of creating short-form experiences made for mobile over the past five years and puts it into one simple to use, affordable, scalable and magical authoring tool.

We’ve had kids as young as eight make truly wonderful experiences as part of the education programs we run, all the way through to top end developers and designers delivering complex experiences in the fields of architecture, publishing, packaging, retail, healthcare, tours, marketing, events and more.

There are three different access points in ZapWorks through our Widget (Drag & Drop interface), Designer (think PowerPoint+) and Studio tools meaning there’s something for everyone.

A lot of the assets are created using existing tools that creatives and designers are familiar with already like Photoshop, Illustrator, Maya, 3D StudioMax etc. These can all be imported into ZapWorks where you can take advantage of our powerful timeline and animation tools to make really rich, expressive and immersive short-form experiences. You can think of Zappar as an 'Adobe for AR' really.

Even better you can preview these experiences in near real time and publish them over the air without the need for an app updated. 

We've now introduced the ability to create not onlyAR but also VR experiences using ZapWorks that can viewed in Google Cardboard (back to that democratisation point). And it all comes fully hosted with data analytics in one monthlysubscription if you’re a business or as little as £1.20 for personal use.

We want to make sure that anyone of any ability can access our tools to simply and quickly create rich experiences: whether you’re a big corporate, small business or bedroom coder. Because ultimately, it’s the content and end user experience that matters and not the technology.

Q: Tell us about yourAngry Birds project.

A: It’s been such a far-reaching initiative it’s hard to know where to start answering that. First of all it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with the team at Rovio. They’ve got innovation in their DNA and such an entrepreneurial spirit.

They had a grand vision and such amazing commitment to make the project happen.

Basically, they totally got the benefit of AR in connecting the physical world of things to digital devices: acting as a bridge between their physical touch-points for partner promotions, products, POS, print and packaging in support of the Angry Birds Movie and the Angry Birds Action app launches. But they went one further and integrated the technology into the game itself offering power-ups as part of the consumer pay-off along with exclusive photo features and mini games. So there was genuine value for everyone involved: from licensees to end users.

Our part was to create the custom “BirdCode” solution using our proprietary technology and ZapWorks to deliver a roster of content experiences for different partners around the world including McDonald’s, Lego, H&M, PEZ, Walmart, Peperami and more. With 1 billion BirdCodes released around the world, the level of integration and depth of experience I dare say it’s the biggest AR campaign to date. And seeing the results of the movie and the zaps it’s looking like all that collective hard work paid off big time. 

Q: Congratulations! So what excites you about VR & AR?

A: What excites us most as a business, is what other people will come up with using our tools having opened up the technology to the hands of the many rather than the few. The truth is that the script for VR and AR remains unwritten. As with all new platform revolutions there comes a point where it’s content which is king. There’s no point having a beautiful 4K TV if there’s nothing to watch on it. Then it’s just an expensive box. So the exciting thing for me is what the creative community will do with the tools to surprise and delight people.

Q: What’s the difference between VR & AR in your opinion?

A: That's simple. Context: VR and AR seem to always be put face-to-face in some sort of celebrity death match just because they share an ‘R’. Yet the occasion, use case and experiences are totally different. AR is about layering and integrating content within the real world using the camera view of a device. VR is about taking people to a totally different reality and space detached from the real world. That’s a pretty big difference and user experience. There’s no value judgement in my mind on which one is better or worse. They’re just totally different experiences and mediums to tell stories and impart information.

Q: How are these new formats going to change the way we consume content?

A: The reality is there are only so many hours in a day. We currently spend ten hours per day already consuming media in the UK (thanks to the guys ateMarketer for that fact). Our available time is maxing out yet the number of media outlets keeps going up and up. So there’s an increasing attention gap. What’s going to be fascinating is to see where VR and AR fit in the entire media landscape and what they will replace or add to daily routines. It’s worth also mentioning the plethora of really valuable enterprise use cases for both technologies in healthcare, engineering, aviation and education for instructional use that will be transformative. So this is more than just a consumer content play for entertainment. 

On the VR side, it remains quite a singular experience for now but as the form factor improves and we begin to see more mixed reality content in headsets that are more mobile and socially acceptable then things will get really interesting. But that’s a time horizon of about ten years from now.

I’m personally more excited about the present and what’s already possible witha phone, some cardboard and ZapWorks in both AR, MR and AR - but I would say that of course...

Q: So what’s your favourite use case of VR or AR, beyond your own excellent work of course.

A: I've got to say that theNew York Times Google Cardboard series is just groundbreaking on so many levels: the way they leveraged their subscriber base as a distribution method; their genuine commitment to reimagining journalism in 360 and not be afraid to test and learn. To see a big traditional newspaper business take this approach to VR and digital reporting has to be admired.

The other one I like for its simplicity and results is the work Thomas Cook have been doing in the UK to transform their retail stores into virtual try-before-you-buy destinations with Gear VR. This not only lets people experience destinations from their local mall, literally transporting them to the top of the Empire State Building, but also showed a genuine uptick in sales because of it. 

On the AR side, the greatest thrill is seeing people using our tools for their own projects all around the world from business to students and kids. That's the best feeling in the world that you’re powering other people's creativity. There's a company calledClueKeeper in the US based out of San Francisco who let their community create digital treasure hunts. They've taken ZapWorks into their platform to allow their users to make AR clues as part of their hunts. We'd never have thought of that! 

Q: Much like when film overtook theatre, directors, actors and writers had to find a whole new visual language crafting stories and characters through careful cinematography. What do you think the future visual language of VR/AR looks like / can you imagine how it’ll differ from film / other content forms?

A: That's the great thing. We're in a period of explosive creativity around AR and VR where the rules are being written and no one had the answers. I certainly can't claim to be an expert on this as our specialism is in short-form experiences rather than longer-form film making or games. But the significant difference I'd say is that with truly immersive VR you create presence for the user like never before. That freedom of movement and true sensory connection with the virtual world cascades a deeper sense of immersion and emotions. How (or to what extent) you control that narrative and journey with the right inputs and outputs requires a new set of skills.

For AR, the onset of Mixed Reality experiences that are truly integrated into a given location but contextually free from it are also fascinating and something we're already beginning to explore through Google Cardboard.

These new levels of immersion, interaction and presence in the experience are what will drive the new digital economy. A whole new generation of storytellers will be born.

Q: What’s next for Zappar?

A: WellZapWorks has got a really exciting roadmap of releases which I can't talk too much about yet.

Then we're also about to announce a brand new box of tricks for developers for larger scale interactions using ZapWorks (again, can’t really talk about it yet…).

There are also some really big initiatives we're doing in education, packaging, toys and entertainment. 

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