Expressive AR Characters was an initiative I led at Facebook. The vision offered users a variety of memorable characters that they could transform into and also use to express themselves. The north star goal was to make these character experiences fully customizable and unique to so users could use them as their personal Avatar on video calls. The effort served as a major cross-functional work stream for developing facial tracking and other advanced persistent features on Facebook's Spark AR platform.
One of the biggest challenges faced with this initiative was creating new compelling characters and making the experience engaging with such limited tech specs. That led to concept-ing creative solutions in the base design and finding ways to build animations, materials procedurally.
When designing each of these experiences it was important that they felt unique and different from the character that proceeded it. Building in a narrative and adding more interactions led to users wanting more and more of these experiences (as evident in user research and metrics)
Werewolf was the very first Expressive Character that started it all. The initial goals were to bring more of the male youth demographic to the Facebook AR platform and also push the development of Facebook's AR Software, Spark. I worked closely with UXR and engineering to come inform my design, which went from a dark scary monster to silly cartoon. The final design is a bit of a blend of ideas aimed at mass appeal. Werewolf was the testbed for the development of Facial tracking, animation on Spark AR. The Werwolf transformation helped bring the blendshape feature to Spark and defined the topology for all future Spark face experiences.
Early Halloween Dragon Sketch Ideas
The goal was to create a more compelling character experience than Werewolf and also push the feature set of Spark AR. The biggest challenge Dragon faced was cramming all the features into a small file package. This led to generating the animated skin texture, fire effects all procedurally with code (by amazing tech artist Eric Larson)
Analytics and UXR indicated that users wanted more expressive characters. The goal with Pizza Face was to create a non humanoid character and also tell the transformation story in a new way. In Pizza Face, users saw their character emerge from a slice of Pizza that had slapped onto their face. The character disappeared after users ate the pizza off their face.
Pizza Face pushed the overall ability for users to emote facial expressions using FACS and paving the way for better face tracking tech on the Messenger platform. I worked closely with talented Tech Artist Josh Law on this project.
The goal with Zombie was to drive user engagement through expression. This character experience was the first to use additional blend shapes (FACS) to help enhance and push user's facial expressions. The result was the ability for users to actually manipulate the face of the character much more than they were in previous effects (Werewolf, Dragon).