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Expert View: Exploring Dreams through [AR]T

How AR Artists in Residence Are Shaping Project Aero

By Stefano Corazza, Fellow and Head of Augmented Reality, Adobe

Immersive media is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and already changing our everyday interactions. And in the creative world, artists are starting to show us what a powerful tool augmented reality (AR) can be for storytelling. Adobe has always pushed the boundaries of innovation, collaborated with our community, and embraced new storytelling mediums to broaden creative expression. Given AR’s potential to transform experiences of the future, we decided to bring artists in to Adobe even before we had an AR product in development to help us reimagine it.

Given AR’s potential to transform experiences of the future, we decided to bring artists into Adobe even before we had an AR product in development to help us reimagine it Click To Tweet

Immersive media is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and already changing our everyday interactions Click To Tweet We began the Adobe AR Residency program two years ago to support two artists at a time to spend three months exploring and creating whatever they can dream of in AR. As part of the residency, artists share feedback and ideas directly with the engineers, designers, and product managers behind the development of Project Aero (currently in private beta), Adobe’s AR authoring solution.

There’s inherent tension between artists’ blue-sky thinking and a product team with a roadmap Click To Tweet
A Residency for experimentation, play, and imagining the future

Adobe’s AR Residency grew out of our collaborative community approach to product development, which prioritizes learning with our artists and designers rather than assuming what they’ll need. We created the residency as a space for curiosity, innovation, and disruption, and as an invitation to members of the creative community to show us how they work. The collaboration has been especially foundational for shaping the development of Project Aero.

“AR is unique because it’s uncharted territory,” says George Zisiadis, Adobe’s AR Residency curator. “There’s no history here. The culture and the industry are making it up as we go.”

Artists add just the right perspective for imagining where AR is headed, says David Montero, one of the lead designers for Project Aero. “To us, one of the best assets that artists provide, other than being creative for a living, is that they don’t have an agenda or a roadmap. They’re free to explore, and this is really important when you’re in the early stages, still getting an understanding of the space.”

Adobe’s AR Residency grew out of our collaborative community approach to product development Click To Tweet
A day in the AR Residency life

Adobe’s artists in residence are all interested in incorporating AR into their work, but they run the gamut from experienced folks who’ve been working with AR since the beginning, to enthusiastic creatives who are trying AR for the first time. Residents work remotely, but once a week they join a meeting to share a new project, and talk about their learnings, challenges, and technical requests.

“It’s an artist’s job to reflect society, so along with their creativity, they bring insights into cultural impacts that we might not see,” says Silka Miesnieks, head of emerging design for Adobe. “During our weekly meetings, we can all get out of our silos and see the whole picture of where AR is going. It’s a beautiful thing.”

The residents’ projects also give the Project Aero team the real-time feedback to investigate how artists are using the tools. “First, I work backward, analyzing the artist’s intent and the features they used,” says David. “Then I work forward. I ask, ‘If Aero offered this, how would the work change? What could this artist achieve if we had more features?’”

During our weekly meetings, we can all get out of our silos and see the whole picture of where AR is going. It’s a beautiful thing Click To Tweet
The discoveries, so far

Some of the discoveries from the AR Residency come from practical, ah-ha moments about the artists’ pain points when they’re creating in AR. For example, one resident told the design team that she needed to lock an axis so she could orient her work in space. Project Aero allows users to lock objects, but not specific parameters—it just wasn’t something the product team had considered.

The Residency is also revealing a lot about how the right immersive tools can push artists’ creativity. Take Marjan Moghaddam’s work – she came to the residency as an established mixed-reality artist, but her workflow was time-consuming and cumbersome.

“My process didn’t allow for a lot of spontaneity or creative play,” she explains. “I was immediately blown away by the idea of having an AR editing tool on a mobile device that I could walk around with. I loved the spontaneity. It allowed me to come up with ideas I never would have thought of before.”

We’re also seeing new possibilities for what artists will create with AR. For example, Dan Mumford, an artist who participated in the Adobe AR residency last year, usually works in 2D print design. During his residency, he took his existing style, separated his work into Photoshop layers, and created AR posters with tunnels viewers could walk through to experience the depth and atmosphere of the piece.

“One of the most enjoyable aspects of this program was being able to explore new ideas and techniques. The focus wasn’t on producing a finished piece – it was an all-out exploration, which made me realize I need to make more time to do this in my daily work,” Dan says.

Bringing all the voices together

At its core, the AR Residency is about working hand-in-hand with artists to build the best tools for the people who’ll use them.

“There’s inherent tension between artists’ blue-sky thinking and a product team with a roadmap,” says George. “It’s our job to build a meaningful dialogue between the two. It’s not just about listening to users. It’s about looking to the artists as visionaries and giving them the chance to engage with their toolmakers as peers. In the end, we’re all coming out of this better than we were when we went in.”

If you’re in San Francisco, register to attend our second installment of the Festival of the Impossible, featuring immersive art installations, on September 26-29, 2019. Explore projects from our first ten AR Residents (and learn more about the AR Residency and how to apply) here, and stay tuned for updates on Project Aero here.