Get ready for the era of augmented influencers

It’s a wet, bleak mid-January afternoon in lockdown. Yet, high above London’s sodden Edgware Road, in the bedroom of a seemingly unremarkable tower block, one tiny slice of the capital has been transformed. Daisies bloom in mid-air. A teddy bear, brought to life seconds ago, frantically paces the floor. Saturn’s rings orbit on the ceiling. A CGI turtle swims into shot as the walls turn the shade of the ocean deep.
The scene has been created in moments through augmented reality (AR), via a few clicks and scrolls from the Litho: a controller which possesses the power to summon the 3D visions and dreams of artists and free spirits. The conjurer of this feverish performance is Nat Martin, Litho’s 26-year-old inventor. “No one has proven that mobile AR has consistently worked before – most Pokémon Go players quickly switched off the function,” he says. “With this, you can explore the virtual world while interacting with real life.”
Fitted with an underside trackpad and motion sensors, Litho slots neatly between the fingers. That means users can manipulate the virtual world in one hand and, in the other, watch their creation through an iPhone – acting as the “AR glasses”. Via an accompanying app called Diorama, a library of props rendered by 3D artists can be dropped into a scene, then animated by being dragged through space. Objects can physically interact, too – in one scene, a passing bat swoops down to knock over a pyramid of CGI toilet rolls.

For DIY filmmakers and social media creators, the device unlocks a suite of special effects at their fingertips. “You can make high-quality CGI visuals,” explains Martin. “Currently, the alternative to Litho is very specific software which costs thousands of pounds and takes ages to learn.” It’s not a mere lockdown fad, either. “People may have more time to try it out right now, but all our trailers are filmed outdoors. It’s hard to make a great video in your bedroom – with AR, you’re limited by your reality.”
The iPhone’s video capabilities are already Hollywood quality – 2018’s Unsane, for instance, was shot by Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh on an iPhone 7 Plus. But up until now, visual effects have been out of reach for most. Martin believes Litho – and its Diorama filmmaking tool – will level the playing field. “Most of our engagement has been from TikTokers: 15-year-olds who put in so much effort into their content, but who are left frustrated by the in-built effects. They’re not pros and don’t want to buy expensive desktop software, so that’s where we’re seeing Litho the most so far – trippy TikTok videos.”
Martin made a prototype for the device by initially hooking up a gyroscope, magnetometer and an accelerometer to a Microsoft VR HoloLens, transforming his finger into a laser pointer. It became akin to a digital wand: a way of magicking up virtual interactions in his physical surroundings. “With VR headsets, you’re relying on hand trackers held unnaturally close to the face. With AR, you’re walking around outside, you experience your surroundings. And filmmaking leans into where the technology is right now – it’s a low-barrier to entry. No one wants to hold their phone up for hours on end in the real world.”
But the potential for Litho goes beyond influencers and viral memes. The device could, potentially, innovate filmmaking itself. “Crews could use it to wireframe on location and visualise how they want their CGI to look,” Martin says. “You could bring in props, upload them to Diorama, then animate them so you have a rough before post-production. As iPhones improve, people can create stuff on their mobile which has professional visual effects production.”
The device also has potential uses with AR itself. The pandemic has seen brands integrate the technology to better match the in-store experience during lockdown – for example, diamond rings which can be worn through your phone’s camera lens. Martin believes AR can be better used in the future. “Most of our digital interactions have nothing to do with space. The future of AR glasses will spatialise and integrate everything: [imagine] being able to walk down the street, look up and select your next song by dragging it towards you from over the horizon.” 

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