Atomic Digital Design, the start-up behind your Snapchat and Instagram filters

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Posted on Apr 14, 2021, 5:00 PMUpdated Apr 14, 2021, 5:02 PM

On the world market, they are only ten. In Europe, there are two. And in France… one. So when brands want filters on social networks in their image or that of their products, they call on Atomic Digital Design. Launched in 2012 by two 3D designers Antoine Vu and Gabriel Picard, this start-up imagines, designs and manufactures the augmented reality commercial filters found on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and more recently TikTok. The French company works with the biggest: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Citroën, Dior, Lacoste, Lancôme, Piaget, Ralph Lauren… or even the two rappers from PNL.

Prestigious names (and contracts) accumulate, yet the atmosphere in offices located in the heart of the capital still seems good-natured. Everyone uses “tu. The decor is warm, the average age young and the open space sprawling. Without a doubt, we are in the premises of a start-up. ” I make you visit ? “, asks Antoine Vu, the cheerful and relaxed CEO of this company.

A digital twin in 3D

Very quickly, we discover a curious machine, the little gem of in-house technology called “GenARation”. This is a 3D scan that allows with a single camera to capture an object from all angles. When we get the demo, it’s the basketball designed by Kanye West (yes, yes, the one that the whole Internet tore the minute he put them on sale) which rotates very slightly with each click of the camera. . When all the snapshots have been taken, a computer scans them and recreates the object virtually. ” Once dematerialized, we can make it do what we want “, explains the 33-year-old entrepreneur. This is the principle of augmented reality: introducing 3D elements into a real environment.

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“GenARation” allows any object to be digitized using a single camera.M. S.-R.

That day, Atomic employees are a little more than fifteen on site. In less than three years, the company has more than doubled its workforce, from twelve in 2018 to ” thirty “ today. Amidst the wheeled chairs, Ponyo, the company’s little gray dog, walks. “It’s a bit like our mascot”, Antoine Vu smiles before hugging him.

The real “boss” is the end user

Humanly, the tasks are well distributed. At the start of the chain, there are designers dedicated to user experience because “He’s the boss, the real customer”, emphasizes the CEO. To stimulate their imaginations, Atomic even invented a card game. “A person draws a card, for example ‘from the hands’ and immediately, he must propose a feasible interaction on Snapchat with that part of the body”, explains Antoine Vu, placing each of them on a table. If the idea is popular, it is then processed by the graphic designers who will collect the “assets”, ie the elements that will make up the augmented reality filter. Finally, the programmers intervene who translate everything into computer language.

To make this kind of filter, it takes about a month. The Atomic teams are working on around ten projects simultaneously. “Sometimes, some brands ask us for several filters for different products, adapted to different channels, be it Snapchat or Instagram, specifies the entrepreneur. Each social network has its technological and usage specificities. “ In total, the young shoot has manufactured more than 200 since the integration of this technology on social networks in 2018.

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Figures of superheroes, Pokémon or even manga are scattered between the two floors.

Figures of superheroes, Pokémon or even manga are scattered between the two floors.M. S.-R.

Five-figure contracts

As a precaution, the CEO does not want to communicate on his turnover. But the contracts signed would be five figures, he slips us. Atomic is surfing in a booming market – by 2025, the augmented and virtual reality market is expected to weigh more than $ 10 billion according to estimates by Omdia. Another factor: the second largest community of Snapchatteurs is French with more than 16 million daily users. “Even if Facebook, Instagram and more recently TikTok are getting started, Snapchat remains a precursor”, emphasizes Antoine Vu.

It is on this last channel that they measure their success. When on average users spend only 10 to 15 seconds on conventional filters, they would stay around 26 seconds on those designed by Atomic. “That’s why they’re coming to pick us up!” “ Brands thus manage to create a privileged relationship with their customers, who live ” an experiment “, in the words of the entrepreneur. In short, whether the user buys the product or not, the brand image is well established.

My agency, my studio

The key to this success? The mix of genres that reigns at Atomic. Part-agency, part-studio, the company uses techniques proven by cinema, especially for animated films and others used by the video game industry to adapt them to the wonderful world of social networks. Result: for each brand, and therefore each filter, they manage to do “hand-sewn”.

This hybridization results from the personal journeys of its two founders. Trained at the Internet and Multimedia Institute (IMM), Antoine Vu and Gabriel Picard worked for the Illumination studio on the film “Me, ugly and bad” but also at Ubisoft, the world leader in video games. ” Everything was going very well, but the desire to undertake was stronger “, remembers the first. When asked what more we can wish them, all smiles, and settled between a plush Pikachu, another from Angry Birds and a spider man figurine, Antoine Vu answers tit for tat: “That we continue to do what we love. But if Gab, my co-founder, was there, he would say, ‘Let’s work with Jay-Z! ”

To note

When we speak of “3D filter” or “augmented reality filter”, the use of the word “filter” can be confusing since it is technologically much more than a simple layer that is added. to the image captured by the camera.

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The most suitable term is the English word “lens”, and to be even more accurate about the products created by Atomic Digital Design, we should use the English expression “AR lens”, literally in French “augmented reality lens” .

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