How to become an: Augmented and Virtual Reality Developer
Design Week: What is an augmented reality developer (AR) or virtual reality developer (VR)?
Pip Fazakerley – We take the ideas of our clients for interactive and immersive pieces and translate them to AR. This allows us to add or modify objects. VR can also be used to transport users to new places or allow them to experience things that are impossible in the real world.
Sometimes we work on small pieces that aren’t always visible to the public, such as conferences or internal meetings. Clients might wish to make their ideas, such as a new campaign or product, more appealing for their clients or peers.
DW: What is your educational background?
PF: It has almost nothing to do my current employment. I quit school after the first year AS Levels in photography. After graduating from AS Levels in photography, I moved to Denmark to pursue a degree at an international school that has a looser structure.
After that I started looking for jobs in game development. Then, I learned character and abstract animation in 3D. Programming and 3D animation are my own hobbies.
DW: How has your career path been so far?
PF: I was eventually offered an internship at Framework Creatives in London. It was a position in 3D modeling, creating assets for their visuals. They were surprised to find that I was faster than expected and hired me after my internship ended. Although it was almost a decade ago, there were only three other people at that time producing 3D visuals for events or museum exhibits.
I have become more independent and can now take on client’s jobs myself. We only have a few clients so people can get to know specific people and understand their needs.
DW: Is the job creatively challenging?
PF: Yes, but sometimes in unexpected ways. We often translate a client’s abstract goals and desires into technology that is practical and affordable.
AR and VR apps require you to move about and pay attention. Lighting can cause problems. Customers are asking for a lot so we make sure that clients can accomplish what they want in video.
DW: What are your strengths as an AR/VR developer?
PF: Problem-solving. There are many bugs in interactive programming so you need to find a way around them. This can be difficult and require creative thinking. Software that we use can sometimes go wrong and it can be difficult to pinpoint the root cause.
For design, you need to think laterally. It’s possible to take a 2D design that has only been on packaging and not think about how it would look in an interactive way. It can be difficult to translate it into 3D so it looks consistent across both mediums.
DW: What are your favorite parts about your job?
PF: Giving a prototype to a colleague, and watching the joy people feel about what you have made.
It was a long-term project. I was creating an interactive Android app that creates 3D trees on a flat surface. You can tap on the trees to make them move, and occasionally birds may fly out. It was a crazy idea that I presented to a designer.
Design is also something I enjoy. Interactive design requires that the user does what you want. That’s an interesting aspect of the job.
DW: What are some highlights of the show?
PF: The first interactive VR piece that we made was for a chiropractic clinic. It was one of my favorite projects. The VR spine was created so that patients could see a room with a model of their spine or a spine in it. The VR was accessible to the practitioner, who could manipulate the spine to match the patient’s position. We created systems to highlight specific vertebrae. This allowed us to compare the spine of a healthy patient with ours and show how the prescribed exercises can help improve the patient’s structure.
Patients have asked for the ability to go back in the VR world to view their progress.
DW: How have VR/AR’s popularity changed in your career?
PF: The equipment is more readily available, but it varies. We used to offer virtual reality for clients as an added value and would loan them a headset so that they could use it.
Many clients purchased the equipment themselves. We do a VR piece every year for IKEA UK. They bought 60 VR headsets and when they produce content, they bring them out of storage. Then, we upload the footage and content to their website so they can put it up for public use.
AR is being integrated into smartphones. This means that you can now add objects to the phone’s camera. We could, for example, animate the cereal box packaging so that it is replaced by an animation. You can also add pre-defined objects like IKEA, where you can place furniture in the right scale and into the room.
DW: What is the worst part of your job?
PF: Sometimes bug fixing can take up to a full day.
It’s not always that difficult in terms of design. Programming is an open field that allows you to find a solution. However, sometimes it’s impossible to predict how a user will interact with your app.
We had recently a screen that was used as a start screen for an application. It featured a large button with writing and said: “Press here to begin the experience.” People pressed the text button instead. The button wasn’t obvious enough. As we gain more experience, we are better equipped to anticipate problems. We also include options in the programming early so that we always have an alternative.
DW: What would you look for in a junior AR/VR developer?
PF: This is a lot about lateral thinking and problem solving ability. It is essential to be able to translate the needs of clients into something that a user can interact.
A portfolio with a few pieces is also a great idea. They can be interactive and easy to access. One great example is to take a very basic game like Tetris, and make your own version. It is a sign of a good understanding of interactive design tools and the ability to recognize your end product if someone continues to work on your project.
DW: What advice would you give to people who are considering working in AR/VR Development?
PF: The software can be downloaded and used for free. If you are interested enough, you may already own the equipment. You will need a computer and a smartphone.
You have all the information you need. Start making things and, most importantly, finish them. You don’t need a lot of unfinished projects. Just get an idea and build it. It’s important to understand the end of a project, as it is quite different from the fun beginning stages.
DW: How is the AR/VR development job market?
PF: Apple and Google both have AR systems built into their phones. They’re big believers in this medium and somebody will need to create their content. Google is more likely to create a YouTube-like tool to produce content.
The role of AR/VR designer has not been well-defined. It’s often paired with other app development roles – if your goal is to be an AR evangelist, you should look at these roles and see how you can contribute.
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