3D makes AR pop

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Bring your AR production to the next level with 3D by Guest Blogger Klaas Nienhuis 


Augmented Reality is 3D

But why don’t we see more great 3D content in AR productions? And why isn’t it easier to get a simple 3D model into an AR app?  You still need specialists to handle this and even then it’s hard to get right the first time. Let’s look into this and see how we can make it easy and straightforward to use 3D in your next AR production.

Two flavors

Augmented reality is getting more traction than ever. There are many flavors of AR productions out there but we can split them roughly into two categories. Simple AR interaction adds an extra layer to print media with images, movies and social sharing options. Complex AR productions built by agencies might contain game elements, 3D content, calls to action and tie in with other marketing deliverables.



High quality augmented reality generally includes 3D models.

Source: http://www.t-immersion.com/project-gallery/retail-innovative-tea-packaging-augmented-reality-co-sosro-heritage


Simpler augmented reality enhances print media with buttons. It’s mostly flat.

source: https://www.layar.com/news/blog/2012/10/03/philips-myshop-magazine-helps-readers-buy-from-print/

AR Creators

Many AR vendors offer tools to create these simple AR interactions. It’s easy enough to do it yourself. No special agency is needed. These tools, also dubbed “Creators” by some AR vendors, hide all complex tasks to the user. Talking to servers, uploading tracking images, programming interaction; it’s all taken care of. You just drag and drop your pages and buttons, the creator takes care of the rest. The downside is you’re limited to what the creator offers you. If you need to change the type of interaction, or want to add a 3D model you need to get your hands dirty.


AR builders/creators typically involve a drag&drop environment where you can place items onto pages.




Compared to the agency created AR experience, creator-built AR can be described as such:

  • simpler interaction
  • hardly any 3D content
  • very quick to produce in-house
  • cheap to build and publish
  • limited choice of AR interaction
  • depending on the vendor, less customizable in terms of branding

Looking at custom created AR experiences, it seems there’s almost always a 3D element. 3D models, static or animated can greatly enhance your story. This makes sense. AR is after all an enhancement of the world around us, which is 3D itself. It’s only fitting to leverage that capability in every AR production, also the ones built by a creator. 3D will bring an extra kick into any AR production. In marketing speak: it will make them pop.

Getting a 3D model, present time

You want to have a 3D model for your AR production. Nothing fancy, it has to look good, run smoothly on smartphones and be compatible with your AR app. How hard can that be, right?

You find a guy who can build the model. He sends it over, then what? You upload it somewhere and link it in your AR app. How does that work? Asking the 3D guy doesn’t help. He knows 3D, but that doesn’t mean he knows the specific AR app you’re using.

Then the app doesn’t accept the model. You need to convert it into some other fileformat you’ve never heard of. Textures missing? Try again!

Finally your model is in the app. You open it and the app crashes. It’s too heavy for your phone, or so it seems. You ask the 3D guy to make it lighter. He tells you you’ll lose details and essential features.

In the end your model looks horrible, the 3D guy is unhappy and you’re disappointed. Sounds familiar?

Closing the gap

There’s a gap in this situation. You have no technical knowledge of the AR engine and can’t build a 3D model. You just operate the creator and publish the AR production. The 3D producer on the other hand doesn’t know your AR engine but knows how to build a 3D model. There’s nobody who bridges the gap between 3D modeling and the AR engine. I’d argue that we only need a few tools to enable you and the 3D producer to work together effectively and create great 3D powered AR productions.


Placing one single 3D model on a page with Layar involves a bit of code and an ftp-server. Neither you, the marketeer, nor the 3D guy knows how to write this.

We need a tool to help the 3D producer tune the 3D content to the AR app you’re using. It should also handle all of the tedious exporting, conversion and uploading of the 3D model. This saves time and makes iterations faster.

You need to be able to preview and test the 3D model, just like most creators let you preview your AR content before publishing. Ideally, the creator pulls the 3D models in from the 3D producer through an API and the 3D models are hosted, at least temporarily, on servers operated by the AR vendor. This avoids having to set up your own hosting and messing around with ftp servers.

Getting a 3D model, my vision

You still want a 3D model for your AR production. You set up a new project in your AR creator. This project generates a unique code. You send this code to your 3D producer. The 3D producer builds the 3D model and uses a unique AR toolset right within his 3D modeling software. This toolset enables him to preview the 3D model on the targeted platform (e.g. smartphone or tablet).

When he’s satisfied with the quality and performance of the 3D model he uses the AR toolset to send the 3D model directly into your project in the AR creator. All exporting, conversion and uploading is handled by the toolset. He uses the unique code you’ve sent him to link with your AR project.

Once the model is received, while working in your AR creator, you can drag the 3D model right onto your page and preview it. Easy!

Find out about this exact workflow on www.klaasnienhuis.nl

Win, win, win

In the end everyone benefits. The marketeer has easy access to 3D content for his AR productions which make him stand out and increase exposure. The 3D producer is able to easily sell its 3D models to a new market and increase revenue. Finally the AR vendor can add features for which it could charge: enabling 3D in creator-built AR and hosting 3D models.

About Klaas Nienhuis


Klaas Nienhuis is a 3D specialist with over 10 years of experience in visualization, augmented reality and programming. He has his own company which focuses on bridging 3D software to mobile or online platforms such as Augment or Sketchfab. He’s passionate about 3D and loves to help people make the most of 3D models, online, in apps or in webshops.

Find him here:

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  1. says

    Totally agree! 3D models and animations add the wow factor and draw people in a lot more than 2D.

    Take a look at Metaio’s Creator. We use Metaio ourselves and it’s what we recommend to customers. Adding 3D content is as easy as drag and drop. No need to code. You can add models with animation and choose when the different animations run in a simple properties section by right clicking on the model.

    There are some great tutorials at dev.metaio.com for those interested. They provide fully functional software for free with watermarks and you can pay at varying levels to remove it. Creator is pretty cheap considering what you can do with it.

    We used Creator in our current project to manage and build the content aspects then exported the files to be uploaded into the SDK. It’s very handy and quick. Highly recommended.

  2. says

    Thanks, Klaas for this excellent tutorial.
    I think that it might be beneficial for there to be another article/page of some type to which you can point (I will propose a example below) that describes how to use other 3D assets: the real world.
    Everyday, the entire physical world is starring us in the face, in 3D.
    AR systems must not only project/present 3D digital assets into the world on 2D (planar objects). They must ALSO capture and “understand ” the pose of the user with respect to 3D objects.
    To do this we need two things:
    – better 3D capture systems. These are coming along very nicely in the research community and I’m told that we will be seeing examples introduced later this month at Mobile World Congress. It’s not an easy science so it will be exciting when we can use our wearable computers to capture the world!
    – 3D models of the physical world that can be stored in digital worlds to recognize and match the 3D captured content.
    A project I developed three years ago in the city of Basel took 3D models of the city center so that visitors could use their 3D-capture-enabled devices to recognize the real world and produce immersive experiences. I was too early but here is a page that describes how 3D models could help produce better AR experiences: http://www.perey.com/AugmentedRealityForBasel/3d-models-and-ar-in-basel/

    • says

      Hi Christine,
      That’s a great article you’re linking to. Indeed my workflow is aimed at current AR software which mainly augments flat surfaces. Though I guess Metaio is a bit further ahead.
      I think with the progress of citymodels, laserscans and photogrammetry the ideas you’re describing in your article are getting closer and closer.
      You’re also describing the gap between AR users and 3D users, which is exactly my point as well.

    • says

      Hi Nadia,
      The link between your producer and ar platform is very direct indeed. Although the workflow and target audience is a bit different than what I’m aiming at, the idea to bring 3D content into AR without a hassle has been implemented nicely. Develop once, deploy everywhere is my motto as well!
      Does your app need the 2D markers for tracking, or does it also work with tracking the 3D object alone?

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