Snap Lens Academy: CHAZ AR
Brought together by racial justice, CHAZ AR celebrates art and community through interactive AR experiences.
July – August 2022
• Project Manager
• Graphic Designer
• Motion Graphics
Snap Lens Prompt: Racial Justice
As a way to demonstrate the skills we learned in Lens Studio, Blender, Photoshop, and After Effects from June to July, we were split into groups of 3 and given prompts relating to social issues.
How can we create a Snap lens about racial justice?
We wanted to develop an impactful lens that could not be taken out of context, since our topic was a serious and sensitive one.
We decided to immortalize Seattle’s temporary Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ for short, of June 2020 through AR (Additionally, CHAZ is also known as Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or CHOP). We believe that focusing on positive things that come out of communities when brought together would be the way to go, because it demonstrates how people support and lift each other up when faced with hardship.
It occurred to me that in situations like natural disasters, protests, and police brutality, communities are often brought together, in spite of the hardship they’re facing. This made us realize that focusing on the strengths and what can be achieved when brought together would be the best way to navigate racial justice in a powerful way, while making it difficult to be taken out of context.
Kyle brought up that in June 2020, he had participated in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, in Seattle, Washington. We really liked the idea of CHAZ, and both Kamili and I already knew about it, so we decided to recreate it in AR!
Throughout June 2020, Kyle took various photos and videos of the protests, activities, and art of the community, so we used his documentation as a guide.
CHAZ consisted of a 4 block radius. Based on Kyle’s participation, he emphasized the importance of several significant areas, such as a spot with couches placed on the street where volunteers discussed their next plan of action; a garden spot, where BIPOC people could cultivate and harvest fresh produce; and the medic spot, where volunteers offered medical help to protestors and other volunteers.
We took these three areas of interest, and condensed the original 4 blocks of CHAZ into 1 block for our AR environment. We then sectioned out the area on a map, which helped us identify which spots the art and significant areas would be placed.
Something we had thought about was possibly explaining why CHAZ only lasted about a month. Security was the biggest issue, since at 3 weeks in, there had been shootings, however no fatalities. Volunteers started to leave since they felt unsafe, and eventually the police came, demanding that the area be evacuated. Ideally, we wanted to include this, but we needed a clever plan because this was definitely something people could take out of context.
After several days of going back and forth on the idea, we decided due to limiting time and complexity of the subject, that it would be best to leave it out and solely focus on the art and community brought together.
Brainstorming more, I sketched out some potential directions we could go, starting at CHAZ’s entrance. Soon after, we decided to just start the lens already inside CHAZ so the user could be immediately immersed.
We gathered various powerful images to tell CHAZ’s story such as sidewalk art, murals, signs, and graffiti made up the images we chose. I then enhanced them and took out the background on Photoshop so they could be placed accordingly.
Our final AR environment, mostly constructed by Kyle in Blender (Kamili and I did minor modeling, like small objects), included various street art pieces and the three main areas of CHAZ; the Discussion Spot, The Garden, and The Medic Spot. I was really impressed by his use of a panoramic shot for the background!
The result of our final lens is a complete AR environment that immerses the user in CHAZ, during June 2020.
Once the bulk of our lens was developed, I began planning our video. I wanted to tell CHAZ’s story through our video, not just our Snap lens. I began by writing the script to explain the context and then gathered all the images I needed; the graffiti and street art we used, recordings and screenshots of the AR environment, and most importantly, a captivating story that grabs peoples’ attention through their emotions.
I made sure to give special attention to the wording and while recording the narration, made sure to emphasize tone in certain sentences, like “…in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.“, with the aim to give depth and suspense to the story. Additionally, background music is integral when reaching for the audience’s emotions, and I thought the song chosen conveys not just the intensity of the subject, but also hope for change to come.
Lastly, I wanted there to be a call to action at the end, both metaphorically and literally. That’s why I included “We can do better for racial justice, but we need your help.“. Everyone should be thinking and doing everyday things to help racial justice, environmentalism, feminism, etc., and this was my metaphorical call to that. My literal call to action, blackstarfarmers.org, was the organization that Kyle recommended, who started (and is still maintaining!) CHAZ’s BIPOC garden we put in our lens.
Overall, I’m very happy with how the video came out. I think it conveys the intensity of the topic while still maintaining the hope and inspiration needed to keep pushing forward with social issues like these.
I felt we had successfully embodied our vision of highlighting the art and connectedness that comes from communities during times of need, while inspiring others to start thinking and getting involved with racial justice.
Some things I learned were to schedule set times and days for group work and check-ins, as well as strategies for better communication. I’d also like to learn more code so when UX problems arise, I can lend more help with developing a solution.
Additionally, after we had finished our lens, Kyle ran into another CHAZ participant who immediately recognized that our lens was a CHAZ reconstruction. This reaffirmed to me that we were successful in our endeavors!
Next steps would be to improve the UX of the lens through an alternative code structure, since the text bubbles are hard to read and a zoom feature to read them couldn’t be implemented.