How to Repurpose 3D Files to Build a Better AR Experience

Augmented reality (AR) has grown leaps and bounds in the past few years. It’s incredible what we can do with it now compared to just five years ago. Thanks to this rapidly improving tech, you can even create AR experiences using existing 3D files without needing to build an app. This ability brings incredible new opportunities to businesses looking to further their investment in 3D visuals and capture new audiences.

One example is adding augmented reality to product catalogs and websites. AR is a great way to help consumers visualize how products come together and fit in their home.

To illustrate that, FUSE’s head of VR development Phong Tran, along with rendering specialist Levi Krippner, created an AR experience using a 3D model from a previous product rendering project.

If you want to skip right to the USDZ file, scroll on down to the end of this post. Click on the image and you’ll automatically download the file. NOTE: This file only works on a device running iOS 12. Android does not support this file type.

Overcoming Real-Time Environment Limitations

Advancements in augmented reality tech have made it easier to develop and view AR. However, there are some limitations to working in a real-time environment. Here’s where it can take a bit of work to create an AR experience with existing 3D files.

When building photorealistic 3D assets, our artists can add unlimited details. We can use as many texture maps as we want to create incredibly intricate visuals. But with AR, we’re limited to low-poly models and a single texture map. Files for AR need to be as small as possible because they have to match the processing power of the phone or device.

There are ways of making it easier to repurpose 3D files to AR file formats. But we’ll cover that a bit later.

Two red armchair models in 3D rendering program Cinema 4D to build AR experience
Comparison between the original model and a low-poly model in Cinema 4D

Creating an AR Experience with 3D Files

This AR project uses a model from our work with Fjords’ Baloo chair. You can read more about this original project here on our portfolio page.

The original high-resolution files were too large to convert directly to an AR format. So, rendering specialist Levi needed to remodel the Baloo chair. He created a low-poly version of the Baloo chair in Cinema 4D. Then, he took the model into Substance Painter to texture it. This program gives real-time feedback, so you can see exactly what it will look like as you work.

When finished in Substance Painter, Phong and Levi exported it as a glTF file (GL Transmission Format for 3D scenes and models). From here, they can convert the file into any format they need – in this case, USDZ.

3D model of a red armchair in Substance Painter program
Creating a single texture map on the Baloo Chair model in Substance Painter.

What’s New with AR Tech and USDZ?

If you’re not familiar with USDZ, that’s not surprising. Apple just introduced this new format in 2018 with its ARKit. With USDZ, developers can create augmented reality content viewable with any iOS device with a camera – without needing to build or install an app.

Now it’s easier than ever for both developers AND end users to create and view AR experiences. All end users need is an iOS device with a camera, like an iPhone or iPad. All a developer needs to do is convert their compatible file to the new USDZ format.

What does this mean for businesses? It means you don’t have to go to a specialty AR shop or invest in app development to deliver a new AR experience.

It’s worth noting that Google hasn’t yet developed a comparable format, so this AR file our team created is only viewable using Safari / devices running iOS 12. But as demand for AR increases, it’s likely that Google with catch up eventually and develop their own version.

Setting You Up for AR Success

We already talked about how our team built this experience. To create the AR experience with existing 3D files, Phong and Levi needed to remodel and texture the Baloo chair. But as mentioned earlier, there are ways of making this process faster and easier.

If planned ahead of time, 3D artists can sensibly build high-resolution files with AR in mind. These design considerations include building files with the intent to later texture them in a low poly version.

So, if your company knew it wanted to create AR experiences with its products or brand, planning them from the start is helpful. That way, it will be faster and easier to repurpose existing assets and create AR files that can be embedded on a website or social post.

Using Augmented Reality for Your Business

There are so many ways to bring augmented reality to your business. For example, an experience like this Baloo Chair lets customers see furniture in their own home before buying. Customers can test out sizing, colors, and placement before making a purchase.

But keep in mind, AR isn’t only useful for physical products like this.

Businesses can use AR to show customers blow-apart views of products, teach people how to use or fix products, or even take and more. Even this doesn’t encompass the world of possibilities with Augmented Reality. From “in-person” Customer Service AR calls to simulating a virtual tour across the country, the opportunities are endless.

So Let's Check Out That AR Chair

See the augmented reality chair in real time! Click on the Baloo Chair image below and you’ll automatically download the USDZ file.

Reminder: You can only download and view the Baloo Chair AR USDZ file on a device running iOS 12 (iPad, iPhone, Mac, etc.)

Red armchair against white background USDZ thumbnail
Click me!

If you’re interested in working with FUSE to develop AR experiences (or just learn more about what we can do), please reach out to us. Our experienced team of 3D artists will work with you to repurpose existing 3D files or build AR experiences that fit your needs from the ground up.