Benetton displays true ‘Colors’ in augmented reality adventure

The Web hasn’t killed printed magazines, but print and Web are often seen as enemies.

However, thanks to new technologies, the two can work together, with online content used to enhance the print experience.

One great example of this is an augmented reality (AR) project created for the latest issue of Benetton’s Colors magazine, which is currently on newsstands.

Printed on top of photos throughout the magazine are ‘3D barcodes’: these are black and white symbols that unlock interactive content when the reader visits the Colors Website.   

Here readers enter an ‘Experience’ area, where part of the site shows a view through the reader’s Webcam.

When the reader holds the magazine up to their Webcam, the photo comes alive on-screen, starting a video mapped onto the Webcam’s footage of the magazine in 3D space.

These videos might take the reader behind the scenes on a fashion shoot, or show a filmed interview with the subject.

The AR experience was created by Fabrica, Benetton’s ‘communication research centre’ – this is a multi-disciplinary agency-cum-school that specialises in creating unusual and experimental media projects for Benetton and other brands.

Despite the grand scope of its mission – and its amazing studios, housed in a sleekly modernised 17th century villa near Venice – Fabrica’s intention is to create “simple but appropriate things”, says its down-to-earth executive director Andy Cameron.

Simplicity is at the heart of the project.

While there’s some clever technology going on behind the scenes, the reader has to do nothing more than hold a magazine up in front of their Webcam, which is appropriate for the magazine’s non-geeky audience – and its techno-allergic editor Erik Ravello, who according to Cameron doesn’t even use email.

“This allows him to see right through the bullshit,” says Cameron.

The ‘bullshit’ Cameron refers to is the tendency with any hip new technology to geek out on the tech, ignoring whether the concept works or not.

When creating the project for Colors, Cameron says they had to focus on questions such as “What can we do here that actually works for a magazine?” and “How does this enhance the editorial position of the magazine?”

There are many 3D barcode-based AR experiences at the moment.

In most, the user prints out a barcode and holds it up to a Webcam; the AR tech overlays a 3D model of a product that can be moved around. Cameron is underwhelmed by many of these, as beyond moving the model around, they’re largely static – so don’t sustain the viewer’s interest.

Cameron mentions BMW’s microsite for its Z4 sportscar as an example of this. He didn’t like the application, but he was impressed with the technology, hiring Julian Koskawitz – who worked on the BMW project – to create the backend for the Colors site.

Koskawitz built the AR part of the site in Flash, using the Flash port of the open-source ARToolkit ( He rewrote parts of the Flash version for the particular demands of this project, especially the focus on video content rather than 3D models.

He tweaked the program so that if you pause the video, it restarts from where you were, rather than at the beginning.

Flashy technologies
Koskawitz also scaled back the camera mapping system so that once it’s found the 3D barcode, it stops constantly looking for it. This is because once a reader places the magazine in front of the webcam, they generally hold it still.

This frees up the computer’s chip to concentrate on playing back video at high quality.

Using Flash meant that the project could be created by interactive designers, rather than hardcore programmers. This sped up the development process.

“Most of my team of geeks are not that geeky that they could write the AR Toolkit,” explains Cameron. “That’s not what Fabrica’s about – we’re about taking stuff that’s been developed, modifying it, and seeing how far we can push it.”

Cameron feels that this is just the start of using 3D barcodes and augmented reality for Fabrica. “There are commercial opportunities here for print advertising,” he says.

“Imagine you’re working for company and you’re showing a product on a page. You can have that page do all kinds of things if you bring it to a webcam. Maybe the model starts taking their clothes off and shows you their underwear.”

Cameron is coy about which brands Fabrica is working with on these projects, saying only that he is “working very actively on that at the moment for companies that are close to us.”

Source: Digital Arts Magazine.

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