Well, I got another Augmented Reality book. Actually, I got two. I had high hopes for this pair, Prosthetic Reality V.1 and Prosthetic Reality V.2, when I ordered them. After my previous experience with Generative Hut A.R.E., I was hoping for something a little more, you know, 3D. Stuff getting off the printed page. At least a little, OK? For some reason, the promotional images for these volumes led me astray. Not their fault – I must have seen something that wasn’t there because I wanted to. It’s hard to tell from a 2D image, so cut me some slack for getting fooled again.
Don’t get me wrong. These are nice books. The cover solution is similar to Generative Hut’s approach, but coil-bound instead of stitched signatures, but hey, it works – the pages fold flat. They have the same fold-over spine so you can see the title on the bookshelf. And you get a LOT of A.R. scenes, 52 in V.1 and 66 in V.2, or 118 total. Wow.
Further, the variety of content is much greater than A.R.E., because there is no theme. There is a sort of loose stylistic homogeneity, but it’s neither consistent nor overbearing. Just a lot of hand-generated cartoon-like animations. More about that later. Generally speaking, I like the artwork. It’s creative and fun, mostly.
Both the book and the app that you use to view the A.R. are from EyeJack. The ordering was easy, and when there was a short delay in shipping, they notified me right away. In fact, I got it sooner than I had expected. You can order either book individually or save a few bucks with a package deal from their website. The QR code for downloading the app is printed on the inside front cover of V.2, but oddly not V.1, although the URL can be found there.
The introduction to Prosthetic Reality V.2 claims that this is a showcase of Augmented Reality (AR) NFT Art, and describes the curator’s process in minting his first NFT and his effort to find a more environmentally sensitive alternative to the Ethereum (Eth) blockchain (he settled on HeN). While it goes on for several hundred words, filling a page in very small type (a.k.a. the fine print), invoking the Metaverse and other au courant buzzwords, I came away with little understanding of what role the NFT played in this work. As with most discussions of NFTs, there is an assumption that you know a lot about NFTs as they are being explained to you, but I digress.
Sorry to be that guy, but the disappointment for me, as with Generative Hut’s offering, is that these are almost all flat videos on a flat page. Scanning a page with the app replaces the image on the page with a video based on the same content. This is largely a limitation of the software, but since EyeJack makes both the software and the book, that’s completely within their control, so I cut them a little less slack than Generative Hut.
However, this helps explain the hand-animated cartoon content. It’s basically a 2D video, so that’s going to be a popular approach to animating 2D images. There’s not much that’s going to get them out of that space, either conceptually or technically. While there is some computer-generated artwork here, and even some that was probably made from a 3D model, it is all flattened to a video and presented on the page rather than in the 3D space in front of, behind, or around the page.
A handful of videos are larger than the target, so they are able to extend beyond the confines of the printed page on the same plane, which is something. Interestingly, while every scene in V.1 follows this ‘replace image with video‘ format, there is one (out of 66) scenes in V.2 that does not, and two that at least float those videos up off the page. There may be one more, but it crashed the app every time I tried to view it.
I was caught completely off guard by Storm and Castillo‘s presentation when that tower popped out of the page. By this time, I had already been to EyeJack’s website, and discovered that they had a Creator app designed around the creation of an experience similar to their publication. It very clearly stated that it worked by first uploading a target image, and then an image or video to replace it in the app. Optionally, you can also attach a sound file. That’s it. It was my understanding that the tower I was seeing was not possible within their platform.
Yann Minh‘s piece was even more startling. Animated graphics floated off the page at various levels, and two apparently three-dimensional objects appeared. I tipped the book to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing, but alas, these were videos floating in the air at an angle. Nice trick. Initially impressive, but ultimately not satisfying. Imposter‘s contribution was the third one that I came across, and it’s basically flat planes floating above the page with simple ASCII character animations on them, but still, it gave me hope.
I downloaded the EyeJack Creator 2021 app to see what was going on. It’s incredibly simple to use. Like they said, you upload a target image, and then an animation or video, and you can create a collection of these that represents a book. Slick. But not 3D. On the main tool bar in the app, there is an icon called Panels that has little red sticker next to it emblazoned NEW. When you click it, the description on the page that appears says:
A Panels project is made up of image and video panels arranged in 3D space. Create a Panels project, upload some assets, and then freely position them in the editor to create a unique AR experience.
Hmm. Sure, you can get something more 3D with that. If you made an animation with a transparent background, put it on a panel, and then positioned it above the target, you could reproduce Imposter’s piece, and maybe even Minh’s. But not the other one. Actually, you can’t even do the first two, because there’s no way to attach these panelized creations to a target. What’s going on here?
I have a somewhat unfortunate explanation. While their mobile viewer app is perfectly capable of attaching 3D models to targets and rendering them in real time in 3D, their publicly available authoring tool is not. Like many similar platforms, they are marketing their app and services to people who don’t know how to make 3D models and don’t want to learn. You can’t say “EyeJack Creator helps you bring art to life with animation and sound in 3 easy steps” if you get 3D models involved. They could make “upload a 3D model” an optional step, but that would lead to all sorts of issues regarding file type, orientation, scale, polygon count, materials, and everything else that comes with 3D models. If you’re marketing to a segment that is arguably less tech-savvy than the general public, you don’t want to go there.
So these three models were coded in through either an in-house tool or a manual method not available through the Creator app. I can’t make their book with their tool. Only they can. My hope is that the “Panels” interface is an early version of something that may eventually let us bring 3D models into the space, scale, orient, and position them, and attach them to targets, and that Storm and Castillo’s piece is a test of that prototype. Somebody’s going to do this in a way that artists can use it. Maybe it will be WORKSHOP 3D. I wouldn’t be surprised. We’re working on it. I understand the obstacles.
Of course, as a promoter of Augmented Reality, I applaud the work and the thought that went into this – it’s a fun book, and it’s packed with content. However, as with A.R.E., I must once again take issue with EyeJack’s proclamation on their website that “In 2017, EyeJack launched the World’s first Augmented Reality Art Book, Prosthetic Reality”. Even though I published CoCA’s “Pop-Up (AR)t“ (an Augmented Reality Book available at the CoCA Bookstore) in 2016, I don’t claim it to be the world’s first. I don’t know that. I just know that it predates this one.