From 2D to AR: Dan Mumford and Supermundane on making the leap with Adobe's Project Aero

Some of Britain's best print creatives explore AR with Adobe’s Project Aero.

Out of the many announcements made at this year's Adobe MAX in LA, one that caught a lot of attention was the showcase of Project Aero, an AR tool so far only available in private beta form and which we had a glimpse of back in June.

At The Future of Emerging Design (below), a MAX event related to the tool, Digital Arts heard artists in residence such as Estella Tse and the UK's own Dan Mumford talk about getting to grips with Aero.

We also heard Adobe's AR head Steffano Corazza wax lyrical about the technology, talking about how it 'lets people share experiences in real time' and that 'AR is a collective hallucination', with Aero being 'more like an instrument than a typewriter.'

The question of where does reality end and art begin was also asked; the more pressing question though is how does this tech feel for artists not used to working with augmented reality?

Speaking with us at the event, Dan Mumford revealed how he'd only started with the tech two months prior, going in to the Aero beta as a complete novice. The London-based artist is famed for his pop culture prints, and fittingly one of his creations using Aero is a poster for 1986 sequel classic Aliens (below), our hero Ripley at the centre of a very Mumfordian clash of neon glows and dense gothic textures.

"It's changed the way I think about how my art is constructed," Dan tells us. "If there's a layer, and there's another layer behind it, I've got make sure that layer has artwork within it. It can't just be an empty space."

"AR is a nice stepping stone as I'm so hard set in that 2D print format," he continues, "so this is me extracting elements from that format into something else. It's a bit like a storybook, hiding things that are then revealed as people go on a journey with the art, looking at everything from all angles."

Dan giving a hands on with Project Aero

The Aliens poster Dan showcased came from a pre-MAX Adobe event hosted by the company's senior creative director Russell Brown; as Dan explained, the class revolved around making retro movie posters with Adobe software.

"I made the poster as an example for Russell's class to sort of say to people 'Look what you can do with Aero.' The guys working on this hadn't necessarily thought about the way someone like me might use it, so hopefully I've had a little impact (with that)."

Russell Brown seems to have a good eye for British talent, judging by how his event during the MAX conference featured none other than colour and shapes master Supermundane, aka Londoner Rob Lowe.

Rob was at the event in an unusual capacity, singing a cappella ditties about subjects like his actor namesake and curling for Russell's goofball Creativity Power Hour.  While at MAX, Rob caught our eye with his own experimentation with Project Aero, making this AR message saying 'Back to the future' in honour of Russell's penchant for dressing up as time travelling movie legend Doc Brown.

For Supermundane, the work above was more of a curious play around; where in his eyes Dan is used to working with layers through his print work, for him it was an altogether new sort of challenge.

“I had to design it in a way that really wasn’t the way I usually do things," Rob explains. "I don't use layers at all, so it was quite weird for me, but I thought if I make the letters out of individual shapes then put them all on individual layers, then it would work."

When asked if that made it even more daunting to create an AR piece, the artist makes a good point on Aero's cross-platform flexibility.

"(Aero) uses layers, and you can export directly from Photoshop into it, so it’s easy to create an AR piece. For me it was just a leap as I don't design with layers; the AR wasn't really the issue."

Project Aero is already available to use in iPhone and iPad iterations, and I got to play around with the software in these forms at an Apple event in Los Angeles. This demonstration was more about showcasing capabilities than artistry, having for users a set of templates like dinosaurs and mushrooms that you could resize and animate with delightful ease.

Interestingly, this version and that used by Dan and Rob is already somewhat out of date, for Adobe have added a brand-spanking new ‘slider' feature to the tech which was showcased during Adobe MAX's inaugural keynote, a presentation that included a walkthrough of one of Dan's designs (below).

At the keynote, the slider was used to dissemble the layers of an Adidas sneaker, each part imploding 'outwards' as it were with annotations detailing products and tidbits.

It's clear that Adobe are hoping for Project Aero to be used by brands as a storytelling tool for products, but judging by what was shown by Dan, Rob and other artists at MAX, there's a lot of opportunity here for artists to make their mark, especially those already working with Photoshop (as an interesting side note, the capability to export PSDs into Aero had only been incorporated a week beforehand, with PNGs being the sole compatible file format prior to that).

Aero is very much a work in progress then, and its future as part of upcoming versions of Creative Cloud could see it fly as long as it's more about artistic 'storybooks' than corporate 'storytelling.' The reputation of Adobe lives and dies by the creative community, after all.

N.B. Project Aero is currently only available in private beta form for some creatives. Sign yourself up here for early access and keep an eye on Digital Arts for news of any widespread launches.

Read next: Adobe Sneaks - Groundbreaking prototypes of new features and apps for Creative Cloud

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