Design Spotlight | Sally Reynolds on crafting visuals and creating for AR

We caught up with Associate Creative Director at The Mill, Sally Reynolds on her submission to the latest Design Weekender.
Thought July 1, 2020

Certitude Release

What do you do at The Mill and where do you live in the world?

I’m tucked away in a brownstone in Brooklyn for the forseeable future! Albeit, in more regular times I’m in the New York experience team Associate Creative Directoring extended realities and tinkering with visuals.


How did you get into Design & Creative Tech?

I’ve always enjoyed spending long stretches of time crafting visuals – which is to say, I really enjoyed drawing as a kid. Fast forward quite a few years and skip a bunch of pivotal life events, I was given the opportunity to work on AR effects at The Mill as they started becoming a part of the advertising world. The notion of designing and creating experiences and toys for humans to interact with, to play, and learn – appeals to me very much. Developing a greater understanding of human behaviour and fascinations is so much fun. There is an endless amount of science to learn and test and tweak and test and learn. Some books (I recommend) that really hooked my interest in the beginning were Infinite Realities: The Hidden Blueprint of Our Virtual Lives and You Are Not A Gadget.

AR Nest

Who or what inspires your work?

Broadly speaking, the curiosity of forging something from “nothing”. Nothing being actually… everything. Nothing is everything you have ever seen, heard, touched, felt. Everything that has shaped you, your brain, your skills, your emotions. For me, my history, my neighbourhood, family, new friends, old friends, lovers, haters, joy, grief, anxiety, satisfaction, cities, poems, books, music, music, music.

No matter what medium or type of expression you are making, everything you’ve ever seen, heard, felt and learned goes into the formation of it. In school I was always confounded by the journalism quandary of the feasibility of unbiased communications (i.e. can truth ever be truth?). The same predicament is true of visual output and “originality”. Our work is a product of our memories, it’s what makes our work uniquely our own – thus to turn inspiration into output, one must fuel the memory tank with as much knowledge and feeling as possible. Avoid the dark temptation of a cosy echo chamber.


How do you go about creating an asset in AR – where do you start?

You start with a postage stamp instead of a sand pit! It’s a good idea to have an understanding of the file size you are working with – for mobile AR it is very small, very optimized. This is determined by mobile phone technology – when we get to a place where latency times are reduced (e.g. the advent of 5G technology) we will see a real leap in AR capabilities. Until such time, think big on story: what type of feeling or discovery are you evoking with this AR experience? How will the user be able to interact, play, discover, collaborate with it?

Once you have figured out the reason for its existence, the asset can be developed with animation and texturing – pulling every trick out of the bag for optimizing it to be as low in file size as possible. For those new to AR, that file size for social AR is generally under 4MB, and certainly under 10MB on the beefier end of the spectrum. This negotiation of bones, keyframes and pixels can be tested on the fly – we generally push and pull the assets in conjunction with any coded shaders to ensure a mobile phone is handling the rendering without causing it to become a tiny furnace in your hand.


Oaxaca Bear

What drew you to the materials you have used in this collection?

There are a few different things going on in the snippets seen here. The Bear is a rather hastily painted texture – an illustrated look on a 3D asset (fur being a bit of a gimmicky solution in AR). The bubbly shapes floating are just yummy textures borne of the magical nodes inside a Redshift interface. The billowing cloth material was a result of wanting to illustrate and print my own fabrics for free! Ahhh the joys of digital design.

A note on all things motion design – artists are typically on the hunt for “how they made that” and “what software was that?”. In my experience, I would offer the advice – don’t stick to one thing. If you can afford to bop around and use all kinds of different tools, software, styles, methods – then do that! Not only will you have much more fun learning new things, but likely get a result that doesn’t look like everything else.


You can follow Sally on Instagram @sallybrabbit and get in touch with Mill Experience at View the latest Design Weekender in full here.