Remember when people had so much fun discovering how they look as the opposite sex? Well, it was thanks to the gender swap lens on Snapchat. Can you imagine how one would look as a nasi lemak – with extra sambal?

Thanks to Eswaran Mohan, Renuga Nair and Arun Mohan, Snapchat’s first Official Lens Creators in Malaysia, many have done so.

Arun Mohan, Renuga Nair, and Eswaran Mohan of ExAR

Eswaran and Renuga co-founded ExAR Technologies, and they’ve utilized Snapchat’s Lens Studio platform to create fun, augmented reality (AR) experiences that are loved by many. The trio also successfully turned their common interest into a business, creating sponsored Lenses for brands that are tapping into AR advertising.

The Varnam team catches up with Eswaran to discuss his journey with technology and augmented reality and how it is used as a tool for self-expression.

For all us Snapchat noobs, share with us what the Lenses are about.

Snapchat Lenses (often mistakenly called Filters) are Augmented Reality experiences that transform the world before you. They can be used to add 3D effects, objects, characters, and transformations when you create Snaps.

It allows you to express yourself in creative ways with images and colours. The best part of using these Lenses, is that you can interact with them by raising your eyebrows or waving your hand, for example, and that makes it fun!

Oh, and fun fact – On average, more than 70% of Snapchat’s Daily Active Users play with or view a Lens every day.

The ExAR team tests a new Lens they developed
Growing up, did you always gravitate towards technology?

I have always been a fan of technology that allows everyone to create cool experiences in the shortest amount of time. In my late teens, I used to make short films with my brother and the idea of creating started there. This was how I developed a passion for technology, especially when I noticed how a lot of work could have been completed easily if I knew how to use the right software.

As I learned more about technology during my internship at a robotics company, I developed a chatbot. Since then I’ve also learnt coding and I’m currently focused on Augmented Reality.

Tell us a little about your company, ExAR and your teammates.

My partner Renuga Nair and I started ExAR in 2018 while we were in our final year in university at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. Renu’s actually a Chemistry Graduate while I’m a Mechatronics Engineering Graduate.

A few months after we started ExAR, we brought in our latest member, my brother Arun. He was studying Industrial Design at Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin, and we decided to bring him in to be in charge of animation and 3D modelling.

Renu and I started working together when we were developing a chatbot called ‘Panda Family’ that acts as a little friend that reminds youngsters to keep a healthy mind at all times. This project made us realize that we had a great team dynamic: while I was more of a technical person, Renu was more creative. Combined with Arun’s design skills, ExAR became complete.

Renuga writing down ideas for new Lenses. Image credit: Archetype

My team and I joined an AR competition at the end of 2017 where we created a virtual fitting app that allows people to try clothing before purchasing them. Renu then had the idea of doing a virtual fitting for people who would want to try out jewellery online.

We were both excited. I went back to my room and did some research before discovering a desktop app called Lens Studio by Snap Inc. which allowed us to create AR experiences on Snapchat. From that point, we explored and tried different features available with the software.

How did the ExAR team begin working with Snap Inc on the Lenses?

I noticed that people creating Lenses could apply to be certified as an Official Lens Creator. Back then, I didn’t really know a lot about the program, but decided to fill in the application form and register us as a team.

A few weeks later, I received an email from the Snap team requesting an interview. During the interview, the Snap team took time to understand our aspirations in Lens creation. It was certainly an open and insightful discussion, which eventually led to us becoming part of the Official Lens Creator community. This was one of the most memorable moments for me and my team.

Tell us a little about AR technology.

AR technology is not the future, but the present; it’s already here. People all around the world use it for both fun and practical applications. As creators, this is a perfect opportunity for us to grow and be a part of such a limitless, exciting industry.

With Snapchat having the camera at the center of communication between you and your closest friends, it is no surprise that augmented reality is weaved into the mix. With the different augmented reality Lenses available, we as Snapchatters are able to have a more authentic conversation with our closest friends.

What does it mean to be Snapchat’s Official Lens Creator and what are the benefits of the program?

It means the world to us! You don’t often see global brands like Snap showing this level of commitment to the creative industries they serve and helping creators like us from all around the world to build a business, enhance our skills and connect with our community.

The benefits of the program include opportunities to work with brands, regular meetings with the team and feedback sessions – all of which have really helped us get to where we are today. They also practice what they preach and take feedback from Official Lens Creators seriously. Many of the features of Lens Studio were suggested by Official Lens Creators like us and it makes us feel like an important part of the community.

Eswaran creating new Lenses on Lens Studio
What would you say to other young creators wanting to move into lens creation?

Practice. We did not start out as coders or designers. Renu has a degree in pure chemistry while I’m a mechatronics engineering graduate. Meanwhile, Arun is still in his third year of university studying Industrial Design; everything that we do now was achieved through a lot of trial and error. All you need to have is the willingness to learn and to commit. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes easier.

Don’t focus on the business part of it when you’re starting out as that shouldn’t be your main motive. Focus on your growth as a creator. With the huge support we have received from organizations like Snap Inc., we have had more opportunities than you can imagine.
Lens Studio is super forgiving to beginners and you can only get better at it as you use it more. The support and community are great as well!

Work on something you enjoy creating

Some additional advice I’d give is to not create for the masses – don’t make something solely because you think a lot of people would like it. Work on something you enjoy creating, something you can enjoy with your friends. If you create with that mindset, I’m sure others will love what you end product.

Well done, Eswaran, Renuga and Arun! Check out ExAR’s official profile page on Snapchat here.

You can now donate to the United Nations Foundation’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund in support of the WHO with Snapchat. When a Snapchatter views a currency such as the RM10 note (among 22 other currencies globally) in the Snapchat camera and taps on it, an AR experience will trigger. It will show how a potential donation could support the World Health Organization’s immediate response efforts, which include tracking the spread of Covid-19, ensuring patients get the care they need and providing frontline workers with critical supplies. This will then direct Snapchatters to the donation page.