Saving AR’s Formative Phase
When I pitch Anima, our origin story sounds simple.
Years had passed since our first creator-centric network was acquired. Neil was building in AR. I was working on Fortnite.
Inspired by the generational shift around virtual goods, we reunited to found Anima, aiming to drive a new world of creator-driven objects in AR.
But it’s nowhere near that simple — or short. It’s bigger and more complicated and way more personal.
We grew up on the internet.
Neil is older, a Gen Xer by birth and attitude. He began tinkering with a Commodore 64 before diving into electronic music in the 90s. His version of the internet was cryptic and primordial. BBS, IRC, FTP. He was very online, hanging out in chats with demoscene innovators, bumping elbows with luminaries like Shigeru Miyamoto and Alexey Pajitnov, then becoming a gaming industry pioneer himself.
My version of the internet was tamer. I spent nights in walled gardens like Prodigy and AOL. A shy kid eagerly recruiting anonymous screennames on Nintendo Power Source to join my Squaresoft fan club. I ventured onto the web, adding my own quirky sites to Yahoo’s directory and spending all night downloading demoscene videos.
You could feel the internet accelerating in all directions, and communities were forming. But it still felt weird… and wide open.
And Neil stayed on the forefront of everything, far ahead of trends. He advised Silicon Graphics on the sound architecture of the N64, then composed the best soundtrack on the console. He made a decentralized music streaming marketplace before Spotify was an idea. A video mash-up platform years before TikTok.
And then there was Ultravisual.
On November 11, 2013, I downloaded the coolest app I’ve ever seen.
It was ripped from the future. It was confusing and exciting. Everything I made in it looked better than it should have.
I had to find out who made it and let me work for them. It was Neil.
UV captured that early web magic. It was hard to use, and it made you feel creative. There were pockets of hidden content and communities. People created and published even if they weren’t sure anyone was seeing it. There were no “likes.”
That feeling wasn’t unique to the early web or UV.
It was like street art. Loud styles, tags, and remixes. It was about expression and collaboration and community. A canvas with some context but no comments.
When new mediums appear, there’s a rush to figure out how to create in them. And that spark of creativity isn’t coming from brands, it’s coming from individuals and niche groups. The web didn’t become what it was because of Google and Facebook; it’s the opposite. They walled it off and indexed it in a way that centralized access and the type of content that resonates.
But AR is starting backwards.
Creators lay the foundation for how people experience culture, for how people express themselves, communicate, and document — from cave paintings to tweets.
Tragically, AR has been pounced on by brands, IP factories, and attention-economy platforms before creators and communities have had a chance to define what it is for or what self-expression means within it.
Right now, it’s as if augmented reality is a neighborhood that never had its bohemian phase. Never had the opportunity for art to flourish and for culture to emerge. AR is jumping straight to corporate gentrification. We haven’t given creators the tools to make, the channels to distribute, or the marketplaces to sell creative AR.
Instead, AR is being exploited to advertise before people know why they want to use it. Branded lenses. Sponsored content. IP collectibles. With creators locked in ads-based network like Instagram.
AR deserves an avant-garde phase. A chance for artists and creators of all types to define an aspirational and creative future that combines digital and physical worlds.
Imagine the web in the 90s if creation was controlled by a few companies built for ad revenue. Or what will happen if Facebook defines what type of content should exist in AR or what tools and distribution methods creators have.
There’s another way…
Blockchain and decentralization is reaching mass adoption at the perfect time. NFTs are made to spark creator-driven movements across mediums. There is no more needed place than AR. A way to monetize art and objects and experiences, directly and anonymously, without ads and outside of walled gardens. Web3 enables creators to define their narrative vs. becoming a pawn in someone else’s.
So how is it going to happen? Who’s going to populate this creative layer on top of the real world?
Look at who’s making games in Roblox. Lenses in Snap and IG. Collecting skins in Fortnite. Designing patterns in Animal Crossing. There is already a generation who has grown up with virtual goods as real to them as physical goods and with their camera as their native way of communicating. Who see 3D worlds as third spaces.
We want to be their spark.
We’re building Anima to be the engine and tools for creator-driven AR.
We’re working with renowned studio artists to bring their work into the camera metaverse. Sponsoring a community house to foster AR creativity. Partnering with a children’s hospital to bring pediatric cancer patients’ art to life. Collaborating with a former astronaut to recreate his space walks on Earth. Taking people on a retro-futuristic trip around the world to activate digital monoliths by a Spanish street artist.
We’re so excited to help bring the metaverse to reality and can’t wait to see what you create.
Alex Herrity (email@example.com) is the cofounder of Anima.