How Our AR Design Experts Partnered with Google

Google Brand Studio commissioned Draw & Code to create a web-based augmented reality experience to celebrate the Pyramids of Meroë. The aim was to bring these wonders built by the Kushite Kingdom to life online and in your own space using augmented reality, paying homage to the region’s history. While Google supplied web development and UX design muscle, our team acted as the 3D art and AR design experts for the experience. 

The Google project went on to win an FWA of the Day award and The People’s Choice at The Webby Awards for Best Use of AR. If you’d like to try it for yourself on mobile or desktop you can do so here, and read more about the project in our case study too

We asked 3D artist Georgia McClymont for her behind-the-scenes insights into working on the project.

What was it like to work on this project?

I won’t lie – it was daunting at first! I started work on the Google Pyramids AR project on my first day at Draw & Code. It was a great project to kickstart my career here and got me acquainted with what their team collaboration is all about. It got me up to speed and settled into my role very quickly! 

Everyone involved with the project did an amazing job and I learnt so much. Seeing everything that’s involved in making something like this was really eye-opening. For example, getting the images from Google of the pyramids that were taken with drones? Crazy! Really, really, REALLY fun. My first job was to optimise the photogrammetry scan of the pyramids, no small matter.

There were definitely challenges along the way but it’s all part of the game. I believe that quite a few of the interior shots were taken on a curved lens, so we had to straighten them as much as we could in Photoshop to use them as textures but we managed to make them work and look very faithful.

How was it seeing a multifaceted production like this come together?

It was mad! I knew what it was we were planning to do, but seeing it go from the Maya interface through to completion and viewing the scene on my kitchen floor through my phone was quite wonderful. It was a bit of a ‘wow this is my job’ moment!

One of the project’s aims was to bring the pyramids to new audiences in new ways. Did the technology used help further this aim? 

I think web AR is incredibly important in this regard. It’s all about accessibility – this is a technology that billions of people have access to in their pockets. Besides, it’s not an everyday occurrence to jump on a plane and go to Sudan! For individuals who cannot travel but want to see such things, and learn about the history behind them, being able to do that with the tap of a button and seeing it visualised and able to be viewed at any angle in the comfort of your own home is amazing. 

You can travel and learn anything from your couch! I also think this is an ideal tool for kids in schools. I know I would have loved something like this in my history lessons. I don’t think there should be any limitations on where or how you can learn about something. And if you can do it in an immersive way like this – then I say it’s very important we do so!

Google Pyramids

How did the interiors of the pyramids come to fruition?

I concentrated on the offering chapel interior which is a spectacular space. We worked from a plan of the pyramids, as well as using reference images. It was a different process to the exterior which was about reinterpreting photogrammetry into usable models, this was about building models and then using photographic textures and a few little tricks to make them feel realistic.

The interiors were modelled out and matched to scale as accurately as possible. Once they were done, we UV unwrapped them and used the images provided to bring them to life. We also created normal maps from the images to add some texture to make it even more believable. And of course, we needed to add some lighting to really bring it together.

Pyramids of Meroe Google

With this being your first project at Draw & Code, how did that change the project for you?

I think it definitely added some pressure! My first job out of university and my first project is with Google? I was definitely a bit nervous, but I was also really excited to get started and learn what went into making something like this. It was definitely a big change, from working alone to working with AR design experts as part of a team for a client. I had great support around me and it really helped with my confidence going forward to different projects.

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