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Fashion Meets Augmented Reality

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School of Fashion graduate Aastha Shah takes part in a Project Runway AR 2.0 app test. Photo courtesy of Peggy Kuo.

There’s never a shortage of interesting projects going on at Academy of Art University. In more recent years, the School of Game Development (GAM) has embraced concepts bridging the department’s ability to create interactive technology with other fields: Think landscape design, web design, communications and more. 

Will Anielewicz, an Academy graduate advisor working primarily with the School of Animation & Visual Effects, is piloting a project that would marry fashion and augmented reality (AR) technology. Using graphic hardware, tracking markers are placed on garments so when viewed through an AR app on a mobile device or tablet, animations appear on top of the designs.

Temporarily named Project Runway AR 2.0, Anielewicz explained viewers will be able to see clothing from a new perspective with the application of AR technology. Anielewicz says he handles most of the scripting, but is offering a Spring 2018 class for interested GAM students to build the project’s technical assets using gaming engines Maya and Unity.

“The CG artists need to transfer pieces from one package into another; once they get into the particle system creation, you have to have an idea for what looks nice and the speed of things,” Anielewicz explained. “There’s some finesse on that level.”

He emphasizes that AR technology “has been applied in a commercial way” with graphic t-shirts, but his idea is more about integrating the tech with the clothing itself.

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Peggy Kuo tests the AR app while Aastha Shah models one of their garments. Photo courtesy of Peggy Kuo.

“It’s pioneer work,” he said. 

To find the garments for the project, Anielewicz said School of Fashion Executive Director Simon Ungless directed him to graduates Aastha Shah and Peggy Kuo. Their collaborative collection celebrates Indian traditions Holi, Madhubani Painting and Mehndi with splashes of color and bold designs on white garments. On first look, Anielewicz thought their textile patterns were perfect for AR—the designs are robust but not complicated; discrete and relatively simple with large shapes. 

“When you’re using this type of image tracking [in AR], it really wants non-symmetric images so that the corners and points aren’t mirroring the exact design,” he explained. 

Kuo, who designed the textile prints on the garments, admitted it took some convincing from Anielewicz before she came on board. But she believes this may be one of those experiments to drive fashion toward the future.

“I believe fashion is becoming less and less about the clothing and more about the experience you have with it,” said Kuo. “AR will definitely fit itself into the fashion industry because we audiences are becoming more and more tuned into social media.” 

“They’re … pretty much running the creative side of things,” Anielewicz said of Shah and Kuo. But he emphasized students handling the computer side of things will also have the opportunity to flex their creativity. “Along the way, the CG artists [also] have creative decisions to make so I’m always looking for people that have the ability. They can put a bit of their own creativity into this process.”

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Will Anielewicz tests the AR hardware using markers on a t-shirt. Photo courtesy of Will Anielewicz.

The goal for Project Runway AR 2.0 is to have the dresses on display for the 2018 Spring Show. Guests can look at the dresses through an iPad and walk around the model to see the various animations implemented onto the garment. He said the end result will be “really artsy, not intended to be CG,” and for Kuo and Shah, “an extension of their clothing and more of an artistic expression.”

Interested students can contact Anielewicz via email (willanielewicz@gmail.com) and find more information on the project website at https://sites.google.com/view/runwayar.