At just 18, Matthew Morel started his own LED sign-making business, MRM Designs, with his brother. Within six months, he was making signs for YouTube celebrity channels such as Mr. Beast, which meant his creations would potentially be seen by upwards of 205 million subscribers. Then, COVID-19 hit and, subsequently, materials became harder to source.
The now 22-year-old spent time figuring out his next steps and landed on the curation of Snapchat Lenses – an augmented reality experience within the app that transforms how users see the imagery. Realizing the boundless opportunities the world of AR presented, he dove head-first into the craft. Today, that entails creating an AR map of downtown Corpus Christi, bringing new life to the imagery around us.
KC: Your business MRM Designs now focuses on designing AR merchandise, filters, maps and business cards. What led you to make the pivot?
MM: A common feature in most AR software called “marker tracking” allows you to feed the software an image and have it track your custom design to whatever the image is printed on. I saw this as a cool way to make a new concept for shirts, posters, stickers, business cards, etc. It brings life to everything and can even be shareable, allowing users to feel more inclined to share their new merchandise or marketing tools on social media.
KC: What is the AR Map of Downtown Corpus Christi and what inspired you to create it?
MM: The AR Map is an augmented reality infrastructure for public landscapes, allowing for murals in downtown Corpus Christi to come to life. I got the idea to create it because, in many sci-fi movies, you’ll often see holograms or floating screens in public areas, bringing more entertainment to areas that may otherwise seem empty. I reached out to [a local muralist] on Instagram, and, with him on board, we created the first augmented-reality mural in the Coastal Bend. The AR Map is currently powered via QR codes, so we bought a sandwich board to put in front of the mural, and this allowed anyone walking by to access the new attraction.
KC: How did the map expand from one mural to including other locations around downtown?
MM: I wanted to create multiple augmented reality experiences around the downtown area. I reached out to The Gold Fish and offered to make a free concept for their mural outside of the bar. They gladly accepted, and we got to work. AR murals have already been done in other cities, and I wanted to separate my work. So, a month after introducing this mural, I created a new feature for this Snapchat Lens called AR View. With AR View, the user can split their phone screen in half, allowing them to put the phone inside of one of our own disposable AR headsets, custom-made specifically for these murals and passed out during big events in the area.
I began reaching out to more people about becoming a part of The AR Map and partnered with local businesses such as Blue Shore Pedal Lounge and Mesquite Street Pizza, and it was a hit. People loved playing with the AR installations and sharing them on their social media, gaining businesses a lot of extra publicity. Mesquite Street’s installation garnered 1,000 views on the first day it was live!
KC: How would you explain augmented reality to those who’ve never interacted with it?
MM: Augmented reality is a combination of both virtual reality and the real world, often also referred to as mixed reality. Augmented reality allows you to personalize your surroundings in ways that wouldn’t be physically possible.