The reluctant influencer: Julian Vizard’s journey from creative partner to AR’s MVP
From Godzilla-like Dancing Queens to space raiding heads, Julian Vizard of St Luke's is taking the AR effects space by storm and having a blast doing it
27 July 2023
Jules Vizard was, like many of us, sitting at his desk in his home during the pandemic thinking of something to do to pass the time when he created his first AR effect. While the rest of us were baking bread, he started playing around with technology - in his case augmented reality. “Having my work computer at home, which I normally leave at the office, opened up new possibilities,” he recalls. For Vizard it was the closest thing to "magic" - that ability to realistically embed fantastical characters into the world around him.
Since creating his first filter, Vizard has gone on to earn over 11 thousand followers on TikTok, which he says still surprises him. Clearly he's one of the most valuable players (MVPs) in the world of AR. He dismisses the suggestion and says: “It's not an amazing number in the grand scheme of things. I'm not an influencer that's on there every day doing dances or being fun. My posts are me, and I'm using my effects to show people how to use them. I'm creating the tools for other people to entertain their families and their communities with.”
When Vizard first created his Stranger Things AR effect, over one million creators used it and he has since become one of the handful of creators in the UK to become a TikTok Effects' House Ambassador - a programme designed to celebrate, support and uplift Effect House's top creators. And most recently, he won the Bronze Most Creative Personal Project at the Creative Circle Awards. His viral filters and TikTok effects alone have currently generated over 700 million views placing him in the top one per cent of effect creators globally.
Vizard is a founding member and a creative partner of St. Luke’s- an agency he has been at since 1996. He did a short stint in-between at Publicis Mojo, but left in less than two years to go back to St Luke's.
At St. Luke's an initiative called 'Make Yourself More Interesting' funds everyone at the agency £100 to learn any new skill they desire. Vizard decided to use that fund for an AR masterclass, specifically focusing on Spark AR, which is Meta's platform for creating AR effects. That's where, he says, his AR journey began.
Vizard believes that AR effects can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. With Spark AR and Effect House, you can quickly use templates and create effects in no time. However, he wanted to dive deeper and craft more sophisticated effects, so he found himself also learning 3D and After Effects simultaneously. “During lockdown, I made a conscious decision to set aside my PlayStation and treat this new skill like a gaming challenge, something to conquer and excel at,” he adds. “What's amazing is the wonderful AR community, both on Meta and TikTok; they are incredibly supportive. Back when I first entered the advertising world, it was different—people used to be protective of their work and ideas. But with AR, it's all about collaboration, helping each other grow and evolve.
"It's an inclusive and progressive environment, reflective of how advertising has evolved these days.”
Thanks to that supportive community, progress came quickly for Vizard. When he started creating effects and shared them with the community, the feedback motivated him to further develop his skills and abilities.
One of his effects was featured in Spark’s quick tip section, earning recognition from fellow developers and creators. Taking part in creator competitions, he achieved success, and his work was showcased on an intermediary platform connecting AR creators with clients. As his talent was recognised, he witnessed a snowball effect, leading to more opportunities.
In March 2022, TikTok extended an invitation for him to join their closed beta program, slightly later than Meta and Snap's versions. Despite some differences in programming, he adapted his transferable 3D skills to create effects for TikTok's massive audience. The response was overwhelming, and his effects gained rapid popularity.
"Finding a passion within the realm of advertising allows us to bring our best selves to work and produce our finest work,” he explains. “Constant learning and development are ingrained in St. Luke's, and it's what keeps us thriving.”
Creative Salon spoke with Vizard about his success in the AR world and the lessons we can take from it.
How did you come about putting your new skills to use in some of St Luke’s campaigns, like the aliens in the Space Raiders campaign?
I created a Halloween filter featuring a Frankenstein mask, which was actually featured by Spark AR. The mask looked reasonably realistic and had a charming retro vibe. At the time, it stood out among other filters, and during a shoot, one of our executive creative directors, Richard Denney, showed it to our KP client. They found it fascinating and saw its potential for the Space Raiders brand, as an engaging way to connect with a younger, more playful audience.
Another recent project involved an Instagram filter for Heathrow. It was inspired by a print and press campaign we had done for the ski season, and the filter was part of a social interaction concept. Interestingly, the client suggested a randomiser filter, which might sound cliché in the AR community, but in this case, it was a perfect fit. The goal was to communicate that Heathrow is one of the world's most connected airports, offering numerous destinations for skiing adventures. So the randomised effect worked brilliantly. To add a playful touch, the client even agreed to invest in letting us incorporate the Ski Sunday music into the builder. This small addition elevated the filter from a regular randomiser to something more delightful and nostalgic, especially for skiers who would recognise and enjoy the familiar music.
How successful have these kinds of campaigns been, and how do you measure success?
The standout and most popular filter is the Vecna dancing in the sky. When you point your camera at the sky, this big thing appears behind a building. It's mind-blowing to think that one million videos have been made with it, and an astonishing 479 million people have seen it.
It was a valuable learning experience for me. I realised that effects become more successful when they tap into a cultural conversation at the time. Back then, everyone was talking about Stranger Things. While working on it, I noticed that the reference material showed him wearing red makeup, but I remembered him being blue. Trusting my instincts, I went with blue instead. The filter quickly gained popularity, and even Lizzo used it. I received plenty of positive comments, but some people questioned why he was blue and became quite passionate about it. It was an interesting experience.
The same happened with the Dancing Queen filter. I wanted to create it for the jubilee, and while Abba's Dancing Queen was playing on the radio, inspiration struck. I spent a lot of time making it look like her in the modelling, although 3D isn't my natural expertise, so it took longer than I expected. However, I didn't bother making her shoes, as she would be behind a building anyway. The filter took off, but people kept commenting on her missing shoes, which surprisingly helped increase engagement.
You talk about mistakes and imperfections- why should clients embrace those?
For client’s looking to use these tools, I've learned that embracing mistakes can actually work in your favour. TikTok describes itself as a party, and that's precisely what it is – fun and playful. While many clients tend to be more serious and formal, social media is all about being engaging and enjoyable. Embracing mistakes and imperfections can add to the fun and interaction.
In the fast-paced world of advertising on social media, picking up on trends quickly is crucial for quick engagement. Also, it's essential not to overthink things. In traditional advertising, I was used to spending hours and significant resources on post-production, but social media is much quicker and demands a different approach.
If you reflect at your career now, how have these new skills helped you unlock your creative potential?
Approaching my career has always been about versatility. I began in packaging as a brand designer, then moved on to become an art director, moved into advertising, and eventually ventured into AR – three different disciplines, yet interconnected by creativity and problem-solving, making these skills transferable. An inquisitive mindset is also crucial. I'm not much of a talker, but keenly observe and listen, fostering my growth as a creative. Asking questions, studying famous painters' techniques, or understanding writers' tones of voice all serve a purpose – to cut through clutter and sameness, fundamental in advertising. Embracing tools to achieve that is essential; reinvention is vital for me as a creative.
What lessons can other creatives and the industry learn from you and your AR skills?
Every day should be a school day, refreshing your thinking and approaching things differently. Some people fear AI will take their jobs, but those who learn to use AI effectively will be the ones who thrive and potentially replace others. I see AI as a fantastic tool, using it daily in my filters, even relying on Chat GBT to help with filter names and icons. Learning AI skills and prompts is valuable; it's an art in itself. Spend just an hour a week learning about AI from influencers on TikTok or Reels.