May 20, 2021 - Technology

Snapchat leans into virtual events

Photo: Snapchat

Snapchat used large LED screens to present its annual "Snap Partner Summit," a move that caught the attention of tech insiders who were eager to see what the company had been building during the pandemic.

Why it matters: The annual presentation, done entirely in augmented reality (AR) this year, has become a must-see event for Snapchat stakeholders — akin to how Apple's product announcements have become cultural moments.

  • "It communicates who we are and our values as a company," said Betsy Kenny Lack, Snapchat's head of global brand strategy.

Details: The presentation allowed speakers to present new products alongside a virtual background.

  • It opened with a scene inspired by the National Forests and State Parks of Southern California.
  • "We created three acres of forest," Kenny Lack said. The intention was to draw attention to the wildfires impacting the Southern California region, where Snap Inc. is based. The scene was a nod to a new partnership Snap announced with Re:wild and the National Parks Service.
  • The forest scene features virtual recreations of many of the flowers, plants and species found in the region, including Birch trees and perennial flowers. It carried across the event as the backdrop for remarks from several event speakers, including Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.
  • The background then transitioned to other life-scale environments, including the Cinderella Castle at Disney World's Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando, a virtual display of Snapchat's "Snap Map," and a virtual display of Snapchat's augmented reality "Lens Studio."

Be smart: While some onlookers noted that CEO Evan Spiegel resembled Tim Cook in his presentation, there's no question that Snapchat's event rivaled the quality of Apple's product presentations in terms of immersiveness, professionalism and creativity. Viewers were quick to point that out.

  • The presentation is "a hugely significant business effort," Kenny Lack said, noting that the entire company, across every department, is involved in its creation. Planning for the event began almost a year ago.

How it works: The background scenes were created in XR Studio — the world's largest XR LED studios in Los Angeles — using Unreal Engine, one of the most advanced real-time 3D creation platforms in the world.

  • The LED backdrop monitors used for the event included screens that were more than 10 feet high, and some that covered the floor beneath the presenters' feet.

The big picture: Last year was Snapchat's first-ever time doing a virtual presentation of this scale. This year, the company wanted to up its' game, considering last year's attendance was over 1.7 million people worldwide.

  • It replaced last year's green screens with LED screens in an effort to highlight its AR ambitions.
  • "It was extraordinary complicated," said Kenny Lack. The company built an additional augmented reality layer on top of the background to showcase phone screens debuting new products.
  • The 3D layers needed to be tied to the movements of the people presenting the products in real-time. "Synchronizing those movements was quite complex."

Bottom line: Snapchat's annual Partner Summits are usually a big draw for investors and creators eager to see what the tech giant has been working on.

  • Thursday's event proved the company was serious about augmented reality, a point proven further by a surprise debut of Snapchat's new 3D "Spectacles" glasses with AR.

What's next: Kenny Lack said that moving forward, the company will continue to use a hybrid in-person and virtual model for its events.

  • "What we've learned is that the virtual world opens up so many possibilities," she said, noting that only 800 people attended the company's first in-person Partner Summit.
Go deeper