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Blog posts tagged as 'suwappu'

Suwappu in Designs Of The Year 2012

Suwappu at Designs Of The Year, Design Museum

Suwappu – the augmented-reality toy we invented with Dentsu London is a nominee this year in the Digital category of the Designs Of The Year show at London’s Design Museum.


It’s in great company – with other nominees in the category such as the Kinect, the Guardian’s iPad app (which we also consulted on, with Mark Porter and the brilliant internal team at the paper), High Arctic by UVA and others.

The Suwappu certainly get around a bit – here they are last year where they went to Pop!Tech with me to speak about toys, play and learning in a Robot-Readable World.

Suwappu at Pop!Tech

And last year they also lived for a while at MoMA, at the Talk To Me exhibit

We worked with Dentsu London from their original idea to bring them to life through model-making and animation, and then build working prototype software on the cutting-edge of what’s possible in computer-vision on smartphones.

It’s great to have partnerships like this that can rapidly get all the way from a strategic idea ‘What if toys were a media channel’ through to working, real things that can be taken to market.

That’s our favourite thing!

Of course – it’s a lovely bonus when they get recognised in a wider cultural context such as MoMA or the Design Museum.

As well as making our own products, we spend most of our time in the studio working closely in partnership with clients to create new things for them – making strategy real through research, design, making and communication.

Do get in touch if you and your company would like to work with us this way.

Suwappu app prototype – toys, stories, and augmented reality

You may remember Suwappu, our toy invention project with Dentsu — those woodland creatures that talk to one-another when you watch them through your phone camera. You can see the film – the design concept – here or (and now I’m showing off) in the New York at Moma, in the exhibition Talk to Me.

Here’s the next stage, a sneak peek at the internal app prototype:

Direct link: Suwappu app prototype video, on Vimeo.

It’s an iPhone app which is a window to Suwappu, where you can see Deer and Badger talk as you play with them.

Behind the scenes, there’s some neat technology here. The camera recognises Deer and Badger just from what they look like — it’s a robot-readable world but there’s not a QR Code in sight. The camera picks up on the designs of the faces of the Suwappu creatures. Technically this is markerless augmented reality — it’s cutting-edge computer vision.


And what’s also neat is that the augmented reality is all in 3D: you suddenly see Deer as inside a new environment, one that moves around and behind the toy as your move the phone around. It’s all tabletop too, which is nicely personal. The tabletop is a fascinating place for user interfaces, alongside the room-side interfaces of Xbox Kinects and Nintendo Wiis, the intimate scale of mobiles, and the close desktop of the PC. Tabletop augmented reality is play-scale!

But what tickles us all most about Suwappu is the story-telling.

Seeing the two characters chatting, and referencing a just-out-of-camera event, is so provocative. It makes me wonder what could be done with this story-telling. Could there be a new story every week, some kind of drama occurring between the toys? Or maybe Badger gets to know you, and you interact on Facebook too. How about one day Deer mentions a new character, and a couple of weeks later you see it pop up on TV or in the shops.

The system that it would all require is intriguing: what does a script look like, when you’re authoring a story for five or six woodland creatures, and one or two human kids who are part of the action? How do we deliver the story to the phone? What stories work best? This app scratches the surface of that, and I know these are the avenues the folks at Dentsu are looking forward to exploring in the future. It feels like inventing a new media channel.

Suwappu is magical because it’s so alive, and it fizzes with promise. Back in the 1980s, I played with Transformers toys, and in my imagination I thought about the stories in the Transformers TV cartoon. And when I watched the cartoon, I was all the more engaged for having had the actual Transformers toys in my hands. With Suwappu, the stories and the toys are happening in the same place at the same time, right in my hands and right in-front of you.

Here are some more pics.


The app icon.


Starting the tech demo. You can switch between English and Japanese.


Badger saying “Did I make another fire?” (Badger has poor control over his laser eyes!)


Deer retweeting Badger, and adding “Oh dear.” I love the gentle way the characters interact.

You can’t download the iPhone app — this is an internal-only prototype for Dentsu to test the experience and test the technology. We’re grateful to them for being so open, and for creating and sharing Suwappu.

Thanks to all our friends at Dentsu (the original introduction has detailed credits), the team here at BERG, and thanks especially to Zappar, whose technology and smarts in augmented reality and computer vision has brought Suwappu to life.

Read more about the Suwappu app prototype on Dentsu London’s blog, which also discusses some future commercial directions for Suwappu.

Suwappu: Toys in media

Dentsu London are developing an original product called Suwappu. Suwappu are woodland creatures that swap pants, toys that come to life in augmented reality. BERG have been brought in as consultant inventors, and we’ve made this film. Have a look!

Suwappu is a range of toys, animal characters that live in little digital worlds. The physical toys are canvasses upon which we can paint worlds, through a phone (or tablet) lens we can see into the narratives, games and media in which they live.

Dentsu London says:

We think Suwappu represents a new kind of media platform, and all sorts of social, content and commercial possibilities.

Each character lives in different environments: Badger lives in a harsh and troubled world, Deer lives in a forest utopia, Fox in an urban garden, Tuna in a paddling pool of nicely rendered water. The worlds also contain other things, such as animated facial expression, dialogue pulled from traditional media and Twitter, and animated sidekick characters.

Suwappu Deer and Tuna

The first part of this film imagines and explores the Suwappu world. Here we are using film to explore how animation and behaviours can draw out character and narrative in physical toy settings. The second part is an explanation of how Suwappu products might work, from using animal patterns as markers for augmented reality, to testing out actual Augmented Reality (AR) worlds on a mobile phone.

Suwappu real-time AR tests

We wanted to picture a toy world that was part-physical, part-digital and that acts as a platform for media. We imagine toys developing as connected products, pulling from and leaking into familiar media like Twitter and Youtube. Toys already have a long and tenuous relationship with media, as film or television tie-ins and merchandise. It hasn’t been an easy relationship. AR seems like a very apt way of giving cheap, small, non-interactive plastic objects an identity and set of behaviours in new and existing media worlds.

Schulze says:

We see the media and animation content around the toys as almost episodic, like comic books. Their changing characters, behaviours and motivations played out across different media.

Toys are often related as merchandise to their screen based counterparts. Although as products toys have fantastic charm and an awesome legacy. They feel muted in comparison to their animated mirror selves on the big screens. As we worked with Dentsu on the product and brand space around the toys we speculated on animated narratives to accompany the thinking and characters developed.

In the film, one of the characters makes a reference to dreams. I love the idea that the toys in their physical form, dream their animated televised adventures in video. When they awake, into their plastic prisons, they half remember the super rendered full motion freedoms and adventures from the world of TV.

Each Suwappu character can be split into two parts, each half can be swapped with any other resulting in a new hybrid character. Each character has its own personality (governed by its top half) and ‘environment’ (dictated by its bottom half). This allows the creatures to visit each other’s worlds, and opens up for experimentation with the permutations of characters personality and the worlds that they inhabit. It’s possible to set up games and narratives based on the ways that the characters and their pants are manipulated.

Suwappu 3D registration

This is not primarily a technology demo, it’s a video exploration of how toys and media might converge through computer vision and augmented video. We’ve used video both as a communication tool and as a material exploration of toys, animation, augmented reality and 3D worlds. We had to invent ways of turning inanimate models into believable living worlds through facial animation, environmental effects, sound design and written dialogue. There are other interesting findings in the exploration, such as the way in which the physical toys ‘cut out’ or ‘occlude’ their digital environments. This is done by masking out an invisible virtual version of the toy in 3D, which makes for a much more believable and satisfying experience, and something we haven’t seen much of in previous AR implementations.

We all remember making up stories with our toys when we were young, or our favourite childhood TV cartoon series where our toys seemed to have impossible, brilliant lives of their own. Now that we have the technology to have toys soak in media, what tales will they tell?

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