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Pay To Play: Visualizing Presidential Campaign Spending Using Augmented Reality

Pay to Play, the AR data visualization experience, showcasing how money spent on presidential campaigns equates to the cost of large U.S. infrastructure projects.

Believe it or not, a few short months ago the main event dominating the news cycle wasn’t coronavirus, but the Presidential election. The Democratic primaries were different from years past, and not just because the number of candidates running could fill a small football field. One thing that stood out to our team was the record spending that occurred this election cycle. Discussions began to swirl around campaign finance specifically when Michael Bloomberg entered the race, funding his entire campaign with his personal fortune, and raising questions about what money should and shouldn’t buy while running for office. We began thinking about a way to contextualize the immensity of campaign spending through the language we speak best — technology. Those conversations and the desire to use technology to answer that question was the origin of Pay to Play. Due to primaries being postponed, and the race being narrowed down to single candidates from each party, we considered not releasing this experience.

However, with the new economic pressures on American families due to coronavirus and the current volatile international economy, we believed the relationship between money and politics was worth exploring. This project considers the disconnect between the monetary impact of the political process and the needs of everyday Americans.

The staggering amount of money spent by Democratic candidates in the 2020 election left us wondering how that money could have been spent on infrastructure and funding the platforms that those candidates had as part of their campaigns. We designed Pay to Play as a way to look back on the record amount of money spent by Democratic candidates that have ended their bids. We also included how much several Republican contenders in the 2016 presidential election spent on their campaigns as another comparison.

We designed this experience to visualize our internal discussions and the conversations happening in the U.S. during this tumultuous time, and in doing so we wanted to answer the question: “What else could we have done with that money?”

How Does It Work

Try it for yourself at campaignspending.rosedigital.co or scan the QR code.

Why Use Augmented Reality

The Build, 3D Modeling, and Optimization

Optimizing for size by reducing face counts and textures in Blender

We found that much of the challenge of this project was using AR in a way that was accessible to as many people as possible while still maintaining the core identity of the project — using numerical scale as a way to evoke a reaction from the user. Rendering any 3D model in a web browser can be an expensive operation. Rendering thousands of them would tax a smartphone’s hardware to the point of unusability. We ended up approaching this by leaning into the idea of scale: we didn’t need exacting detail if the idea was to overwhelm the user with a huge pile of items; we just needed enough to make it clear what each item was. So we selected simple models with fewer polygons, decimated their numbers of faces as low as we could, and reduced the resolution on their textures to minimize file size. The end result worked out — we had piles of apples that were clearly recognizable and deeply satisfying to watch cascade down from the sky.

Additional challenges came from the technologies we used to build the experience itself. Web AR platforms advance every day, but there are still severe limitations to their capabilities. For example, 8th Wall, the platform on which this experience runs, offers surface occlusion capabilities only for its Unity integration into native apps. For browser-based experiences that don’t yet have access to that plane detection technology, we have to emulate a floor by placing a vast invisible sheet at a defined distance below the camera. The distance to the “floor” is not dynamic and doesn’t change whether the user is sitting or standing, resulting in an imperfect representation of reality. This process only makes us more excited to see the next steps web AR will take, as the technology continues to improve and provide us with new and even more compelling ways to augment our reality.



Nicole Riemer: Art Direction and Experience Design

Eric Liang: Experience Design and Development