Amid a global pandemic the solutions to some of our most basic problems need some creativity. With COVID’s continued presence in our lives, social distancing may have to continue into a time that is usually filled with parties, family gatherings and holiday festivities. People will be looking for ways to make new traditions, and to connect with their loved ones from afar.

Patrón needed a way to help customers connect despite holiday plans shifting across the country, while also maintaining their brand narrative. We worked with Patrón to create a first-of-its-kind digital wrapping as a special gift this holiday season, and beyond, to solve this specific problem. This experience provides a sentimental and original take on gifting alcohol as well as gives customers first-hand experience not just using augmented reality, but harnessing it to make something themselves.

How Does It Work?

Gifters of Patrón can use a microsite developed by ROSE to create a custom wrapping including a photo, text, and stickers that will transform into a 360-degree augmented reality (AR) gift wrapping around their Patrón bottle. This gives customers a chance to use this emerging technology in a new way that hasn’t been available in retail before.

Select A theme, add photos, text, and stickers and then see it come to life.

“With COVID-19 impacting most celebrations this holiday season, we wanted to give customers a way to continue to celebrate with each other while social distancing,” Nicole Riemer, the art director on the project said. “By creating a custom wrapping, customers can take the act of gifting alcohol from an easy to a thoughtful one. During a time when you might not be able to gift in person, creating a custom wrapping with photos, stickers, and text provides that personal touch that is missing from not being able to gift it in person.”

Using WebGL in both 2D and 3D allows users to see their content change between dimensions in real time. Gifters can then use built-in recording and sharing technology to share the gift with the recipient as well as on social media.

“Creating these designs digitally allows for the process to be instantaneous and affordable, rather than waiting for something to get engraved or physically customized, without losing the ability to share that someone is thinking of you on social media,” Riemer said.

By providing customers the ability to customize their gift of Patrón for both different occasions and gift recipients, we are showing them that Patrón isn’t the “mass brand” they think it is. This virtual gift allows distance to not be a barrier in creating something thoughtful that nurtures customers’ need for growing and maintaining their relationships.

Using augmented reality for this experience had several advantages. The most obvious one being that this experience provides a sentimental gift without having to enter a store or be in the same physical space as the recipient — helping maintain social distancing amid the pandemic. Additionally, augmented reality provides a way for users to generate their own content while maintaining the PATRÓN brand.

“The challenge with AR has always been figuring out how we can take new dimensions and connect them to the ones we’re familiar with in creative, expressive, and helpful ways,” Eric Liang, front-end/AR engineer on the project said. “The AR experiences that ROSE has previously created have each addressed that challenge by taking something important to us — something unseen or out of the ordinary that we wanted to showcase — and constructing it in the user’s world. This time, we’re handing the reins to the user. In this new collaboration, we’re letting users create and realize something that’s uniquely their own.”

Harnessing the power of AR will bring all the holiday cheer customers could be missing into the palm of their hand and inside their home — connecting people who want to be together this holiday. Additionally, PATRÓN has a history of creating limited-run packaging and bottles and this experience offers customers peak exclusivity with the ability to customize every individual bottle they purchase, so the virtual expansion of exclusive boxes was a natural progression for the brand.

In designing this web application, we identified two different types of users. As Patrón’s target demographic for this experience is 21–35, we were less concerned with the technological literacy of the user. Additionally, since this started as a concept that would be mainly pushed through social media, we were bound to attract younger users that would already be at least slightly familiar with augmented reality from exposure through SnapChat and Instagram. After determining this demographic information for our target user, the next question was what a user would want to create when using this tool. This led us to determining the following use cases:

Creator 1: The user that wants to create a really thoughtful collage that they want the recipient to see that they spent time on. They expect that their gift will be shown to others and potentially shared on social media in a similar fashion to birthday posts.

Creator 2: The user that is looking to create a quick gift that still wows the intended recipient. They want to expend minimal effort, but get the same praise and reaction as someone who spends a lot of time on their creation.

In order to satisfy the need for a quick gift, we created quick “themes” that someone can choose from at the start of the experience that allows them to upload a single photo and have created a designed bottle in 5 clicks (including previewing their design). For those that want to spend more time on their creation, we provide the ability to start from scratch and choose the content that goes on every side of the bottle.

Select A Theme

In choosing the predetermined content that users can apply to their digital bottles, we focused on a few things. The first was to choose assets that could be used for multiple occasions, holidays, and were non-denominational. The second was to underscore the socially distant benefit of this gift and continue to have people drink responsibly even when gatherings are not encouraged. The third was to make sure that the assets could be used in many combinations and still create a wrapping that looks high end.

Once we determined the user experience and the content types that could be placed on the wrappings, we had to find a way to map their content to a 3D bottle in real time, to show the user their creation on this model before sending augmented reality link to their recipient, and then ultimately render each individual experience in augmented reality.

The technical inspiration for this experience began in an understanding of how WebXR, the implementation of augmented reality in a web browser, operates. WebXR is the conceptual model of everything that exists in an extended reality scene: where each virtual object is, where light is coming from, where the “camera” stands and observes, how the user interacts and changes all of these things, and so on. Imagine closing your eyes and understanding where everything around you in the room is: your desk, the floor, a lamp, rays of sunlight coming through a window, even your own hands. Now open your eyes and actually observe those things. That’s what WebGL does. WebGL is the graphics engine that takes the theoretical model processed by WebXR and paints it on a screen, rendering the virtual existence of matter and light into visibility.

While we wanted to capture the same magic of seeing something you create exist in 3D space, it was important that it would be accessible to everyone, both in terms of the technology and creativity. We wanted it to be usable from an everyday mobile device, without the need for expensive VR technology. We also didn’t want to require the user to be a painter, have an empty warehouse to dance around with VR goggles on, or have an intricate understanding of 3D sculpture or set design to maximize the reward of the experience.

There were a lot of moving parts that needed to be addressed. There needed to be a simple, intuitive interface for the user to customize their design and we needed to apply the design to a 3D model composed of a number of different materials and textures, from soft cork to clear pebbled glass to shiny metallic gift wrap. The experience needed to show that customized bottle back to the user in an interactive, attention-grabbing 3D experience. And finally, we needed to be able to scale the experience for a mass marketing campaign, which meant preparing for a large number of concurrent users with different devices and intents. We settled on technologies to address each of these challenges: a React/HTML Canvas microsite to design the wrapping, an 8th Wall/A-FRAME experience to view it, and a serverless API backend with cloud storage to support scale.

The next step was to source a 3D model of the bottle and we worked with a 3D artist and modeller and iterated over the model until each detail was as accurate as possible, and then continued to optimize our renders.This involved adjusting lighting through trial and error until we found the best setup to illuminate the bottle and make the glass and its reflectiveness as lifelike as possible, as well as customizing the physical material shaders for each node of the finalized model: the cork, the ribbon, the glass, the liquid, and the wrapping.

3D model renderings of the Silver Patrón bottle. 3D model renderings of the Silver Patrón bottle.

Later on, we also realized that we needed a dynamic approach to the wrapping’s transparency. If the user chose to lay their graphics directly over the glass without using a background, those stickers, photos, and text would need to be opaque while leaving the glass transparent. The answer was taking the texture maps we generated with each user-created design and filtered them into black and white, effortlessly serving double duty as alpha maps to control transparency.

Example of an alpha map. Example of an alpha map.

While the experience would be accessible to everyone, we wanted those who had a Patrón bottle handy to be able to integrate it into the experience. It’s not yet feasible to use a real-life bottle of Patrón to anchor the experience, so we looked outside of the box — and settled on the actual box that each bottle of Patrón comes in. This gave us the opportunity to leverage 8th Wall’s image target feature, using Patrón bottle image on the side of each box to trigger the dramatic emergence of the virtual bottle from the physical box.

Built to share on social, this augmented reality experience allows for recording within the WebAR experience. Built to share on social, this augmented reality experience allows for recording within the WebAR experience.

Those without a box can watch the bottle appear on the plane they have placed it on in the experience. Adding some typical controls like pinch to zoom and finger rotation made it easy for the user to examine the bottle and the details of the design, and we added in 8th Wall’s Media Recorder capability to further boost the shareability of the experience.

As companies look ahead to a greener and more sustainable future, the concept of virtual wrapping and virtual packaging is likely to expand. As augmented reality moves from an emerging technology to an adopted one, user-generated AR content will take center stage, and experiences like this one will enable every day users to create using AR technology. As all industries grapple with how to stay competitive, and stay afloat, innovation is the answer to moving forward. This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what augmented reality can accomplish.

We are excited to continue innovating and bringing projects like these to life. We believe anyone can innovate and that process is vital amid the current economic landscape. Our passion for emerging technologies and augmented reality is immense and our work will only continue to reflect that. We’re looking forward to sharing more soon.

Ashley Nelson: Concept and Strategy, UX Copywriter

Eric Liang: Front-end/AR engineer

Eugene Park: Experience Design

Leonardo Malave: Back-end/AR engineer

Marie Liao: QA Engineer

Nicole Riemer: Concept and Strategy, Art Direction, and Experience Design

Yolan Baker: Project Manager