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At Snapchat, Redrawing the Bounds of Reality

At Snapchat, Redrawing the Bounds of Reality

In augmented reality, the ability to work across disciplines is especially valuable. The medium represents a mash-up of modern technological marvels — computer vision, haptics, artificial intelligence — and more conventional creative endeavors, like screenwriting and character animation.

In late 2016, the Libermans’ unique background caught the attention of executives at Snap, which, one year earlier, had demonstrated A.R.’s potential as a creative platform with the rollout of animated overlays on selfies. The company jointly hired the foursome to develop animated A.R. characters based on Bitmoji. “They’d been there and done that,” said Eitan Pilipski, vice president of camera platform at Snap, Snapchat’s parent company. “There was an amazing opportunity to take their creative thinking and put it in the hands of our users.”

Sharing an office with three of your siblings could be a recipe for disaster, but it seems to have the opposite effect on the Libermans. In Venice Beach, they were like different limbs of the same chestnut-haired, fair-skinned organism, finishing one another’s sentences when not cracking up at inside jokes.

In Russia, growing up in a house with their parents and two other siblings, they fell down the rabbit hole of a Disney home video collection (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Duck Tales,” “The Lion King”) and never came out. “Russia can be quite melancholy,” said Daniil, product lead, 35. “We were always trying to bring more fun into the gloominess of the environment around us.”

The Libermans shared a house for a time when they moved to Los Angeles, too, then spread out to their current arrangement in three apartments on the same street. “Before college we were together constantly, and afterward it’s been the same,” said David, technology lead, 34.

At Snapchat, the siblings oversee an in-house animation studio consisting of a few dozen animators, scriptwriters, visual effects artists, character riggers, engineers and others. Though bite-sized animations for a social media platform may seem like a step down from feature films, Maija Burnett, director of the character animation program at CalArts, said many in the industry view A.R. as a bold new frontier.

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