What are You? How to Create an Instagram Story Randomizing Face Filter

This summer Facebook released a tool that lets anyone design custom face filters and environmental effects for Instagram Stories. 

Previously only available for Facebook Developers, the Spark AR Studio software is now available as a free download for anyone to create filters. 

The software itself is reminiscent of MIT’s Scratch (ask your kids, they’ll know it) and is filled with templates and tutorials to get you started. 

With the popularity of the “Which Disney character are you?” filter, followed by the “Which Harry Potter character are you?” filter, followed by the “What font are you?” filter over the holiday break, I decided to dig into how to create one. 

Spark AR Studio is pretty cool software but it’s certainly not Garage Band. A “real” developer will be way better at it than me, of course.

So this is what I made. It’s called Toast Chooser. It allows you to find out how you like your toast. From rare, medium rare, medium well or burnt. It’s dumb. It’s entirely random and hundreds of people have made themselves toast now. LOL. 

You can try it by clicking this link and opening it in the Instagram app.

How To Make One

  • Download Spark AR Studio
  • Watch this video.
  • Download this example patch and open it with Spark AR Studio.
  • Try changing the 4 pre-loaded colors in that patch to white, then change the textures of each one to your own png files. Now add a Runtime command to it so it stops automatically, and make any other tweaks you want. I suggest you put a title slide in it and some face effects, for example. Note: you shouldn’t necessarily copy this example, but instead, use it as a reference.
  • Test it – a lot! The software will generate a link you can send to your friends within their Facebook app. Really get a sense for how it will work and if there are any bugs. 
  • Create a demo video. Mine got rejected almost immediately because I put text overlay on the demo video. So read the prompts! 
  • Upload your filter to Facebook for their approval through the Facebook Spark AR Hub. This site will also give you the backend analytics to see how many people used your filter and impressions it received from everyone using it. 
  • Wait for approval. Could be 24 hours. Could be a couple weeks. Address any issues. Go live!
  • Share and marketer your filter when live! Generate a permalink to the filter page and share it outside of Instagram with a video snapshot of the effect!

More importantly than this dumb meme trend is the rapid adoption rates of augmented reality. We don’t even think about the advanced visual and machine learning and technology required to bring this to life.

It’s just magic. Toast on your head magic.


NYT 2020: recommended reading for storytellers of every kind


The NYT Innovation Report in 2014 was so raw and smart and poignant I literally took my clients brand names and swapped them with “NYT” and walked clients through the analysis as if it was their own digital/content strategy assessment.

Today, the NYT released its latest version of that report, and although it’s less dire and impactful than the 2014 report, it remains an important read for us students of storytelling, media and how humans get their news.

Key quotes from the Poynter summary:

  • The New York Times will dedicate $5 million to coverage of the Trump administration’s effect on the world.
  • A dozen new visual-first journalists are coming aboard. By the middle of the year, each major news desk will be paired with a deputy editor that has a “full range of creative skills” to promote non-traditional storytelling.
  • Major stories will be tackled by thematic teams — departments be damned.
  • Create (another) innovation team: “We can’t pursue every idea; but we must pursue some of them. Every corner of the newsroom has ideas for what those should be, but they don’t have enough places to pitch them. We will form a new team to solicit those big ideas, and bring the best of them to life. We believe this team can help foster a culture of innovation and experimentation across the newsroom, and can encourage journalists to think beyond their current beat.”

Read the 2017 report here.