Snap Lens Academy: CHAZ AR

Brought together by racial justice, CHAZ AR celebrates art and community through interactive AR experiences.


In June 2022, I was 1 of 15 selected as a Snap Lens Scholar out of 600+ nationwide applicants to learn AR. We were taught Lens Studio, Blender, Photoshop, and After Effects over the course of 9 weeks.

In the last 3 weeks, we were put into groups of 3 and given prompts relating to social issues to demonstrate what we had learned.


Lens Studio


3 Weeks:
July – August 2022


Kamili Saintleger
Kyle Martinez

My Role

• Project Manager
• Graphic Designer
• Storyteller
• Motion Graphics


How can we create a Snap lens about racial justice?


We wanted to develop an impactful lens that couldn't be taken out of context.


We decided to immortalize Seattle’s temporary Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ for short, of June 2020 through AR (Additionally, CHAZ is also known as Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or CHOP). We believe that focusing on positive things that come out of communities when brought together would be the way to go, because it demonstrates how people support and lift each other up when faced with hardship.

1. Project Management

2. Ideation

I felt that being our project manager would streamline our process because a large part of the lens required coding or technical skills that I lacked. Plus, when one person takes over managing deadlines, it makes it easier for other teammates to focus on their task.

So, while I couldn't help as much as I would have liked to on the engineering side, focusing my energy on providing whatever support Kamili and Kyle needed (like UX, image manipulation, graphic design, and very minor 3D modeling, to name a few) was the next best thing for me to do.

We used a variety of tools like Trello, Google sheets, and Miro to keep track of progress. Everyday I would check in with Kamili and Kyle to see what they needed from me and to update them on where we were on our deadlines.

Once an asset or step was completed, I updated our timeline and we celebrated the achievement. Honestly, I learned a lot working so closely with engineers. Kamili and I have the same problem solving brain, but the way we attacked the problem was different (she's very technically analytical while I thought more about the "what" and the "why"). 

Working with Kamili and recognizing how similar we are, while how we were able to fill each others' gaps was my favorite part of this project.

It occurred to me that in situations like natural disasters, protests, and police brutality, communities are often brought together, in spite of the hardship they’re facing. This made us realize that focusing on the strengths and what can be achieved when brought together would be the best way to navigate racial justice in a powerful way, while making it difficult to be taken out of context.

Kyle brought up that in June 2020, he had participated in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, in Seattle, Washington. We really liked the idea of CHAZ, and both Kamili and I were already familiar with CHAZ, so we eagerly agreed to recreate it in AR!

Kyle taking a video of himself in the CHAZ crowd.

Kyle at CHAZ

Two people sitting on a couch placed in the middle of the street.

The Discussion Spot, where the next plan of action was discussed.

Satellite picture of the garden.

The Garden (which is still being maintained today!)

Picture of food boxes on tables underneath a tent.

The Medic Spot, where snacks and medical assistance was free.

Throughout June 2020, Kyle took various photos and videos of the protests, activities, and art of the community, so we used his documentation as a guide.

CHAZ consisted of a 4 block radius. Based on Kyle’s participation, he emphasized the importance of several significant areas, such as a spot with couches placed on the street where volunteers discussed their next plan of action; a garden spot, where BIPOC people could cultivate and harvest fresh produce; and the medic spot, where volunteers offered medical help to protestors.

We took these three areas, and condensed the original 4 blocks of CHAZ into 1 block for our AR environment. We then sectioned out the area on a map, which helped us identify which spots the art and significant areas would be placed.

Satellite image of the original CHAZ blocks, highlighted in yellow.

The 4 blocks CHAZ originally covered.

The same satellite image as before, but just the block we condensed to highlighted in yellow.

Sectioned + condensed into 1 block.

Something we had thought about was possibly explaining why CHAZ only lasted about a month. Security was the biggest issue, since at 3 weeks in, there had been shootings, however no fatalities. Volunteers started to leave since they felt unsafe, and eventually the police came, demanding that the area be evacuated. Ideally, we wanted to include this, but we needed a clever plan because this was definitely something people could take out of context.

After several days of going back and forth on the idea, we decided due to limiting time and complexity of the subject, that it would be best to leave it out and solely focus on the art and community brought together.

3. Research

4. Draft Process

5. Results

Ideating more, I sketched out some potential directions we could go, starting at CHAZ’s entrance. Soon after, we decided to just start the lens already inside CHAZ so the user could be immediately immersed.

We gathered various powerful images to tell CHAZ’s story such as sidewalk art, murals, signs, and graffiti. I then enhanced them and took out the background on Photoshop so they could be placed accordingly.

We took these three areas, and condensed the original 4 blocks of CHAZ into 1 block for our AR environment. We then sectioned out the area on a map, which helped us identify which spots the art and significant areas would be placed.

Several sketches of what the user would see on their phone.

Storyboard sketches.

Aerial picture of "Black Lives Matter" written on the pavement.

Black Lives Matter painted on the street.

Sidewalk chalk saying, "Justice through empathy".

Sidewalk chalk.

"You are not entering free cap hill" sign.

The sign at the CHAZ entrance.

Graffiti on the side of a building.

"George Floyd changed the world" graffiti.

A mural of Floyd's daughter Nina on his shoulders.

A mural of George Floyd and his daughter Nina.

Our final AR environment, mostly constructed by Kyle in Blender (Kamili and I did minor modeling, like rocks, cans, or other small objects), included various street art pieces and the three main areas of CHAZ; the Discussion Spot, The Garden, and The Medic Spot. I was really impressed by Kyle's use of a panoramic shot for the background!

Navigation was implemented by tapping the cubes, which mostly Kamili implemented (Kyle did some minor scripting as well) by using Javascript waypoints in Lens Studio.

Golden cubes in the AR environment.

Some of the golden cubes, used as waypoints.

I was continually impressed by her ability to implement and fix coding issues when they arose.

The result of our final lens is a complete AR environment that immerses the user in CHAZ, during June 2020. Use the snapcode below to try it!

CHAZ AR Snapcode

CHAZ AR Snapcode.

Three couches in the street of our AR environment.

The Discussion Spot.

Tents, fences, and plants sectioned off to create gardens in our AR environment.

The Garden.

Picnic tables behind fences with nearby tents.

The Medic Spot.

5. Results

6. Video Process

7. Reflection

Once the bulk of our lens was developed, I began planning our video. I wanted to tell CHAZ’s story through our video, not just our Snap lens. I began by writing the script to explain the context and then gathered all the images I needed; the graffiti and street art we used, recordings and screenshots of the AR environment, and most importantly, a captivating story that pulls at peoples' emotions.

I made sure to give special attention to the wording and, while recording the narration, made sure to emphasize tone in certain sentences, like “…in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

For background music, I chose a song that conveyed not just the intensity of the subject, but also hope for change to come. Shout out to envato.elements for the background music!

Lastly, I wanted there to be a call to action at the end, both metaphorically and literally. That’s why I included “We can do better for racial justice, but we need your help.“, and a literal call to action,, since they was were the ones who started (and is still maintaining!) CHAZ’s BIPOC garden we put in our lens!

Overall, I’m very happy with how the video came out. I think it conveys the intensity of the topic while still maintaining the hope and inspiration needed to keep pushing forward with social issues like these.

I felt we had successfully embodied our vision of highlighting the art and connectedness that comes from communities during times of need, while inspiring others to start thinking and getting involved with racial justice.

Some things I learned were to schedule set times and days for group work and check-ins, as well as strategies for better communication. Ideally, I’d like to learn more code so when UX problems arise, I can lend more help with developing a solution.

Additionally, after we had finished our lens, Kyle ran into another CHAZ participant who immediately recognized that our lens was a CHAZ reconstruction. This reaffirmed to me that we were successful in our endeavors!

Next steps would be to improve the UX of the lens by swapping the left and right controls and restructuring the code, since the text bubbles are hard to read and a zoom feature couldn’t be implemented.