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Adobe Aero let me walk through my own photographs in augmented reality

The best views make the camera slung around my neck seem insufficient to capture the breadth of the scene. A flat image is simply insufficient to capture the full awe of walking through a jungle dotted with capuchin monkeys, gator spotting on an airboat through the Everglades, or seeing my baby’s first smile.

That’s why I was intrigued by Adobe Aero, the new app in the Creative Cloud family that turns Photoshop files into augmented reality. The free iOS app aims to allow creatives to build AR experiences without any coding. Essentially, Aero brings Photoshop files into a 3D space, placing them in the world around you using your device’s camera. With a few intuitive tools to animate and add depth, it makes for a whole new way to enjoy your photographs or build new scenes from scratch.

Aero planes

Lacking the graphic design savvy to actually create my own 3D objects, I decided to use Adobe Aero to take a walk through my own photographs, reliving moments of my travels from my snow-encrusted backyard.

The first step is to let Aeor scan the scene and identify the floor in order to create an anchor for the virtual objects.

Aero includes a few dozen starter assets, including picture frames, furniture, letters, and an animated T-Rex. The app also imports from the camera roll or other files already on the device. If you want to see how one of your photos would looked framed and on your wall, Aero is a great way to do that.

But Aero is really made to work with Creative Cloud files. (While Aero is free, the Creative Cloud storage that you need for this feature — and, of course, Photoshop — is not). Photoshop files need to be exported specifically for Aero using a new option in the Photoshop menu and synced to the cloud.

Aero recognizes Photoshop layers, which is how you can place objects in virtual space at different positions. Some objects may be easier to work with by isolating them on a transparent background, but you can also layer the foreground, subject, and background of an image, or layer several different objects inside a single PSD file.

As a young app in the nascent field of augmented reality, Aero is surprisingly intuitive.

Aero will attempt to automatically place objects based on its scan of the scene. Some scans recognized the wall instead of the floor, leading to objects that defied gravity, but most worked correctly. Many objects also imported at minuscule size, forcing me to search the scene to find and resize them.

Also, when placing two-dimensional objects from a photo into three-dimensional space, the objects themselves don’t magically gain depth. They get larger as you approach them, but there is no dimensionality.

Sample clip showcasing a scene I created in Adobe Aero. Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

Once the objects are placed, moving and resizing is intuitive with the touchscreen interface. You can choose from a bevy of animation options, including a trigger to start the animation when you either tap on the object or approach within a certain distance. Layer tools allow you to space the layers, so that you can literally walk right through the layers in your photograph.

Projects can be exported in a handful of different AR file types, or shared to social media as a video or as a link to download the app to try the experience in a any space.

More augmented dream than reality

Adobe Aero is a fledgling app, and feels like it. It isn’t without it’s flaws, with some objects seeming to float off the floor while others in the same scene did not. Working to actually clear enough space in the cloud and finding synced files also took some time on my part. If you don’t have great internet or don’t want to pay for increased Creative Cloud storage, working with Aero could be frustrating.

Once everything is loaded, performance can still be an issue. Despite running Aero on a 2018 iPad Pro, I did receive a few low memory warnings until closing other apps, which raised questions about just how well the app will perform on lower-powered devices or with larger files.

Aero certainly isn’t as refined as the Adobe’s other mobile apps, like those in the Spark series. But as a young app in the nascent field of augmented reality, it is surprisingly intuitive and could become a useful tool as Adobe continues to tweak it.

Beyond the “cool factor” that may wear off after the first initial experience, I can see a few real-world uses for Aero. Artists with a bit more Photoshop savvy than myself have been able to create some pretty incredible AR installations. But you wouldn’t need much tech know-how to create an augmented reality wall art gallery before printing out those photos (or, for professionals, to show off what those prints may look like in a client’s own home).

Aero is a fun way to bring creativity to a literal new dimension, and while the app may not feel quite up to Adobe standards, there’s no other app yet that’s really like it, or that works so seamlessly with Photoshop.

Besides, how many apps out there will allow to take your own wildlife photographs and plop an alligator down in your backyard, then walk right up to his wide-open jaws?

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