You’ve probably used Alban Denoyel’s work, even if you don’t know it.
His company’s website, Sketchfab, makes it trivial to publish a 3D model or AR experience. Think of it like publishing an image or a video: Upload your content to Sketchfab, and then send a link to a client, add it to a portfolio, sell it, or embed it anywhere online. On the flip side, if you’re just looking to find (or buy) pre-made 3D content, a simple search on the website will return hundreds (if not thousands) of quality results.
Sketchfab effectively solves the problem of distributing 3D content and AR experiences, for businesses and consumers alike.
To find out more about Sketchfab and the future of 3D content, we caught up with Denoyel. We talked about a variety of topics, including the development of the platform, how content distribution can change your business, the AR/VR hypecycle, and the “killer app” for spatial computing.
Sean Higgins: Can you tell me a bit about your background, and how you came to spatial computing?
Alban Denoyel: I have more of a business background, and I went through business school in France. I’ve also always had a passion for starting things and making things. I do sculpture as a hobby, and that’s how I discovered 3D printing and 3D scanning. Around that time, I met someone who had just built the first proof of concept for a web based 3D viewer. That person was Cedric, and that proof of concept became Sketchfab.
What does the term spatial computing mean to you?
For me spatial computing is the next phase of computing—where everything is spatial, just like in real life, but digital, just like with computers.
In your words, what does Sketchfab do, as it is currently available today?
Sketchfab is a platform to publish and find 3D content on the web. Our core product is a web-based 3D player, that is used by creators to showcase their 3D works, and by companies either to easily integrate interactive content on their websites (say a 3D view of a product), or to privately share 3D models to collaborate on.
The viewer can be customized to add more options like color choices, animations… We started as a utility, and we grew a community around it, giving birth to the largest library of 3D content. Some of it is available for free under creative commons, some of it can be purchased on the Sketchfab store. Sketchfab also supports VR and AR out of the box .
Practically speaking—how will that change a person’s business, or life? What can a person do with your product that they could never do before?
For a creator, before Sketchfab, they’d typically showcase their 3D work in a non 3D way, typically images or videos. Or they would have to send a 3D file, and only people with a 3D software could open it to view it.
For companies, before Sketchfab, they’d be limited to showing image carousels of their products, or at best 360 spinners. But their products exist in 3D in the real world, and they should be able to showcase them this way on the web. That’s what Sketchfab enables with ease and at scale.
On the marketplace front, before Sketchfab, people would buy 3D assets based on 2D previews or videos. With Sketchfab, they can fully inspect a model in real time, look at the topology, all the maps, etc before buying the asset.
Sketchfab seems to many people like a platform for artists and constumers, but it looks like you are working a lot with businesses these days. Is that true? If so, why?
The majority of our revenue comes from B2B use cases. While we initially started Sketchfab to help creators share their work, we noticed more and more companies were organically using Sketchfab for things like e-commerce, private sharing, configurators… So we started building features to specifically address those needs and go after this opportunity. We also realized 3D creators have the same need to be able to easily share their 3D work in 3D within their companies, and not just to the outside world, which is why we built Sketchfab for teams.
What will Sketchfab look like in a year?
We are progressing on many fronts. Our north star is to offer the best 3D viewer on the web, for creators and businesses alike, so we will continue improving it, both in terms of rendering and performances. We are doubling down on our business offerings, to better address our customers’ needs and offer more power and flexibility. We are also making good progress on our content integrations, with the ambition to become the go-to API for 3D content for the 3D/VR/AR world. Think what giphy did, but for spatial computing.
How will that change someone’s business, or life?
Spatial computing, or the metaverse, can only exist if there is 3D content to populate it. We are getting to a scale where you can find a 3D version of pretty much anything on Sketchfab, which will be useful across many different industries and use cases: creativity, commerce, productivity, training, storytelling, and entertainment.
What is the long-term goal? What will Sketchfab become in 5 years?
Our mission is to make 3D accessible. To provide the best place to publish 3D content, and the best best place to find 3D content. We now have 3 major opportunities:
We want to be the market leader to embed 3D content, with a focus on product display and eCommerce. Many companies will have a digital twin of their products. With the best 3D viewer on the market, and the biggest network of integrations, Sketchfab will be the ultimate way to embed and distribute this 3D content for web/VR/AR. Sketchfab will also power marketing, storytelling, education, culture, and the long tail of short form immersive experiences from content creators.
We want to be the market leader to manage 3D content. As companies shift to an end-to-end digital workflow from product development to launch and commercialisation, Sketchfab for teams will be the ultimate way to manage 3D files internally.
We also want to be the market leader to find 3D content. More and more tools, platforms and devices will ingest 3D content. Sketchfab will be the ultimate way to find 3D content, on sketchfab.com or through direct search integrations. This content will be a mix of official branded content from our corporate customers, as well as the long tail of user generated content ever increasing from the largest community of 3D creators, and all the new ways to capture reality. We will be the content API to populate the mirror world.
What is the biggest misunderstanding about spatial computing today? What are people still getting wrong?
I guess there is still confusion around 3D vs 360. I also think it’s hard to convey the potential of spatial computing without an actual AR or VR headset, and a lot of people haven’t had a chance to experience that yet.
Where is spatial computing on the hype cycle? What needs to happen for spatial computing to enter the mainstream?
I would say it has already entered the mainstream through the implementation of AR on platforms like Instagram, Snap, and TikTok. The fact that the latest iphones have a built in depth camera is also pretty mainstream, even if it hasn’t been marketed a lot.
Are the big technology developments going to come from the consumer side? Or the business? Or both? Why?
Both. The business side drives progress on productivity and collaboration, and the consumer side drives progress on more entertainment use cases, like games. But I guess you need similar progress in R&D , as well as the core tech, for both entertainment use cases and business use cases. So I’m unsure what will drive that the most
What’s the most interesting—and most potentially transformative—use of spatial computing that you’ve seen? Why is it a big deal?
Things around medical use and education feel quite transformative, and otherwise of course 3D capture is fascinating to me, the idea that you can replicate anything.
What is the “killer app” for spatial computing going to be?
I don’t think of it that way, just like I don’t think of a killer app for the internet. I see spatial computing as an underlying layer through which you’d be able to do anything and everything, similar to how the internet enabled many things. Is email a more killer app than search, or commerce, or video calls?