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Disney's pop-up AR app for Marvel's Eternals puts actors in your living room

Disney's iOS-exclusive Eternals augmented reality app is testing the waters of interactive movie tie-ins.

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Parts of the Eternals AR app feel like a game you walk through. Other parts pop out of your environment.

Disney/Marvel Studios

After scanning a circular code on a movie poster with my iPhone, a preview button popped up showing a cloud of Eternals characters hovering in the air above my desk. An app download invitation followed that. Disney's AR tie-in to its new Marvel movie, Eternals, is an iOS-exclusive demo that aims to be for augmented reality-based movie tie-ins what virtual reality has tried for years.

The 10-minute app I tried at home doesn't do a ton: It's more of a walk-around diorama of characters from the film along with their origin stories. The interesting part comes when one character (Sprite, played by Lia McHugh) seems to beam into my home walking around and talking. There have already been AR apps using volumetrically captured 3D avatars of people looking like holograms but Disney's Marvel Studios thinks it's nailed a way of realistically showing this through phones, perhaps for uses beyond mobile movie ads.

"We actually are applying a lot of our theme park experience in building this attraction," says Mark Mine, Marvel Studios' director of technology innovation, via Zoom. "We're thinking of it more as an attraction: You can ride through the attraction and you're allowed to get out of the ride vehicle."

Beyond the holographic-type interactive parts (there's a part where something seems to break through into the space you've scanned -- an AR trick I've seen before), there's an attempt at an interface to guide moving around in AR. Some glowing spots on the floor and instructions for me to step into certain zones remind me of how early VR apps guided people to understand interfaces. Apple's already had a number of increasingly ambitious AR apps on its App Store, including a multiminute AR tie-in to its TV Plus show, For All Mankind. 

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Sprite drops into my office during the intro.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

My arms got tired while holding up an iPhone, something that could be an issue if and when more AR-enabled apps come to theme parks or other spaces. Maybe it will be like a more advanced version of the way phones are used in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge

"We just opened Avengers Campus this last summer. I spent the last four years working on that project," says Dave Bushore, Marvel Studios' VP of franchise and creative marketing. "Imagine being able to take assets from one of our upcoming films and have them interact with an already pre-rehearsed stunt show, or meet and greets -- or have those characters follow you from the park home. I think there's no end of applications. We're definitely looking at it."