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Making Stuff in Virtual Reality Might Be a Killer App for Creatives

"We have to think of things from the ground up in virtual reality."

Vimeo / Future of StoryTelling

You might have seen this video floating across your Facebook feed a few weeks back. It’s of longtime Disney animator Glen Keane, talking about making art with pencil and paper — and then with virtual reality, inside an HTC Vive headset running a virtual painting app called Tilt Brush:

The video does a great job of selling the “wow” factor of VR, moving from 2-D to 3-D. But it also points to what has become increasingly clear: Apps that let you make stuff inside of virtual reality will be a crucial part of the nascent ecosystem.

Nearly all the major virtual reality players are dipping their toes in this water. Google bought Skillman & Hackett, the two-person startup that made Tilt Brush. Oculus just unveiled Medium, an app for the Oculus Rift that mimics sculpting objects out of clay. Sony has teased a creative app for PlayStation 4 called Dreams, being developed by British studio Media Molecule with assistance from Sony’s Magic Lab, the same division that is developing PlayStation VR.

As a non-artist, I found Tilt Brush and Medium easy to pick up. But what happens when more accomplished professionals like Keane get their hands on them? It seems all but certain that these simple creative applications will get more sophisticated over time, and that the people making stuff for VR will demand creative tools that let them dive right into a virtual studio.

“Time and time again, what we’ve learned is that we have to think of things from the ground up in virtual reality,” Penrose Studios founder Eugene Chung said. “Every single department, whether it’s animation, modeling, lighting, even storyboarding, has to be in VR. Our animators would spend days animating on a flat screen, and then they’d put it into VR and say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is nothing like I thought.’ The tools today are great, but they’re not adequate to create in virtual reality.”

Similarly, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney told Re/code that his company is starting to explore what it’s like to design a game inside of VR.

“The situation right now is you use a mouse to manipulate polygons and objects,” Sweeney said. “The mouse is on a 2-D surface, and your world is 3-D, so there are a lot of approximations that aren’t mappable to the human brain. In VR, the experience will be dramatically better.”

At a panel about Medium at the Oculus Connect conference last week, co-creator Brian Sharp said the company has already made 3-D prints of virtual objects that co-workers have sculpted. And, he added, there’s “huge educational potential” to have more than one person in the virtual studio at once, so that a novice can watch and learn in real time from a master.

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