Virtual Mandalas


Virtual Mandalas: a practice, and an experience.

Last year, I started creating mandalas. It started with Sketchpad, an online drawing application that allows you to draw from a number of various points around a center at once. This has the effect of creating uniform patterns from the lines you draw and can lead to some very interesting effects.
The above patterns were drawn with a pen on the Google Pixel Slate. Then I remembered that I have an application for my HTC Vive that has similar functionality. Gravity Sketch VR is a tool for creating 3D models in Virtual Reality. It has some settings that allow you to start drawing in 3D space at various points around a central vector. With this, I can create patterns similar to those I created in Sketchpad.
Above is a top view of a pattern created in Gravity Sketch VR, but you can see how much more there is to it below when you zoom in and look from a different angle.
It was so much fun so I kept on making them, eventually using color.
I uploaded some of them to so you can view them in 3D and zoom in on them to better see the details.
Here is a recording of an 18-minute session creating one of these using Gravity Sketch VR:

Multi-user VR

I wanted to find a way for others to experience these in full scale around them in VR, so I exported them and created a world in NeosVR as a collection of my mandalas. If you have a VR headset and would like to experience them for yourself, you can download NeosVR for free from the Steam Store, and find them in the NeosVR Content Hub in the Art section as "mandalas."

Colorful Mandala

Tunnel Mandala

Metta Mandala

Storytelling with locomotion

While recording the previous mandala experiences, I thought that it might be interesting to allow visitors into these worlds to see my intentions for the experience while they’re actually there. In photography or videography, the photographer or director frames the shots and pieces them together in order to craft a narrative. Within VR, the observer has much more control over their environment, leaving the producer of the experience bereft of typical and well-known control mechanisms. We are then left with the necessity to innovate and find new mechanisms for telling the story. This is what excites me!

Elevator mechanics

For "metta,"  I used LogiX, a visual scripting language in NeosVR to create an elevator to quickly get to different "floors" of the structure. These are places within the experience that I found noteworthy and act like bookmarks to various coordinates in the scene where one might take in a view.  

I used a bit of a trick here: the user never actually changes position, but the model around them is what changes. I left a smaller copy of the model in the "floor" so the user can see what they’re moving through, and of course, the elevator’s buttons never move either. This gives the user a sense of stability as they move from point to point by pressing the elevator buttons.

A future enhancement that I may work on is a visual indicator within the smaller version of the model that indicates where the user actually is as they move around. This would serve as a “you are here” map indicator.

Coaster mechanics

The locomotion in this next piece, entitled "Space Wyrm," is like a roller coaster—not the type that takes you upside down. I don't want to make you sick! Rather, there are user controls for moving back and forth smoothly between two points and a button to stop anywhere in between. 

Note that in this locomotion option, it’s a bit more comfortable to sit in a chair until movement stops. I used the same locomotion trick here where it feels like you are the one moving, but it’s actually the model that you are surrounded by that does the coasting between two points.

I also added spinners to some of the mirrored geometry of the model. This has a very interesting effect in that it feels like more of the geometry is moving than really is, and the overlapping geometry that does not move lends itself to even more variation in the emergent patterns. Combining this with animated materials on select geometry has profound effects.


Infinite loop

The locomotion in this piece, entitled "Ferris," is a spinning torus around the user which has the effect of creating an endless loop of patterns. To spice it up a bit, there is also another torus inside, of which images are sub-objects and spin at a slightly lower rate of speed to create somewhat of a parallax effect. These images also have a component attached to make sure they are always facing the user as they speed by. Finally, to make it interactive, I provided back and forth speed controls at 1x, 2x, and 3x speed (though they’re actually factors of 10) and a stop button. Music is incorporated into the experience and I’ve left the material tools which allow the user to equip a particular material with their hand and "shoot" the mandala geometry to change the materials.

My latest mandala incorporates audio into its programming, in which the volume of the music affects the intensity and brightness of the colors. This one is simply called "Audio Reactive Mandala."

I've continued this practice all year and have built many different types of experiences and experimented with many of the techniques and practices emerging in the bustling VR industry. It's meditative and fulfills a craving in me to create these and share them with the world. 

If you too would like to learn more about virtual reality creation, you can join me every Sunday in NeosVR for our Creator Jam events at 11 am Pacific Time. Install NeosVR and in your home, you will find a session plate with floating orbs. Open up the Creator Jam world by double-clicking on it.

Hope to see you there!

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Jerad Bitner

VR Creative by night, Digital PM by day.

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