While a lot of investment has gone into making games for virtual reality, it’s the creative apps that really catch my attention and keep me coming back for more. Painting, drawing, world building, sculpting, and 3D modeling are all new again, and this time they’re in true three-dimensions, not just on flat screens. These tools are why I believe that VR is not just an entertainment medium, but a productivity tool that is here to stay. It is quickly becoming the go-to tool for many artists, traditional and digital alike.
Sketching & Painting
The evolution of the pencil and paintbrush are upon us, with new versatile tools that grant a new level of creative freedom. Not only can we change colors and draw in the air around us, but we can also change textures, scale, push, pull, undo, select strokes and replicate them with ease. Here are a couple of the most popular tools that are pushing the boundaries of what it means to create digital masterpieces in virtual reality.
Tilt Brush by Google
One of the very first creative apps on the market, its team was quickly purchased by Google. There, it has flourished with the addition of many new and useful features. Tilt Brush is the creme-de-la-creme of creative VR apps; you can paint with various types of brushes such as light, fire, and stars. It also has integration with Blocks by Google (more below) for even greater freedom of expression. The Tilt Brush team values creative expression over accuracy and allows you to sketch your ideas quickly, but still create detailed works of art by spending more time on them. I've used this for mind maps, as well as more artistic pieces. I've spent over 120 hours with this tool, and it's become an integral part of my process, as well as one of the first things I demo to newcomers looking to be wowed by VR. And I never get tired of experiencing other people's amazing creations which you can browse at https://vr.google.com/sketches/
Examples of Tilt Brush Works of Art
There is even a music video created entirely with Tilt Brush!
Quill by Oculus
This app is similar to Tilt Brush in that it allows you the creative and artistic freedom that comes with painting on a blank canvas, but differs in that it is entirely shadeless. That is, the environment lighting does not shade your strokes the way most brushes are within Tilt Brush. The tools vary greatly and lend themselves towards a particular aesthetic. Another difference is that you can scale to a much greater degree in Quill, as the video below illustrates. I’ve spent many an hour in Quill trying to learn the techniques for coloring, using layers, and pushing my strokes around with the nudge tool. I’d say this has a little bit higher learning curve than Tilt Brush, but the artists who are producing with this tool are publishing some gorgeous work. You can find more on Sketchfab under the quill tag, here: https://sketchfab.com/tags/quill
Examples of Quillustrations
Sculpting with Digital Clay
If clay is more your thing, there are a few tools that allow you to pinch, pull, rotate, smooth, cut, copy, stamp, and scale with this medium as well. Digital clay gives you all of the tools you’re familiar with, without the mess to clean up! Though, since you can’t “touch” the clay with your hands — a visceral part of sculpting — most tools are more like airbrushes that allow you to do things like smoothing. Artists are producing astounding works of art by sculpting in virtual reality. Here are a couple of the most popular ones exploring this avenue of creation.
Medium by Oculus
Medium was one of the first sculpting apps on the market. Created by Oculus, a company owned by Facebook, the application is tightly integrated with the Oculus Rift. As such, this is only available for the Rift. You can use it on a Vive by installing Revive, a compatibility layer for Oculus apps. Medium allows you to place clay in the air around you and then sculpt and paint it with various tools. You can change the material of the clay as well, to make it look like metal for example; you can place clay on different layers and manipulate each layer independently of one another. You can even collaborate with other people using its multi-user capabilities. Once you’re happy with your creation, you can even export it into standard formats to print out on a 3D printer. Take a look at some of these excellent works of art being produced with Medium.
Examples of Medium Sculptures
This is an amazing tool that is cross functional, allowing you to do volumetric sculpting as well as sketching and painting with brush strokes. It basically combines aspects of Tilt Brush and Medium into one tool, which is powerful. It’s also multi-user to boot. Beyond the combined features of these tools, you can find in its interface both a desktop viewer and it’s own browser, either of which you can place in your space to keep up on notifications, browse the 2D web, or find reference images for your art. Now If I could just import Blocks models…
Examples of MasterpieceVR Creations
In my humble opinion, this is one of the most exciting promises of virtual reality. Modeling three-dimensional objects on two-dimensional screens has always felt like a stop-gap measure to me, and VR brings out the potential of this medium in a very profound way. Grabbing parts of your model and manipulating them with your hands gives you a more natural perspective while creating. It just feels… right.
Blocks by Google
As a former 3D modeler first getting into VR, I knew the potential of modeling in a truly three-dimensional space was huge. A few developers started creating some VR apps with this specific goal, but none of them have come close to the simplicity and power that editing vertices, edges, and planes that Blocks gives you.
I immediately became addicted to Blocks because it lets me be extremely productive in a short amount of time. It’s also very easy to upload and share your models through the associated Poly website.
This tool effectively open-sources 3D modeling, commoditizing low-poly models. When you share and make them “remixable” you’re giving your models a CC-BY license. This has also had the effect of creating a community of people who share and remix each other’s models. Some members have started to create collections of primitive parts or “Kits” with themes (like #MonsterBlocks and #MedievalBlocks) and even have competitions for using those 3D parts in your own mix-ups.
Examples of Blocks Models
Since Blocks can also be imported into Tilt Brush and then drawn upon further, here’s a great example of what that looks like as well.
Gravity Sketch VR
These guys were on the market pretty early with an alpha demo—if you could get your hands on it. It’s a powerful 3D modeling application geared towards professional use, resulting in an interesting approach to its UX and tools. The learning curve is less than traditional modeling applications, and the tools allow you extreme flexibility with your shapes since it allows you to create curved surfaces instead of only flat planes. Gravity Sketch also has a iOS companion app. I haven’t used that one at all, so I’d love to hear from you if you have.
Examples of Gravity Sketch VR Models
There are many more tools that artists are using; these are just a few of the most popular ones. These applications impress upon me how virtual reality is changing the way we work and create for our ever-expanding digital medium. We live in some exciting times, and I am glad to be able to experience them. Do you have any favorite creative VR apps or artwork that impress you? Let us know in the comments!
If you’d like to keep up with VR developments at Lullabot, please check out http://vr.lullabot.com/