Ongoing Experiments with VR Art Tools

This post will update as I find time to experiment on Oculus Quest 2 headset.
Apps can be found at Oculus Store or via Sidequest / App Lab where you can download early access Quest projects.

Last update: August 2021

Virtual Reality via Oculus Quest 2 is starting to get interesting. Once you’ve finished shooting stuff, dancing, golfing, bowling, space-walking, chatting and site-seeing on Youtube360… simulations more intense inside VR… then… what next? You may want to explore your creative or industrious urges. It’s a sign you’re ready to actually trying doing something in VR.

AR or MR may become more accessible for business and working, and creativity, but there is something about putting on a headset which can help focus, immersion and take away distractions.

Oculus Quest needs to get lighter and more comfortable, and more apps need to start using the hand tracking feature. Using controllers for art just isn’t ideal. You want to dip your finger in ink, pick up pallets and access menus quickly and seamlessly. Right now, it can be a fiddle, but it’s still a good warm-up and just as with a mouse click, there maybe a few advantages.

But… actually doing some work via Virtual Desktop – with headsets evolving a little more – will become a definite option. Instead of sitting at a cluttered desk feeling unmotivated, VR and AR will hopefully make the ‘act’ of working a whole lot easier, mixing desktop windows with familiar, real-world items and communication apps. This will be great for working from home and for motivation.

These kind of creative apps are showing the way, and they make you feel excited again, like when you first played around with an iPad, or even a Sinclair ZX81.

Exporting Note: The go-to website where users are sharing and buying 3D models created in Oculus Quest 2 apps, is Sketchfab. You need an account to share your creativity there direct from Tilt Brush etc. but are limited to certain number of uploads. Just browsing around allows you to view and collect people’s work. There is a mobile app too, and for AR and VR viewing of uploads. You can glimpse a global library emerging for the metaverse of the future.


Tilt Brush

This app was first on the scene from Google. It’s gone open-source, so I didn’t realise you could get it – for free – as Open Brush or Multi Brush (with multiplayer feature) via SidequestVR.

It remains to be seen if the app will get any further development, but it’s a pretty wholesome, powerful tool as it is. It will probably be taken further in new guises like Gravity Sketch for example (see more below).

The focus is to provide a wide array of tools and brushes to make 360 art instant, fun, fluid and intuitive. It shows what painting in full 3D is really like, awesome from the get-go, as you begin painting in the air with light, finally free from any physical confines.

On your left arm, you get a revolving toolbox / pallet which you need to get familiar with to unlock all your options. You also need to get used to what the Oculus triggers do, such as expanding the scale, and rotating your art as you go.

In this way it provides a road into 3D art and modelling, which has otherwise seemed difficult to access via professional software on a screen.

Export and sharing: You can capture screenshots, animated GIFs and Oculus recordings. You can create an account at Sketchfab to share models.


Painting VR

This app is currently in development (2021) but you can get it via Sidequest / App lab.

It doesn’t appear to want to simplify the process of making a painting. I mean, it’s easy in that you can pick up a brush and paint on the huge canvas in front of you. You can also take various shortcuts, of course. But the app seems to be trying to slow things down; simulate the physical act of making a painting. Perhaps it will help you to think like a painter artist, about why and what you’re going to paint, and about the physical effort which is a part of the process. But this means that it will also be frustrating at first, whereas apps like Tilt Brush for instant 3D makes it all feel easy from the get go, with its intuitive menu system on your wrist at all times.

This concept is great, and it may well fulfill this idea, or potential, but… with the Oculus headset and Touch controllers as they are, it’s initially frustrating to get to grips with.

But that won’t stop you marveling at the way the sound and feel of paint is simulated. It doesn’t stop you looking forward to how this app could evolve with more of its development cycle still ahead. In fact, if you’re an artist and you do feel frustrated by any aspect then it may make you join the Discord channel and actually help the developers improve it to becoming one hell of a painter’s tool and experience.

Export and sharing: Update on this soon.


Gravity Sketch

logo for Gravity Sketch VR design tool

Buy on Oculus store. I actually used this app as one of the first things I tried on Oculus Quest 2, since it’s free to try (although you need to subscribe monthly to begin exporting/sharing and getting access to other features.)

It’s similar to Tilt Brush, but it’s taking things more seriously to become a more professional 3D artist and designer’s tool. There’s less emphasis on just being expressive.

But it still has a similar ease of use, with the wrist-bound menu system but featuring more comprehensive modelling tools, and less flashy tools like painting with sparks, flames etc.

My bet is on Gravity Sketch becoming a tool for the next generation of VR and 3D modelers will all remember, or become more standard.

There may be more multi-user features added, for group creative sessions.

I won’t say more just now, since as more of a painterly or expressive creative I plan to keep on experimenting in Tilt Brush. But if I get at all frustrated with export options, or with what I can achieve there, then I may well migrate (without too much of a shock) to this more precise app.

Visit the official website, which gives you an idea how comprehensive the app is becoming, across different devices too.

Export and sharing: You need to subscribe monthly for import/export features, but as a leading 3D design tool, you can be sure export will include into leading software.


Conclusion

Hopefully these notes might inspire you to get creative in VR.

I’m still exploring, and will hope to keep this post updated. I have a personal quest to improve myself enough to create something worth buying on Sketchfab, or as NFTs which can be viewed and experienced by their owners or collectors.

Last updated: Aug 2021.

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