How VR is revolutionising the creation of 3D art

The arrival of VR is changing the way we experience entertainment, but it also has the potential to change the way we create. Oculus Medium is just one example of how this might happen; it's a sculpting app designed to be used inside a VR environment, which could change how we work.

"For me sculpting in VR with Medium helps remove a lot of technical barriers for artists," says concept artist Steve Teeple, who's been using a beta version of Medium for some time. "You are thrown into a scene with a grid, a skybox, and two controllers. It feels like a sculptor standing in front of a block of stone… there is no crazy interface in your way or menus to set up, you can just boot it up and start sculpting."

Within limits

While Medium has limitations compared to software like ZBrush, Teeple sees this as a plus: "I find limitations in art can do wonders for our creativity, and when you only have two hands with a limited number of buttons it makes digesting the menus and tools so much easier. Honestly, I was able to dive right into Medium and start making things fairly quickly as it just seems to make sense if you have used any 3D app before… Anything that removes those technical barriers and gets more people making things just pushes our industry forward."

I get to sit or stand at my desk and pan, rotate, scale, and physically look around a model I am working on

Steve Teeple

For Teeple, Medium is the realisation of those Hollywood visions we're all used to; just like Tony Stark we can all now navigate floating computer interfaces. "I get to sit or stand at my desk and pan, rotate, scale, and physically look around a model I am working on," says Teeple. "This is just such a surreal feeling and helps speed up your workflow a lot as you can start to see areas you want to refine quicker, or can scale something to life size so your character is staring at you at eye level."

As a result, using Medium feels much more like traditional sculpting, especially compared to creating 3D models with a stylus. "You are using your whole body to make bold movements in your work," says Teeple. "When combined with standing, it really removes this hunched-over-on-a-tablet kind of workflow."

Oculus Medium enables you to sculpt within a VR environment

Oculus Medium enables you to sculpt within a VR environment

There's a familiarity to Medium that means it treads a new path between real-life sculpting and ZBrush. For example, similar to ZBrush's IMM brushes, Medium has a set of stamping tools that enable you to turn any model or shape into a brush. These can then be turned into a continuous flow, and you can explore shapes like never before in other applications. 

Teeple explains: "You can even make a sculpt and then, in a quick-click, turn that shape into its own new brush right inside the app and start exploring new forms quickly. I have made entire pieces in Medium from using a human torso shape as my brush for example, but you would barely tell that's how it was used on seeing finished piece. I use this technique in every piece I create, and it removes so many barriers while allowing for a lot of experimentation and happy accidents. For concept artists I think this will be incredibly powerful."

Oculus Medium has quickly become part of Steve Teeple's workflow

Oculus Medium has quickly become part of Steve Teeple's workflow

Teeple sees Medium has an effective, practical tool for professional concept artists, game designers and illustrators. 

"Its less technical, more creation-based approach will empower many creators who are new to 3D, to pick up a tool that can help them visualise their ideas without worrying about learning some crazy 3D package that is over their head," says Teeple. "I see game designers using this to quickly block out scenes or storyboards for their worlds, or quickly sketch out how a character could look before handing it off to someone for further polish. Illustrators can quickly bash out some forms, shapes, characters, and environments to then export and paint over to help speed up their process."

While Medium is still new, it offers a glimpse of what this tech could do for the CG industry in general, in the future. "If you really think about it, designing something in 3D on a flat screen does not make much sense compared to seeing it at scale in front of you where your movements match up to what you are looking at. It feels like the missing link with creating artwork in three dimensions that so many of us have been waiting for," says Teeple. 

"My mind is already racing with what will change as hardware gets more compact, controllers get more refined and closer to our hands, and computers get more affordable and powerful. A lot of these things are already in our near future, so I expect to see this app ramp up quite extensively over the next few years. Exciting times."

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 216; buy it here!

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Steve is part of the future-arts collective and production company Teaching Machine. Steve is currently road-testing Oculus Medium, a VR sculpting tool.