It's been a great year for Virtual Reality. The technology, having gained sizable publicity, is capturing people's attention and imagination. There's something tantalising about the experience: it's how we envisioned the future, and now we get to live it - science-fiction becoming manifest. Even one of it's biggest weaknesses (the difficulty of communicating the experience without a person actually wearing the headset) also functions as a strength. The mystery of the experience lures people in. Watching someone else wave their hands in the air, mouth agape in wonder, at something you can't help but want to give it a go.
For this reason, marketeers are fervently leaping on the concept. Along with Live video, Instagram Stories and the hyper politicisation of brands, VR is set to become this year's biggest buzzwords. While VR initially gained attention for its gaming functionality when the Oculus Rift reached above and beyond its Kickstarter goal (and was subsequently acquired by Facebook) people are now starting to explore new possibilities for the technology. Whether it's experiencing the front row of London Fashion Week, following the life of a honey bee or empathising with the plight of refugees, the applications for VR are ever expanding. As designers and artists, the ability to manipulate virtual objects and sketch in thin air is what quickly caught our attention.
Apps like Google's Tilt Brush, Oculus' Medium and Quill all provide a virtual canvas for your creations. Of course, 'canvas' might not be the right word, given you're completely in charge of the 3D space around you. Medium focuses on volume based modelling and objects you could potentially 3D print into reality; a tool that artists such as Dennie Bright have been using to great effect. Quill and Tilt Brush are more abstract, focusing on freedom of creation. Artists using Tilt Brush have produced some gorgeous work and we’ll doubtlessly continue to see beautiful uses of this technology. Artist Goro Fujita, a children's book illustrator and Art Director at Oculus Story Studio, created a gorgeous piece called 'Worlds in Worlds' with Quill where zooming shows ever-shrinking vignettes, a babushka doll of digital artwork. He also uses Medium to create some fantastic claymation models.
VR does have its issues though. It gives many motion sickness, it's not very accessible (upper tier headsets like the Rift and PSVR are prohibitively expensive), content is understandable lacking this early in the lifetime of the tech, scalability is difficult to achieve and, so far, there's a lack of a killer app.
Enter Augmented Reality (AR), VR's little brother. As opposed to immersing you in a completely digital world, AR instead supplements the real world by adding a computer generated facade. The explosively popular (and short lived) Pokemon Go showed how easily accessible AR was to a broad audience yet the short life of the game left a bad impression. This, of course, was because of the limited functionality of the game. When there’s not a lot to do, people will eventually leave. The app still showcased the immense potential of AR, even in the technology's infancy.
Sketching with AR, however, is still relatively niche. SketchAR, an app coming in Q1 2017, intends to fill this niche. With the app (compatible with Android Tango, iOS and Hololens), you choose an image you would like to draw and the image is virtually projected it onto a sheet when viewed on the screen. You then sketch on the sheet in front of you to copy the image. Microsoft's HoloLens, an AR headset, is another exciting technology that allows you to view 3D models as if they were present in your environment. Microsoft having dubbed this version of AR ‘mixed reality’, for sketching purposes it allows you to play around with Microsoft Paint 3D mixing with your physical space. Undoubtedly, we'll see some other creative implementations of AR in the future. For now, VR is enjoying a larger limelight.
Overall, VR has great potential as a platform for artistic expression and will hopefully show itself to be more than just a gimmick. We'll be watching its trajectory closely and with interest in the coming year.
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