This week, the upcoming Future of Storytelling summit, to be held in New York City this October, posted a preview hype video featuring one of the event’s speakers, longtime Disney animator Glen Keane. Admittedly, we were quite impressed with the video, and not just because we got to see a cartoon veteran deftly portraying Disney characters like Beast or The little Mermaid‘s Ariel, but because we’ve seen him do that in virtual reality.
Luckily for the VR candidates at Ars, the clip looks like the opposite of that tragic cover photo of Palmer Luckey from TimeAugust issue. Sometimes the art presentation even looks graceful, or as graceful as anyone can muster while wearing a virtual reality headset. Keane is seen with the HTC Vive and its intriguing launchpad app Tilt brush, to draw the iconic Disney mermaid. From hair to eyes, fins to bells, the character seems to come to life in the video.
On the one hand, we encourage any VR fan to show this video to friends and loved ones who don’t understand what the headset is all about… but on the other hand, our own experience with Tilt brush let’s jump up and down. You’re all wrong, Glen! You fooled everyone – which would be fine if you didn’t also ignore the coolest stuff from Tilt Brush!
That awesome moment when your creation looks like worthless
Between me and Kyle Orland, we probably dabbled at Ars Technica Tilt brush for a combined thirty minutes at various expos and demo events over the past year. We’ve been repeatedly, uh, drawn to the app because it’s a mind-blowing way to experience the HTC Vive difference. Instead of sitting in a chair with a controller, HTC Vive users are encouraged to stand up and use fully moving wands to manipulate everything they see in their virtual space, which can be so small in the real world. be like a desk or as big as a room with a 15-foot diagonal. Aim a gun. Pick up and assemble a robot from parts. Toss a bottle of soda. Or, inside Tilt brushcase, paint in the air.
But the Glen Keane video enjoyed a very deliberate amount of framing. Note that the video perspective only looks straight at Ariel, who is drawn with expressive eyes and other very flat details. There are a few 3D-like touches added, but for the most part he draws something very, very flat. This is what the first 20 seconds of each Tilt brush demo will look like, because you’ll probably be experimenting with the HTC Vive wands by drawing right in front of your face. Maybe a smiley face or a stick man. It looks cool floating in front of you.
As soon as you step to the left or right of the thing you’ve drawn, the most amazing thing happens: your creation looks like garbage.
Not only is your puppet floating in three dimensions, with each speck of paint enjoying its own X, Y, and Z axis properties, but its parts are probably all floating at different points in the air. You’ve just drawn something that doesn’t have a solid stopping point, probably for the first time (unless you’re an aerial artist, in which case we’d love to talk to you). And we guarantee that if Keane actually walked around his creation, it would have some very oddly droopy eyes and other details.
However, in the case of our first Tilt Brush demo, this is when the neuroreceptors in our brains really started firing like fireworks. We started walking around our creation, adding depth, connecting details and striving to bring something three-dimensional to life. And it was so easy, so intuitive, to alternate between dabbing 3D paint strokes and use the Magic Wand hotkeys to change colors, activate undo, and choose other options.
We put our heads in us Tilt brush creature heads to carefully draw crooked teeth and evil tongues. We knelt to make sure we framed our characters’ bodies properly. We returned to later exhibits with plans to draw full-sized objects such as vehicles and people. (If you check out our most recent VR demo feature, you’ll see your humble author in the video header drawing a Tilt brush bicycle, complete with cart on the back.)
Coming Soon: VR Art Instructors?
This was so exciting because it transformed our preconceptions about the boundaries of digital art. As a former cartoonist, I’ve never really focused on stylus-powered tablet art, though I certainly see the benefits of easier undo/redo actions and faster publishing. I could always say, “Well, a pen is much the same, and I like the feel of it better.” But what’s the equivalent of a fully 3D, use-your-hands-art app? Who does you do you know who owns a magic weapon that freezes, manipulates and adds crazy effects to apply Play-Doh directly? (That’s a serious question. We’d definitely write an Ars Technica article on that person.)
That’s just the beginning of what we can also expect with virtual and augmented reality art applications. Imagine a visual architecture or game design engine where objects can be dropped and perspective shifted with head and hands, as opposed to a complicated combination of mouse movement and keyboard shortcuts. Imagine virtual art installations that instantly respond to your distance, hand movements, and other natural gestures.
Heck, imagine a virtual reality art instructor – maybe Glen Keane – where you stand next to a craftsman and mirror his/her gestures to draw something cool. That will surely knock the pants off those stupid “how to draw” books where the first picture is a circle and the second is the Mona freakin’ Lisa.
That’s all coming – and we admit that the simple “that’s Ariel in 3D” appeal of Keane’s video will accelerate adoption and excitement on the platform. But we know there’s even cooler art to come, and even before the HTC Vive launched, we already know the platform is capable of things that would blow Keane’s creations out of the water.
Frame image by Future of Storytelling