The Era of Virtual Reality (VR) is beginning. This wonderful tech is not only for gamers, but also great for designers animators and concept artists like us. When I was studying concept art at VFS, the school started up the VR/AR Design and Development Department. Next year, there will be educated designers and artists on the field and the evolution has been started. After that, digital assets will be made on 3D virtual world in an infinite canvas instead of limited LCD screen borders. Drawing, painting, designing, modelling even animating can be developed in virtual reality without taking off the VR headsets.
First thing first, we should answer this question: What is virtual reality? Then we will look at the VR applications I tested for you, one by one.
Başlıklar / Contents
What is Virtual Reality?
I have already explained virtual reality in my MA thesis in detail, but I will sum up for you. Virtuality and reality are two opposite words and this is a kind of oxymoron. This term is not from literature or as a joke. This is the name of the next step in design world.
Virtual reality is an artificial sense of reality which includes animated images and sounds completely generated in computers. The sense of reality increases with the quality of VR headsets and remote controls.
There are several artificial reality types: 3D cinema movies (augmented depth), weather forecasts on TV on an imaginary map (augmented virtuality), playing Pokemon Go with your mobile phone (augmented reality), and the so-called VR, virtual reality which completely visualized reality without any outside world input except gravity.
Above, you may see Glen Keane, Disney’s veteran animator, using Tilt Brush software with HTC Vive headset. He is drawing the little mermaid designed by him.
The Best VR Devices
Buying VR device is not enough, you have to own a powerful computer hardware to support it. If you think to buy such VR set, you may test your machine on Steam VR performance test before. This application might give you some upgrade opinions.
Let’s take a look at these VR devices. I have joined this world with Oculus Rift, but HTC Vive is also quite suitable for this task. Generally most of the apps support both of them. I have listed the most popular brands and their prices below (2019.08.23):
- Oculus: Owned by Facebook. There are 4 models including Rift, Rift S, Go and Quest, and prices are around $400.
- HTC: Taiwan-based global company. VIVE VR, VIVE Pro has 2 products for now. The prices ranging between €599 and €1999.
- Playstation VR: Sony’s designed this device for PS4 and it is $600.
There are some several models like Windows Mixed Reality, Nintendo Labor VI, Lenovo Mirage Solo, but I am not sure that they will hold on the market. The top two is best for this task for both gamers and designers.
The Best Illustration, Modelling & Animation Applications
Many of these software are still under development or early access period. Which means they are not mature enough like Adobe Photoshop. They are still gaining new features and major changes in every updates. Like my previous the best desktop art & design apps article, it is too early to separate these applications in different categories. Some of them include drawing, modelling, even animation tools. Therefore, I have gathered these artistic productivity applications under one title. I am planning to continue this research and feed additional articles and videos. Let’s start.
Price: Free with Oculus headset bundle. Not in Steam.
Usage Area: VR Illustration & animation.
Specifications: Infinite canvas, layers, Fbx export (Autodesk format, but also supported by Blender & Unity.), audio import. Ofcourse Facebook share.
The most mentioned feature is the infinite canvas. The biggest supporter of this project, digital artist Goro Fujita presented this app when drawing a beautiful Quillustration in an IAMAG seminar. Frankly, he is the person who convinced me to buy this device.
Quill is very successful program as a coding-wise. It worked with even my old GTX 780 GPU, which had a average score in the VR test. This means that the software is carefully coded. I hope the development continues and it becomes the Photoshop of the VR world. (Now, I am using the GTX 1070 graphics card, the lowest limit for VR, that’s enough “for now”.)
2. Tilt Brush
Usage Area: VR Illustration
Specifications: Brushes, lots of brushes. Obj and Fbx import. (no layers for now.)
Few years ago, I was extremely excited when two programmers announced their Tilt Brush project on their Facebook page. And I texted the owners. How do I get this software? They said “Well we will announce it soon.” Two years later, I found out that they sold the project to Google. They became rich. At first, I was afraid it would be expensive; but the price is very reasonable.
Team: Gravity Sketch Team (Based on London)
Price: $25 limited version + ($30 per month (Pro version) / $100 per month (the Studio version) that adds the ability to import environments and export to Rhino.)
Usage Area: VR Modelling (especially best for mechas.)
Specifications: It has lots of handy tools for modelling. You may use for vehicle design, concept art, and prop design.
Gravity Sketch (GS) is the software that wants to be the industrial standard for virtual reality modeling. Our school (VFS) installed this software on student computers. In fact the following video shows the variety of modelling tools. I have a friend who makes the rough models at GS, then imports into Blender and gets great rendering results. The monthly Pro package that opens the additional features of the program is very annoying. So, this makes it the most expensive software on the list. But the limited version is also enough for us. We respect that independent developers also need money to live. Life is hard.
Company: Oculus (Facebook)
Price: Free with Oculus headset bundle. (Not in Steam, but standalone price was $30.)
Usage Area: Organic VR Sculpture
Specifications: Opportunity to collaborate on a virtual project with a friend. (There’s no 3D import feature, that’s a big minus.)
We can call it the Zbrush of the VR. It has a very user-friendly interface. You don’t experience any adaptation problems. I made a fetus figure in my thesis animation project with this application in a short time. So, this is a good sketch program for organic modeling.
5. Sketchbox 3D
Company: Sketchbox Inc.
Price: Free (because of early-access period)
Usage Area: VR storyboard, VR PowerPoint Presentation
Specifications: Scenes (kind of layers or frames), Collaboration and meeting on same file in real-time. Google Poly, Sketchfab, Fbx export.
The most interesting feature to me is the use of it for presentation or storyboard purposes. In this respect, we can say this program is the VR version of the Sketchbook Pro. Sketchbox 3D has a large library and the import feature. So, interesting presentations can be performed. Consider a Powerpoint presentation in virtual reality environment. Unfortunately, it is not suitable for drawing, modeling and animation.
Usage Area: Low-poly modelling
Specifications: Free and very practical. Possibility to instantly share what you draw. Very nice designs can be done with 6 basic tools. Cute. The 3D grid for children also makes it suitable for architectural modeling. Google Poly sharing.
The best software for startup. Google introduced the Blocks to the VR world like what they did with free SketchUp to the 3D world before. The software is so useful that I made my first design with it. Please see the cute mosque model below.
You need to design everything in a limited cube canvas. This restriction also minimizes problems such as crashes due to overload of the program. You can watch the Blocks trailer video below.
Quill’s biggest rival in animation. It is obvious that they want to be an industrial software. It has lots of tools. but it really takes a lot of effort to get used to it. More tools lead to more difficulty. It is important to keep in mind that the beautiful lines you see in the introduction video below are not the ingenuity of the software, but of the ingenuity of the artists. Remember applications are just tools like pen and paper.
Company: Brinx Software Inc.
Usage Area: VR Sculpture.
Specifications: A cube-shaped canvas design in a pleasant virtual study room. Collaboration.
Zbrush type SG digital sculpture software. It lags behind my Medium due to lack of pressure sensitivity. Do not believe the exquisite visuals below made with external rendering like Blender. Sounds like they need more time. The same company has introduced another new application called Masterpiece Motion which enables motion capture with VR which is an exciting news for 3D filmmakers.
Company: Tvori Team (Küçük bir ekibin ürünü, umarım dağılmadan devam ederler.)
Price: $20 (Free for students and 30 day free trial period for artists.)
Kullanım Alanı: VR 3D Animation
Özellikler: Staging, animated cameras, light sources, sound import, Obj.
Obviously the most successful software in VR animation. It doesn’t animate brushes like Quill, but animates directly 3D objects. The design of the lights specification also leaves behind all its competitors. (You’ll be amazed, but Quill doesn’t have light and shadow, unfortunately, they solve the problem with light and dark coloring.) Light is very important for depth and atmospheric effects. The interface is also handy. Promising.
VR Technologies cannot exceed the design possibilities of desktops “for now”, even though they provide fascinating experiences. But my expectation is great. In the future, when the VR devices become more practical, the design world will also benefit from this technology. For this reason, it is useful for future designers and artists to experience this dimension of reality.
I open the door to a new world and share my knowledge with you. If you liked it, you may share and spread this link. If you want to learn desktop version of these programs you may check my previous article the best animation concept art and visual effect applications. Hoping to discuss new contents on this topic. Goodbye.
PS: Feature photo is taken by Tolga Ulusoy, and the model is me :)