A Photo from a Friend
So the other day, a good friend who worked with me at Sumo sent me a photo of my old desk, empty and deserted, screens blank, wacom un-loved. It was a kind gesture, one that said ‘we miss you, dude’, a sentiment that I share.
And so I sent him a photo of my desk at NSC Creative, with my Intuos, Cintique and… Oculus Rift headset.
This, not surprisingly, sparked off a bit of a conversation. You see, NSC Creative work in fully immersive mediums – primarily making content for digital planetariums (fulldome shows), but branching into other media like interactive exhibitions, 4D experiences and VR/AR. As such, every artist in the studio has their own headset.
However, truth be told, I had never really got into VR. I had tried it a couple of times and was – on the most part – quite underwhelmed. But I had heard of one tool that I was quite interested in.
A Quill in VR
Quill is a VR painting tool. Chuck on your headset and use your Oculus Touch controls to do a lovely little painting in 3D. Lovely. It’s bright and colourful, and gives a really sweet, calm feel.
Then you start to paint. In a 3d space. And it feels good and intuitive until you move and see that the little picture you have made is messed up from any other angle. You see, instead of painting on a surface, or a flat plane, and you strokes being constrained to that plane, you’re painting wherever your hand goes in space.
This is something that will definitely take some time getting used to, but for now I wasn’t bothered about painting a lovely scene. No. I was interested in another feature – the animation feature.
A Rough Jump
By all intents and purposes, the animation tool is quite basic. It is similar to any 2D animation software with keyframes along one track, you can choose to paint each frame from scratch, or duplicate frames and make amendments. There are no tweens, so everything you pose or draw is what you have. And for this reason it felt like a mix between 2d and stop motion animation.
My first test, shown above, wasn’t the most interesting animation I had ever made, but for 30 mins in a programme I didn’t know, I thought it was ok. What this test did do, however, was spark curiosity. I was interested to see what could be done if I spent a bit of time figuring it out.
The Acrobatic Sausage
So the next day I figured I’d give it a bit more of a go, and I spent a little while learning the ropes of navigating, painting, selecting and tweaking strokes before going into full animation.
I really loved how you could simply select an object, grab it and pull it and break it, manipulate it in any way, so I set to a more ambitious animation.
I started out by drawing a bunch of arcs, showing where I want my character to go, then on a separate layer created one, thick sausage shape. From there it was just a case or grabbing it and deforming it however I wanted. The onion-skin tool was very helpful at this point, if I felt something needed a bit more time on it, or a clearer breakdown, I would just duplicate the next or previous frame and tweak it, seeing clearly where my spacing would be from the the two frames either side. Sometimes I had to copy the original shape from frame one because I had over deformed it and needed to reset, but in all honesty, I tend to do that when animating in 3D anyway…
On the whole, I found the entire experience highly intuitive, it felt much more hands on than animating in 3Ds Max or Maya, but I’m not sure why… maybe the physical act of actively manipulating an object right in front of you. It seemed like a very quick and dirty way of animating; laying down simple and basic poses with simple and basic timings. Either way, it looked and felt great, though my shoulders hurt for a while after.
My Little Red Guy
So by this point I was now so confident in Quill that I felt like a pro. I figured I would create a little block guy (simple cuboid lines put roughly next to each other in a roughly humanoid shape) on a new layer and animate him to the little sausage.
Admittedly, this was what I wanted to do from the start, but it felt good getting to this stage.
So now I have my little guy and my basic animation. I did a first pass, keeping the red guy in his standing pose, I animated his whole body along the guide. It looked so stupid – like when characters in a game suddenly go T-Pose. But once I had the main movement down, I was able to go in and properly pose the lil’ fella.
This was, once again, a very intuitive process. You see, instead of being able to grab and stretch and manipulate the character as I had done with the sausage, this guy needed to be posed like a stick figure – the blocks didn’t like the other way. And because there was no rigging involved, these separate limbs could be placed wherever I wanted.
I only used one tool – the select tool. Simply grab the piece(s) you need and put it where you like. It was that simple. Finally I added another layer to animate some (very) basic vfx, this was more to cover some points where I had stretched the little guy too much, but also give a bit more emphasis and flow to some movements.
It took me about 5 hours to do the full character animation. The initial Sausage had only taken me a couple of hours. So on the whole, I was really impressed.
So. VR. Quill. What do I think? Well at the moment it’s hard to say. I can see the potential as an art tool and an animation toy, but it’s something I need to try more. I need to experiment with the medium and the software. There is no doubt about it – this is some powerful stuff – but do I ever see it being used on a larger scale? I’m not sure. for quick animation sketches, this is incredible, but for anything larger than that? we will see.
HOWEVER, this little test has opened me up to an entire community of VR Animators, using different tools and animating in different styles. Sketchfab (see above), has countless examples of amazing VR animation, modelling and art in general. It is a place of inspiration for sure.
Seeing some of the incredible work other people are doing in programmes like Quill only feeds my excitement and gives me a greater urge to play in this medium.
And I use the word ‘play’ aptly.
Quill is fun.
It just is. At first I found it frustrating, as exploring any new software can be, but once you pass that first hurdle and you are pushing and pulling blocks and verts like the best of them, then you get drawn into it.
I did. It sucked me in and i just wanted to do more. And so I will. I think I am going to be spending a lot of time in VR over the coming weeks/months/years, and I am really excited to see what I can come up with.
As always, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy my work, and please feel free to share this blog with your friends!