Facebook, Samsung, and Sony are all producing immersive, virtual reality headsets. We already know what that means for video games, but how might VR change digital creation? Tilt Brush gives us a taste of this brave new world.
In development by rapid prototyping studio Skillman & Hackett, Tilt Brush is a 3-D sketching app. A user dons a VR headset like an Oculus Rift, and they’re transported to a world where a line is no longer confined to two dimensions, but can snake in space like a sculpture. It’s an experience designed to be immersive, complete with light painting brushes that look like you’re drawing with pure magic. But it’s also designed to be more immediately accessible than traditional 3-D graphics programs have been in the past.
“It’s intended to be an expression tool, not a precision tool,” explains studio co-founder Patrick Hackett. “We want users to be able to create images easily, quickly, and share them in ways that makes sense with VR.”
Practically speaking, that means Tilt Brush has tools like a one-touch GIF button, that allow you to turn a quick sketch into a hypnotic animation that you could share via (a 3-D?) social media. It also means, while you do need a VR headset to get started, the software will still operate via the ubiquitous mouse and keyboard rather than gesture tracking equipment, like a Leap Motion or Playstation’s Move.
“We did this intentionally, as we call it ‘the lowest common denominator’ for input,” Hackett explains. To draw strokes, the mouse swings a 2-D plane through 3-D space. But to toggle various functions, you still need the keyboard–the keyboard that, wearing a VR headset, can’t actually be seen when a user looks down! “The most challenging part of this interface is limiting the number of keyboard keys required for the user to manipulate. The more keys we require, the more gymnastics a user has to play with their hands, and the more likely they’ll lose their position on the keyboard.” And while not a Photoshop replacement, quick sketching is an approach that works. The iPad app Paper is a great example of how catering the software around the hardware experience (and not the other way around) can yield success.
How well does that interface perform? We don’t know yet. Tilt Brush is still in the earliest stages of development–it’s not even available as a public beta–so we haven’t been able to try it for ourselves. Having said that, even in this short YouTube clip, it does tease a whole new world of media experiences, and creative apps, to come.