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Developing Gesture VR, a Painting App For Virtual & Mixed Reality

Nick Ladd has returned to 80 Level to provide an overview of Gesture VR's features, discuss its development journey, and share some thoughts on the future of VR/AR art-related apps.

Back in 2023, we had the chance to talk to 3D Illustrator Nick Ladd, who shared insights into the complexities of VR game development, his exploration of Unreal Engine 5 and Blueprinting, and the creation process behind his stylized character creator tool, Li'l Ladds.

Recently, the developer announced that his other tool, Gesture VR, is launching today, on March 21, 2024, on the official Meta Quest store. First unveiled in 2022, Gesture VR is an app designed for the Meta Quest heads, offering intuitive 2D and 3D drawing tools with pressure-sensitive virtual pens, lazybrush control, and a wide array of vibrant colors for painting in virtual and mixed reality environments.

To tell us more about the new application, Nick joined 80 Level once again to provide an overview of Gesture VR's features, discuss its development journey, and explain how it can assist Digital Artists with their projects.

3D Artist and Illustrator by trade, Nick embraced VR painting all the way back in 2017 through Quill, which gave his 3D works a unique, hand-made illustrative feel. Discussing the early days of Gesture VR, the artist shared that as an illustration student, he was highly encouraged to supplement his learning by life drawing.

"A few years later, I added VR to my art pipeline and was doing various exercises to improve my spatial drawing skills. I had the idea then that maybe I could use 3D life drawing to improve my 3D drawing skills the same way I had done 2D life drawing in the past. I found some inexpensive 3D models online, imported them into Quill, and started drawing, it felt almost like real-life drawing!

I knew at this point that I was onto something, so I contacted a programmer friend of mine from college, set aside a small budget, and began work in Unity on what eventually became our first prototype."

When asked about Gesture VR's main features and how it can benefit Digital Artists, Nick explained that the app is tailored to make life drawing both accessible and fun, aiding artists in honing their skills in VR and beyond.

"At its heart, the app is an educational tool, featuring over 200 virtual models for life drawing, complete with pressure-sensitive brushes for 2D and 3D drawing. Mixed reality mode allows for placing models in your own space for drawing on real paper. The model library includes 3D-scanned humans, animals, and statues, all rotatable and adjustable. Artists can track their progress in a digital sketchbook, access drawing guides and tutorials, and join multiplayer sessions for shared learning experiences."

Moreover, the author shared a detailed breakdown of the production process behind the application:

"For the initial project planning, I actually used Quill to sketch out studio layouts and UI. The studio went through a lot of early iterations from some smaller rooms to some much larger. The room I designed needed to be big enough for four artists but not so big that it felt empty. Life drawing sessions often have a cozy quiet feeling to them, and it’s the overall tone I strived for in the visual design. I collected a lot of references of different drawing studios and tried to populate ours with all the little details that you expect to find. In my experience, they tend to be in community centers, schools, lofts, etc. It's not uncommon to see exposed pipes, brick walls, and art supplies scattered about.

The decision to go monochrome with the color palette was made early on, we chose this style for a few reasons, one was that I wanted the experience to feel very clean, timeless, and focused, and secondly, I worried that fully textured figures might make the models too realistic. It would be difficult to match the environment style to photorealistic characters, and also, getting approved by Meta, Steam, and other platforms might be more challenging with full-color nudity as opposed to the stylized statue look that we ended up with."

"For our models, we opted for photogrammetry captures (3D scans) to ensure the highest level of realism, capturing accurate muscle forms, folds, and weight distribution. We partnered with Xangle, a renowned photogrammetry studio in Montreal, equipped with hundreds of DSLR cameras in a large booth setup. These cameras capture simultaneously, allowing us to create detailed 3D models from the combined images. We enlisted five models for a record-breaking session, achieving over 150 poses in a single afternoon. The subsequent weeks involved processing these models with RealityCapture software before integrating them into the app.

The project, developed in Unity, initially focused solely on 3D drawing, leveraging my expertise from Quill. However, after my developers prototyped a 2D drawing system, it quickly became our preferred method. As technology evolved, we embraced mixed reality VR, revolutionizing the app by enabling artists to draw virtual models through their space's cameras using traditional paper and pencil. Integrating this feature was easy given our existing framework, yet it significantly expanded the app's value for artists. We're lucky to be so early to the Mixed Reality movement, knowing that as headset cameras get better, our app will automatically benefit."

Finally, Nick shared some thoughts on the future of VR/AR art-related apps, highlighting the main problem of modern headsets:

"The current bulkiness of VR/AR headsets poses a challenge for prolonged use in art creation and productivity, a discomfort more pronounced when stationary than during active gaming. The AVP and similar devices mark a significant move towards non-gaming-focused VR/AR experiences. However, achieving a lighter, more mainstream-friendly form factor will be crucial for their widespread adoption in professional settings.

I think once the tech does get a little lighter, we’ll see a big revolution in how 3D and even 2D art is produced and I think Gesture VR could be the tool to help artists bridge that gap."

Nick Ladd, 3D Illustrator, Developer of Gesture VR

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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