Bring Black-and-White Worlds to Life in ‘Color Space’

Oculus Blog
March 25, 2020

Why settle for a coloring book when you can color from inside the scene? Last week, Lighthaus Inc. released Color Space for Oculus Quest and the Rift Platform, offering the VR community an ideal way to de-stress while embracing their creativity. According to Engadget, “it's a good example of how VR's immersion can be genuinely helpful, not just a nice bonus.”

With an intuitive control scheme, Color Space is a great introduction to VR—and a relaxing experience for VR veterans too. Originally designed for medical patients, including those undergoing chemotherapy, as a way to distract them from discomfort and time-consuming treatments, Color Space quickly evolved into a VR experience with a broad-based appeal. It’s casual, recreational, and the perfect app to help you let your creativity loose and unwind. It’s available on both Quest and the Rift Platform for $9.99 USD with cross-buy support.

We sat down with Creative Director Danny Bittman to learn more.

What did you draw upon for inspiration while working on Color Space?

Danny Bittman: The whole idea was to have a coloring book feel, but not something too cartoony or silly—more like those super detailed adult coloring books you see. We needed to find just the right style. Pinterest is a great resource when you’re searching for a style because you can find a lot of different things to blend together. As I was making my boards, I was drawn to those illustrated National Parks posters with surreal colors, the ones with silhouettes of people pointing at a moose or the northern lights or whatever. We wanted people to feel like they’re standing in one of those posters, making it come to life. That simple, natural style has a sense of wonder to it and was also something we could pull off technically, so it was a good inspiration.

Which of the 13 scenes is your favorite and why?

DB: I think Skymile, the mile-high fueling station for flying cars, will be the biggest hit.

But my personal favorite is the Wolf and Buck. It’s a dramatic little nature scene in the forest with the two animals kind of sizing each other up, and it just captures the spirit of Color Space; as you’re coloring, it all comes to life and you’re in this magical forest watching these animals. I also like it because it was one of the first scenes we did in 2018, so it’s been with us a long time and has gone through several iterations. We used AnimVR to create the first versions, to test the concept of filling a black-and-white object with color. That original scene had way too much detail though, so I remodeled the whole thing in Google Blocks to simplify it, then did that again a few months later in Gravity Sketch. It took over a year to complete, but because of all that R&D we have a process now where it takes one to two weeks to make a scene from start to finish.

Tell us more about your workflow using Tilt Brush, Gravity Sketch, and AnimVR.

DB: One of the fun things about Color Space is that I basically created all of the art from inside VR. People might not think about it much, but most games and VR experiences are created on a desktop screen by an artist sitting in a comfortable office chair. But we knew people were going to be physically spending time inside these paintings, so I wanted to create them the same way—by physically being in the scene. Our sense of relaxation is so based on our spatial relationships with the objects around us. Just because something looks good on a desktop, that doesn’t mean it will feel good in VR. We still used a couple of PC tools for detail work (for the artists out there: Maya for UV mapping, Substance Painter for texturing). But I did all of our concept art and 3D modeling in VR.

One thing you can do in VR that’s really cool is design a little miniature scene, say the size of a door mat, with some blobs for trees and rocks, etc. Then you can scale it up so it’s life size and you’re standing in the middle of it (see below). It’s kind of an Alice in Wonderland feeling of shrinking down into the scene you just made. You can do that really easily in Tilt Brush to test the layout and feel of a scene idea.

Then I start assigning colors to things to signify which objects can be filled in by the player. When it starts to feel right, I bring the scene into Gravity Sketch for the detail work. Gravity Sketch’s modeling tools are so advanced now, you can create anything you want with hyper efficiency. So I flesh out each blob in the scene with tons of details without modifying the initial Tilt Brush spatial design too much. It’s a lot like hand-sculpting a world full of living statues.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the process is creating the big 360° backgrounds for the scenes—the skyboxes. By importing the final Gravity Sketch scene into Tilt Brush, I can hand-paint an extremely detailed skybox with far away mountains, trees, and clouds (below), and then just bake that whole thing onto a flat 360° image in Unity. It’s really something to be able to paint the sky in the scene itself—it’s like some magical artist’s fantasy—painting the sky.

How did you decide where to incorporate animations?

DB: Early on we had this idea that that the act of coloring could literally breathe life into the world. So our lead engineer, Anna Krasner, built this system in Unity where you could make objects appear and activate any animation like a Rube Goldberg machine just by coloring it in. So when you color in something like a birdhouse, a bird comes swooping in and thanks you. When you fill in a river, a massive tree grows out of it as a giant ladybug comes floating downstream on a leaf. Basically, if we made an object that could be brought to life when you colored it, we did that.

What kind of response have you seen while demoing the experience?

DB: The day I realized we had something special was when I put my 86-year-old grandma in the headset, and she instantly got it. That’s not to say it’s simplistic at all. Instead, it’s like a coloring book in that people of any age can really enjoy it with basically no learning curve. They just start coloring. It’s a kick to watch when people fill in the sky, or a river, they go, “Whoaaa.” That was true for our families and early testers, but now we can see people doing it on their YouTube and Twitch channels.

So many people are also saying stuff like, “This is the perfect app for me to relax and get away from the stress of this moment.” We didn’t intend that, obviously, but it’s really gratifying to feel like we can help people feel a little better right now.

What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?

DB: In December I started teaching my VR art workflow for Tilt Brush and Gravity Sketch through a multi-hour tutorial series on YouTube. Most of the series was based on what I learned while developing Color Space, so I had to hold some info back until launch. Now I can teach the full workflow, so that includes concept design in Tilt Brush, 3D modeling in Gravity Sketch, and the polishing process on a desktop. 3D modeling can be so daunting, but with these new VR tools it’s actually fun. And the VR creation apps are getting so much better, so I’d like to help people realize that and jumpstart their passions.

As for Color Space, we just pushed our first update! A lot of people have asked us to expand the color palette—both to include blacks and grays, and to let people choose the hue of colors. So look out for the update where you’ll suddenly have many, many more colors to choose from. We’ve been playing with it and it looks awesome!

Lighthaus Inc. plans to add new scenes to Color Space in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for those. In the meantime, check out Color Space on Quest and the Rift Platform today!