Oculus Touch Tuesdays: Medium
Oculus Blog
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December 13, 2016
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It’s been a week since Touch launch, and we’re inspired by the response so far. Special thanks to those of you in the VR community who’ve been with us since the beginning. We look forward to even more opportunities to help push the industry forward in the New Year!

In today’s installment of Oculus Touch Tuesdays, Lydia Choy, Medium Lead Designer takes us behind the scenes of our immersive 3D sculpting app—available for free when you set up your new Touch controllers!

3D prints of sculpts made in VR with Medium.

What was the inspiration behind Medium?

Lydia Choy: We wanted to explore what Rift and Touch could do for applications beyond gaming. We want to inspire more people to become digital artists and give spectators amazing art to view and interact with in novel ways. Hopefully, we’ll also show other companies who make digital art tools that the water’s fine and inspire them to take the plunge into VR.

We want more art and more artists in the world. A key distinction between “casual” and “professional” tools, other than breadth and depth of functionality, is the amount of up-front training required. With Medium, we’re closing that training gap. Both professional and amateur artists will spend less time learning to use the tool and more time improving as artists.

How did the nature of VR impact Medium’s design?

LC: The greatest advantage of designing a 3D tool for VR is not having to reduce 3D elements down to the two dimensions of a flat monitor. You get a lot of depth and volume cues for free with the stereo rendering and head tracking when looking at a 3D object. There’s also no need to train anyone on how to move the camera around, which can be a complex task on monitors. In VR, it’s just your head. Your relationship with the object feels natural—perception of relative scale and distance is automatic. Hand presence gives you a natural place to attach tools, while binaural (360 degree) audio reinforces what you see and provides spatial clues for what you don’t.

3D interaction metaphors aren’t constrained by screen space or real-world rules of physics. Developers can play with your relationship to an object or space, replicating physically real environments or hand and head interactions. VR throws UI conventions out the window and opens new discoveries in this interaction space.

Are there any best practices you uncovered during Medium’s development?

LC: VR developers must be especially careful about app performance since a drop in frame rate can result in discomfort. Because you’re rendering your scene twice (once for each eye), implementing certain graphics features is a bit trickier. You must also be aware of the range of visual perception among different people—corrective vs. non-corrective vision, depth perception, eye dominance, or color blindness. Visual tricks that may work for some can cause strange or disconcerting results in others, so testing with a wide range of people is critical.

How did you approach designing for Touch?

LC: For the act of sculpting, manipulating, and placing digital clay in space, Touch functions as an easy analog to real-world clay sculpting without gravity and other real-world physical constraints. The controllers provide accurate hand presence, and—with only a few buttons to choose from—we had to prioritize which actions were most important for creating 3D art. We wanted people to develop muscle memory quickly with the different buttons and to keep fast actions fast and slow actions slow. The closer an action is to real-world sculpting, like using and switching tools, the faster it should be to access. Secondary actions, like changing environment or audio settings, don’t need to be as quick. One of our main goals when adding functionality was to maintain ease-of-use for basic sculpting actions. Adding or deforming clay, or moving layers of clay around, should always be straightforward, natural, and fast.

How did you navigate UI design in VR?

LC: We first tried placing and spawning UI relative to certain objects, grounded in the environment, and relative to your body, gaze, and hands. At first, we didn’t have a concept of a dominant hand, but we soon discovered that having a primary “tool” hand to gesture, draw, and sculpt worked really well. As a result, the secondary “support” hand became the place to put contextual menus and palettes. Accessing these menus with your primary hand is a natural action: proprioception (awareness of your own body in space) made it easy to know how far to move in order to point at or touch a UI element. We discovered this was generally superior to placing UI elements in space, where ease-of-access is dependent on how close the head, body, or hands are to those environmental cues. We found that hand-relative UI was also superior at preserving “flow,” a state of focus artists strive for when creating.

What’s the most exciting aspect of Medium?

LC: It’s a space you visit and spend time in. When you have a space, you can build community there. We’re building that community inside Medium to encourage everyone to try their hand at sculpting. You can record your sculpting session and share it with others. When they play your recording, not only do they see your head and hands and hear your voice, they watch you sculpt right before their eyes as if you’re right there with them. We hope to see people teaching, learning from, and inspiring each other through these recordings.

We can’t wait to see the creations people make and get to know our growing community. We’re excited to see the surprising ways people use this tool and share with others.

Fireflies by Goro Fujita

Thanks, Lydia! We love the fact that 3D printing lets people bring their virtual sculptures into the physical world—you can learn more in the online forum. Visit oculus.com/medium for more information or check out Medium on the Oculus Store.