Computer Graphics World

March / April 2016

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6 cgw m a r c h . a p r i l 2 0 1 6 V I E W P O I N T This is only the begin- ning" is more than just a familiar phrase, it's where any realistic discussion of VR should start. VR has certainly conquered some of the limitations that used to hold it back – higher resolution, lower latency, wider field of view. But to the artists who are grappling with how to use this technology in a professional or mainstream capacity, the truth is obvious. We are still defining what works for the medium – sometimes at a very basic level. What the Oculus revolution has done is solve the first initial problem of VR: replacing our vision in a believable way. And now that VR has piggybacked off mobile technology, phones have started to become im- portant drivers. This presents its own challenges, but it also has encouraged more people to engage with VR. Did you know, for example, that aer The New York Times' free giveaway, five million people now have a Google Cardboard? That's a lot of opportunity for artists who want to reach people. But even so, a lot of questions still remain unanswered on the design front. A glance at new games timed to ship with Oculus's official launch might make it seem like we are further along than we are. But, make no mistake, VR is in its infancy. We haven't mas- tered first-person VR narratives yet, or how to entice people to wear that headset for more than five to 10 minutes at a time. Or even how to help people move naturally within spaces without injuring themselves. Talking about these things doesn't have to kill the excite- ment, though. It's how we keep it going. New discoveries lead to new breakthroughs, which artists can then share with the world. Within the next five years, I can easily see friends meeting in a virtual Cancun, totally immersed in a tropical experience. But to get there, we need to invest our focus in a skill set that is current- ly devalued in many discussions of VR – environment design. A S E N S E O F P L A C E When you think about it, envi- ronments are the basis of the entire experience. The whole point of VR is to take people to a place they've never been and then have them interact there. Characters can be fun additions, but it's the world that will hook them in and sell them on their new reality. So why aren't environments front and center in the experi- ence? There's an easy answer. In the new VR landscape, many people are looking to the entertainment industry to drive VR content. Film and broadcast firms have leapt at the opportu- nity, with many studios opening up dedicated VR practices to handle the potential workload. Right now, their current method is to try and bend VR to the practices of traditional third-person filmmaking. This means VR is forced to focus on controlled narratives, some- thing VR likes to fight against. Because we are still in the early stages of VR, this isn't surprising. Many people attack new prob- lems with the tools they already know. In this case, those tools can only take them so far. The reason: VR doesn't live on a one-way screen. It isn't a mov- ie or a TV show. It's a first-per- son experience that prizes inter- activity and self-direction within a space. In a lot of ways, the space is the story, and the story changes as the users pick their paths. Great narrative styles will emerge, but they won't be carbon copies of the past. They will rely on the surroundings and what a designer was able to do with them. This much is clear, and is a main point coming in from Chaos Group Labs contrib- utors and V-Ray customers who also see environmental design as a linchpin to a successful long-term VR strategy. The good part is no one has to start from scratch. Creating interesting environments is not a new concept. Creating a narrative around spaces isn't, either. Both these skill sets ac- tually have a long history within the traditions of architecture and design, where its practi- tioners make their living telling the stories of new and unbuilt spaces. What is it like to live there? To work? To walk the floors at night? Visualization and interior design experts know how to present their stories in the first-person narrative VR requires, and as they continue to develop their skills within the medium, they can pass along those secrets to VR artists in other industries. You don't have to know an architect or interior designer to learn these skills. You can study what they pay attention to in your own time: form vs. function, the scale of a space and how someone feels when they are " ENVIRONMENTS: A MAJOR KEY TO VR'S SUCCESS BY CHRISTOPHER NICHOLS ENVIRONMENTS, SUCH AS THIS REPLICATION BY ARTIST BER- TRAND BENOIT OF THE SALLE LABROUSTE ROOM IN THE NATIONAL PUBLIC LIBRARY OF FRANCE, ARE VITAL CONSIDERATIONS IN VR.

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