Creating Digital Experiences Through VR

What is VR? How could VR be utilized in the workplace? Find out in one quick, easy read.

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If you've ever found yourself tangled in a web of technical acronyms, please fear not because I am most definitely stuck in that silky thread with you. The first time I heard the letters “V” and “R” butted up against each other was during a casual happy hour discussion of this year's SXSW (which is the acronym for South by South West, of course). The person I was with wildly described sailing through an unknown galaxy, being ported through beams of light, while drawing twinkling stars above his head. There was spit coming of out his mouth and wind being created by the wideness of his hand motions.

This guy had experienced something that seemed completely incomprehensible a decade ago, and had done it all in a booth set up by a design agency at a conference in Austin. He’d been in a virtual reality, called it VR, and had confused and inspired me. Whether you’re a newb to VR, like I embarrassingly was seven months ago, or are interested ways to communicate with your team through immersive technology, continue on.

I interviewed our VR-loving User Experience Associate, Marques Cannon, on the subject.

Marques Cannon

So, how would you explain VR to a person who has no idea what it means? Virtual reality, go:

Virtual reality is the technology that drops you into a completely immersive world. It encapsulates you in a virtual space with realities of scale and height, giving you almost the same feelings as if you’re really there.

Do you need to be holding some kind of controller to have an effect on what you're seeing?

You have motion controllers that are similar to the Wii except that they’re tracking 1:1 in real time. They move with you. With Wii controllers, there’s enough of a lag that you can fake motions. For example, if I’m going to bowl in Wii, what I really do is quickly flick my wrist. You can’t do that with VR. It mimics every natural motion.

Marques in motion!

[Ashleigh] The idea of mimicking natural motions is interesting to me personally. Conducting remote meetings with our current set of tools is great, but being able to virtually sit in the same room as our clients, while using body language to both of our advantages, is fascinating.

In what other ways could we use VR to communicate with our clients?

Imagining stepping into a white boarding session or sketching something out and sending it to a client or a designer we're working with remotely. They have applications that are specifically for that. I’ve demoed an app that’s a virtual whiteboard room; you’re standing in the same room as whoever is invited. You could be working with someone in a different country, state, and you have a room of virtual whiteboards that you’re able to draw on and speak with each other. Check out Think Space.

[Ashleigh] Tell me more about how the “talk to each other” aspect works.

It has a microphone built into it. For example, I usually play when my girlfriend’s not home, so I just pair it to my phone through Bluetooth, and when she calls I’m able to speak to her through the VR without interruption. You can get text messages in it, too. The other day I was playing Tilt Brush and my dad called, I answered because a notification popped up on my screen and in the headset you can accept or decline the call — I’m talking to him through the microphone while continuing to paint and he has no idea.

Marques multi-tasking.

What kinds of applications do you have downloaded today?

My headset is the HTC Vive. It came with a set of free games — one of which is The Lab and is similar to Wii Sports. I also have Tilt Brush, made by Google, which is a "draw in 3D space" application. With my background in illustration, I immediately thought, “I need that.” For those of you who haven’t experienced Tilt Brush for yourself, check out its mind-blowing capabilities on YouTube.

Let’s talk a little more about Tilt Brush. What can you do with your creations once they’re complete?

There’s a large range of stuff you can do; I’ve even seen marriage proposals created in it. You’re able to draw a door and then draw something behind it so that when someone else walks through the portal you’ve created, they find a surprise waiting for them. Google recently put out an update where the brush strokes you make are audio reactive. There are also tools within the system that enable you to output videos and gifs of your creations.

Tilt Brush in action.

And the file just uploads to the cloud? How do you retrieve your creations outside of the VR world?

Usually it will just save in a folder somewhere on your desktop. Tilt Brush has an exporting function where you can save your file and send it to a 3D printer. They’re always adding stuff like that. A lot of these functionalities weren’t there when this first launched. It’s really cool.

[Ashleigh] I can see our eCommerce clients being really into in the 3D printing aspect for their customers but am envisioning 360° “office tours” that could be viewed on Google Cardboard. We’ll be able to experience campaigns in a totally new way.

Tell me more about the system interface, because I think that’s where our skills in user experience and interface design could come into play.

Well, Tilt Brush uses almost Photoshop-like menus that are three dimensional. It seems like they had Visual Designers in mind when they came up with this menu since it relates so closely to Adobe’s creative products. But on the controller side, it’s almost as if you’re an artist and have a palette in one hand and the other hand holds the brush; you swipe through the options by rotating your left controller. I’d love to redesign the UI of marketplace, though — it needs help.

What are the main differences between watching a movie with 3D glasses on and experiencing a film in VR?

On a 3D TV, you’re looking through a window into a world with some dimension — like something is coming out at you maybe in a gimmicky way. With VR, you feel like you’re actually there. You’re perceiving everything, more or less, as if you were in the real world. Virtual reality is literally putting you in that space. One of the biggest problems in trying to explain VR is that you sound like a crazy person when you talk about experiences in it.

Marques’ cat, Rain, patiently watched from across the room as we stepped into a virtual reality.

Marques’ cat, Rain, patiently watched from across the room as we stepped into a virtual reality.

My step-mom and Dad were over last week, and I let my step-mom try it out. Her explanation to my step-sister on the phone was “I was in the clouds, there was this whale that came at me, and I was really really scared!” It sounds like you’re describing a dream.

How do you imagine VR fitting into the movie space?

Oculus has an animated short studio where you can watch 15-20 minute films, Pixar style. It’s important that they’re keeping these films short. You probably won’t get an hour and a half VR movie ever -- people get distracted. It’s hard to keep someone's attention even on one thing, much less a whole world moving around you. There are certain films where they make you a passive participant and those are really successful. One I’m remembering is being placed in a scene with a giant iron robot. Seeing it as this huge thing in front of you makes it an entirely different experience — it’s almost as if you’re there. It gives you a different feeling than if you were to see this same Robot on your TV. In that way, when people take advantage of that sort of feeling, that’s where VR in movies will really shine. Check out a list of VR shorts at the bottom of this interview to watch on your own.

What’s the difference in pricing for VR as it stands today? Is there an affordable option for our team?

There’s a big range in pricing...

  • Google Cardboard is the cheapest, ranging from free (DIY) to around $5. As long as your phone works and you’ve downloaded the app, you’ll get an easy introduction into VR with Cardboard.
  • Google Daydream ($79) is on par with Gear VR but works with any Daydream ready Android phone.
  • The Samsung Gear VR ($99), next step up, finely tuned into the phone (only works with the Samsung Gear phones, it’s built into their hardware), it’s more robust.
  • Sony’s Playstation VR headset ($400 if you already have the Playstation camera and Move controllers or $500 for the whole package) which works with the PS4. Technologically speaking, it is more advanced than the phone VR solutions and provides a very close experience to PC VR headsets.
  • At the top of the line, there are the more expensive PC headsets, like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The Rift is about $600 by itself and sells it’s motion controls separately for around $200. Oculus is owned by Facebook who bought them for 2 billion in 2014 — started as a Kickstarter, raised $2.5 million about 4 years ago). Facebook actually opened their own store for VR games to keep the revenue in-house.
  • The HTC Vive has HTC manufacture the hardware (such as headsets) but Valve creates the technology and runs the software.

As the VR tech continues on, those higher priced ones will drop — it’s really about hitting a certain tech standard.

A closer look at the HTC Hive.

Marques is teaching a workshop next month on VR to educate our designers on how we can use these tools to enhance our client’s digital experiences. The possibilities are truly endless. If you’re lucky enough to have a headset of your own, check out his recommendations on productivity tools, games and entertaining shorts below.

References
Tools
  • Virtual Desktop: Use your desktop in VR. You can place yourself in different environments, make the screen as large or small as you want, or watch 3D movies in a virtual theater.
  • Bigscreen Beta: Use your desktop in a virtual environment with others online to collaborate.
  • SoundStage: Create music with a virtual 3D set up. 
VR Shorts
  • Henry: A lonely hedgehog gets his birthday wish with unexpected results.
  • Pearl: Tracks the relationship of a father and daughter through the years, criss-crossing the country in support of his music. 
  • Surge: A music video with surreal visuals.
  • Lost:An unexpected encounter with a giant robot in the forest.
  • Invasion!: A duo of aliens that want to take over the world make first contact with a bunny.
Games
  • Budget Cuts: Sneak around an office guarded by robots to steal intel armed with your portal gun and throwing knives.
  • Raw Data: Fast paced action game that makes you feel like a Jedi or a character out of Equilibrium. 
  • The Gallery: Call of the Starseed: Puzzle solving adventure game where you have to explore an environment looking for your missing sister. 
  • Edge of Nowhere: Third person psychological thriller that takes place in an Antarctic setting overrun by Lovecraftian monsters. 
  • Audioshield: Rhythm game where you punch orbs created by the beat of any song you want.
  • Rec Room: A social space where you can join up with other people online to hang out, or play various games like paintball, dodgeball, 3D charades, or disc golf.

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