Virtual Reality for Artists

This is process documentation from my most recent project in VR using Unity and 360 Video. This project took me 6 months from beginning to end. It included a shoot at a concrete factory, betOnest, with collaborators, a weekend at VR camp with artists and engineers, and many many hours alone in my studio. I’m documenting the steps so that more artists and scumbags can understand the process of world building in VR.

I have found Virtual Reality to be incredibly useful as an artist, as it allows you to conceive of new concepts and fantasies very quickly without having to invest in space and material.

It can be used as a tool to create content that can then be built physically into the world around us, or to share a single experience around the world. It is flexible, and the more you work with the tools the more apparent this becomes.

Tools

The program that I used to capture most of my content is Unity. It is a free program that allows you to easily create 3d interactive environments that you can build directly to your phone.

In Unity you have the option of creating an animated and interactive space that your viewer/s can move through. You start by creating a very basic terrain that you can then fill in with your own content. This basic scene below is created from the following game objects: several spheres, terrain, and a cylinder. These objects can now be projected on with video or covered with images. This is essentially the skeleton of your world. From here it is a matter of simply creating content and finding or writing some simple scripts to add movement and interaction.

World building for Complex Monogamy project — Aubrey Heichemer, 2017

360 Cameras

VR tools are getting easier to come by and extremely easy to use. It is helpful to start with a 360 camera to experiment with space and get a sense of what it is to build for an immersive experience.

I chose the 360Fly 4K camera, primarily because it shoots 4k, and doesn’t have fuzzy lines where the image is stitched together. It also has an accompanying app which allows you to quickly view your recordings, upload them to YouTube, and delete and re-record if you didn’t get the right effect. You can also edit just as you do flat film in Adobe Premier. It is really incredibly simple. If you don’t want to purchase a camera you can also rent one from a company like Grover.

360 Video & Unity

I wanted viewers to be able to move through different experiences and be enshrouded in one experience at a time for my project Complex Monogamy. So I decided to project 360 videos on spherical surfaces. Below is an example of three videos playing inside spheres in a Unity scene that the player can walk through.

Here is an excellent how-to tutorial by Adriana Vecchioli that will show you how to easily get your videos to play on a sphere. This tutorial can be done regardless of your coding skills.

Complex Monogamy Vr App — Aubrey Heichemer, 2017

Content Creation

Set Building

Shooting 360 presents different challenges, primarily because everything is in your shot. You have little leeway visually to set up lights and other equipment. To solve that problem you may want to build an opaque backdrop that would allow you to light the scene but keep the background clear.

This was my process for building a backdrop set:

I brought all different types of transparent materials to my studio and tested the lighting of different fibers and plastics to see what material was opaque enough to light from outside but could still obstruct external lines.

Studio build

I found that silk was the best material to light and get a touch of activity from the outer world, therefore I built a triangular prototype tent for filming. Then I started working with lighting from the outside to see what effects I could get. I put the camera inside and started experimenting with ambiance.

Silk Tent

One of my favorite effects is that of iridescent plastic when lit from the outside. In order to get natural movement in the lighting, Terril Scott and I created a costume that would act as a continuous variable light source.

Continuous Light Costume, Complex Monogamy — Aubrey Heichemer, 2017

The end effect can be seen here in this video. This is a 360 video, so you can click and grab the screen to shift perspective. You can also watch it in a Google Cardboard/Daydream/Samsung gear headset.

Absorption Complex Monogamy — Aubrey Heichemer, 2017

Site Specific Sets

While it is nice to have a controlled studio environment to shoot in, you can sometimes lose the feeling of being in an endless space. Within larger spaces — large industrial spaces or open fields, for example — it works well to block visual information with lighting by only illuminating what you want in the shot.

Complex Monogamy Still — Aubrey Heichemer, 2017

Another dynamic effect is illuminating see-through objects like this plastic grate above. Atmospherics can block out the surrounding equipment and still capture the feeling of a large space. In general, enshrouding the camera and creating movement from outside an obstruction can lead to a dreamy abstract effect without the feeling of a claustrophobic, limited view.

Movement

Once you have your environment built up to a certain point, you will most likely want to move around it to survey the situation. In order to move around the scene you have built, you can attach scripts to objects. The scripts give your objects basic instructions that allow the player to move throughout the scene. Below is a tutorial that allows you to move through a scene using teleportation. Here is a playlist of tutorials on how to move throughout a scene using other possibilities.

Sound is the most important aspect of building any environment so I will write an entire post on that in the future.

Hopefully that was a quick taster for you and you have a sense of what you can do. Feel free to post your processes or links to what you have made in the comments.

Wishing you the best!

Thank you to my collaborators in realising the VR Project Complex Monogamy: Natalie Vsvy-Art Direction , Lucy Clarke- Engineer, Marie Flanagan-Engineer Conceptor, Linards Kulles- Art Director , Christina Nevada- Cinematographer, Terril Scott -Prop and Costume Design, Tank Thunderbird -Engineer

Linards in the flowers — betOnest spring 2017