Upload Collective — VR Weekend Workshop

UploadVR Workshop — By Chris Keithley

Last weekend I had a cool opportunity to volunteer for the VR Weekend Workshop at UploadVR in San Francisco. I had a blast connecting with other people who are passionate about the industry, many of whom are also looking to pursue VR/AR projects (in a multitude of fields and so I am excited to share my experience from the weekend:

UploadVR, for those of you who don’t know, is a shared workspace that uses its facilities and resources to help further the burgeoning VR/AR/MR industry. They do this by providing offices, desks and a common location for like-minded individuals to work on their projects and accelerate their ideas. At times, they offer educational workshops to bring people into the fold and teach ever-evolving, interactive VR development practices.

Even though I had my duties as a volunteer*, there was plenty of time for me to stay on top of the presentations and be involved with the programs. I even had time to play around with the Oculus Touch and HTC Vive systems they had set up. Each computer had an amazing selection of applications and games installed for attendees to experience. This was my first time experimenting with the Touch controllers and really was impressed (but I’ll talk about that in more depth at another time).

This is how the workshop went:

Saturday and Sunday began with guest speakers who spoke about their projects and professional experiences. These were helpful for the attendees who didn’t know about production processes or 3D asset creation workflow. After these initial talks, the UploadVR educators began their presentations. These sections focused on the basics of the Unity engine and in the end, we had created simple, but working, VR games that could be played on the HTC Vive.

The workshop had a few prerequisites:

  1. Bring a computer with Unity installed and the other was to
  2. Have some rudimentary experience with the c# coding language.

To prepare for the workshop, I completed an online course from Udemy that put me in a great position to understand all of the material in depth. This really felt like an advantage, given the pace at which the workshop moved. All of the c# scripts were provided, so there wasn’t much organic coding involved, but having the in-depth knowledge from the Udemy course allowed me to understand how it all worked. I feel like I’m now in a place to adapt the scripts used for future projects.

The attendees had a wide range of knowledge/experience with the Unity engine and c#, so I felt that this made it difficult for the instructors to tailor the content and level of detail of of their presentations. The attendees who hadn’t prepared their c# knowledge well enough quickly found themselves lost, but the workshop had ~5 “TAs” walking around to help anyone who was a bit lost, to catch up and understand instructions they had missed or just didn’t get.

Alternatively, the attendees who had done more than the basic prerequisites, found a majority of the material to be a review, but also helped to solidify what they already knew, especially since coding was kept to a minimum. I’ll admit, skipping the code writing was necessary during this weekend workshop: there would be no way to teach coding in a single weekend, to a mixed group, most of whom didn’t have much prior coding experience (if any at all). The TAs were still very useful to this group, as the more experienced people could ask them advanced questions about adapting the code and methodology to their own ideas or projects. The TA addition was an extremely successful aspect of the workshop.

Any good workshop is also going to include a good amount of social time where everyone can play with the demo units, chat with each other about VR/AR, share ideas, discuss projects, and talk about work. The socializing took place during meals, which were provided by the workshop (dinner Friday + breakfast and lunch on Saturday and Sunday) and after the presentations were finished each day. Snacks, sodas, beer and wine flowed freely and the nights ended in good spirits, and with everyone better connected on LinkedIn.

* Volunteering was an opportunity for significant cost saving on the entry fee but also yielded other unexpected benefits, those of which I’ll write about in another post about volunteering in general.