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VR May Be A Legitimate Design Tool Sooner Than You Think

GravitySketch is building a workflow for designers who use VR, like Google Docs for designing in virtual environments.

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Tiltbrush is the ultimate sketching app. You can decorate a snowman, wireframe a tiny house, or draw jaw-dropping landscapes, filled with dragons made of flame paint that stretch the length of your living room. But there’s a catch: while you can technically export the images to 3D software to play with further, there’s no seamless, Adobe-style workflow for VR content. And so no one seriously designs in VR.

The GravitySketch team wants to change that. Consisting of four ex-RCA students working out of the school’s new startup incubator, GravitySketch started by developing an impressive, though secretive, augmented reality app that never shipped—the core technology of which became GravitySketch for tablets, an app that allows users to make quick 2D shapes and intuitively extrude them into 3D objects that can go straight to the 3D printer.

But their new vision—which you can support on Kickstarter now—is much more ambitious. It’s GravitySketch, not as a single app, but as a new style of creative workflow including smartphone, tablet, desktop and VR, "a full multi-platform system where the users can creation something in VR and finish it up on their iPad on the tube ride home," says team member Oluwaseyi Sosanya. "This is something like a Google Docs scenario."

It starts in a virtual reality drawing environment they’re developing for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. At first glance, it looks a lot like Google’s superb Tiltbrush app. But the GravitySketch software has a few practical advantages—most of all that its sketches are treated as real 3D objects rather than Tiltbrush’s beautiful but ethereal floating pixels.

This fundamental difference allows more serious editing. Images can be zoomed in and out for low vs high fidelity sketching, and pieces can be instantly be copy and pasted. Objects you draw know when they collide. Plus, the team also alluded to algorithms that make drawing feel natural to the user, and liken their intuitive sketch experience to what FiftyThree did with the Paper tablet app. These sorts of promises stack quickly in the hands of such a small development team, but given that how good GravitySketch's tablet app is, there may be reason to believe.

From VR, you can export the sketch into various 3D standards to edit in any major 3D editing software, or you can toss it over to GravitySketch’s own app to finish. It’s an impressive feat to consider, given that just a few years ago, developers were trying to figure out how to get 2D tablet drawings onto desktops. Soon, GravitySketch will allow 3D, VR-made sketches that can be uploaded straight to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Everything is getting more interoperable. If companies like GravitySketch truly pull this off, the real question becomes, how will design itself change?

Sosanya believes that VR will actually make design a lot more democratized, despite the absurdity of equipment it requires today. Being on campus, the company has been able to enlist RCA students for all of its closed beta testing to see how young creatives used the software. "The most promising designs and workflows have been from the fashion and vehicle design students," says Sosanya. "These users are highly 3D literate and have amazing 2D and 3D visualization skills, however, one group is quite proficient with CAD and the other is quite novice." Yet both groups have found developing in VR advantageous. "Essentially they can leapfrog the 2D sketching process," continues Sosanya. "One of our beta users actually sketches up rough ideas in VR then takes them into Photoshop and uses different perspectives as overlays for his 2D renders. We found this quite interesting, sort of the reverse logic."

Reverse logic isn’t necessarily the ideal selling point for new software, but its importance makes sense. Whereas our analog tools led us down a predictable path—from 2D sketch to 3D sculpt onto the final object—newer digital tools won't just make this path shorter or faster, they could actually change the workflow altogether. Rather than having to recreate our creative vision with every step, a few core media assets could serve as reference points to any number of 2D or 3D manifestations. "This could be anything from vehicle design, to animation and game character creation," says Sosanya. "We allow users to export content in a few standard formats that can seamlessly integrate into other software or be sent for digital fabrication."

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