Tilt Brush: A Closer Look At The Birds And The Trees

Over the weekend I decided it was time to dive back into Google’s VR art project, Tilt Brush [official site]. I hadn’t played it since a brief demo out in Seattle but I had an afternoon of waiting for a Sainsbury’s delivery* ahead of me and access to an RPS Vive. That header image isn’t mine, by the way – it’s by Tristan Reidford! I’m more about trying to master the basics right now.

Something I was fiddling with initially was the background. You get to sort of set the skybox to different things as a backdrop for your work – black or white offer you a plain background but I wanted to do something foresty so I picked the night sky with all the stars overhead.

Then I set to work on my tree. Oil paint was the brush I was using for the most part. It lets you paint these textured ribbons in the air, marking out imaginary solid shapes in three dimensional space.

Pretty soon you learn to work with the sweep of your arm rather than against it because you’re drawing with these expansive gestures.

I was making a tree so the arc my arm made on what you might call the downswing was useful for creating the part where a tree trunk turns into the beginnings of a root system and begins to spread before ducking underground as an anchor.

The upswing arc was less good at this point. it meant that the tree was starting to bulge after about shoulder height unless I consciously repositioned or was more measured, less fluid. I guess that’s the problem when you’re trying to build something that is independent of human scale in a completely human-scale-centric environment. It was actually easier to step inside the trunk and try to create it from the inside, although there was a curious element of resistance from my brain on that score. Apparently brains aren’t massively used to clipping through objects with your body – who knew?

I started to use that top part of my arm’s sweep to add swaths of leaves using the leaf brush (although there’s only one type of foliage so only one type of tree which you can create this way).

I stuck to smaller sweeps for the leaves, though. I was experimenting with how to create a sense of light that isn’t reliant on the ambient light that the skyscape seemed to be offering. To that end I was adding texture by using lighter leaves in some places and darker in others, augmenting the effect of the in-game light and shadows so there was depth to the tree. I also started playing with the size of the leaves to add some kind of illusion of natural variation and growth patterns.

I’m not sure what would then happen if the light source changed – whether the tree would look bizarre, or whether your brain would happily pick one element like colour or size to focus on as it tried to interpret the tree as a 3D object.

I added grass using the coarse brush because if you make little upwards strokes you end up with what look like blades of grass from a distance. It looked promising but I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I tried adding a mushroom or two but one of the RPS Vive base stations is malfunctioning so fine detail is really hard as the controller will suddenly glitch out, thinking it’s suddenly a foot or two in another direction. In the end I gave up on tiny detail that wasn’t grass or the odd fallen leaf and deleted the weird mushroom-intended splatters.

I wanted to add more loose detail further up but I’m really short. I considered blindly feeling for the chair in the corner of the room and climbing it in order to add further branches and foliage. But one of the other fun things about our misfiring base station is that occasionally it seems to cause the virtual reality space inside Tilt Brush to just lurch to the side, tilting until it’s at 90 degrees to the horizontal. I mean, I know it’s called TILT Brush but that’s ridiculous!

It’s hard enough to cope with that while standing on solid ground, closing your eyes and hoping the virtual room stops spinning. I figured if it happened when I was on top of a chair in an empty house I was asking to become the first cautionary tale of the Vive.

Anyway, this is the result!

After that I checked out other people’s creations via the showcase gallery. My favourite is Parakeets by Tristan Reidford which is the image in the header. It’s one of those demonstrations which is both lovely to look at and also inspires you to think about how to use some of the tools which initially seem flashy. You can’t see it here but the parakeets have a few feathers that are made from the brush type which flashes different rainbow colours and makes the birds seem more alive.

Here they are in one of the other kinds of gif you can generate in-game – they’re a kind of variation on those fake-3D wiggle stereoscopy ones:

Having seen how well this version of foliage works I’m wondering whether to go back and try to replace my leaf brush effect with something stylised and off my own making…

*Actually it was a redelivery which was part of the Saga of the Kiwi Fruit where the initial delivery had been unable to deliver 5 golden kiwi fruit so had substituted 4 golden kiwi fruit. To my mind that is actually a reduction and not a substitution. Even more of a reduction when you consider that actually they never delivered the bag with the kiwi fruit at all. Also missing was a sieve, which I guess is largely composed of holes and air when you think about it so you could argue that at least half of the sieve had been delivered. Anyway, after a phonecall or three I was expecting redelivery of the missing items, although five golden kiwis was still not going to happen. Instead I was now expecting eight. They arrived without further incident but are green and not golden. I have long since stopped caring about kiwis.

I do, however, suspect I have a fruit curse. Last time I did an online shop I ordered frozen mango and the order arrived but with a sad note telling me that there was no frozen mango and that Sainsbury’s had been unable to find anything suitable to substitute. I nearly phoned them up to have a helpful conversation about how things go from being not frozen to frozen and that maybe they could have sent a room temperature mango and let me worry about the transformative process.

Why am I telling you this?


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    Oakreef says:

    Those are incredible

  2. MuscleHorse says:

    Stuff like this is what’s exciting about VR. I feel the gaming potential is actually rather low (though I’d love to be proved wrong), whereas the educational and artistic possibilities look to be incredible.

    • MuscleHorse says:

      I should clarify that the gaming side feels undercooked more for this generation of headsets – with better controls etc in future gens I’m sure it’ll take off.

    • Ahtaps says:

      That’s my opinion too. VR is only going to take off if people stop focusing on gaming and start focusing on the infinite practical applications of VR. You have an infinite space not bound by the physical or economical constraints of the real world. Anything you want you can have right then and there without having it have to actually be there. The games industry is great for driving technology and software advancements but someone always needs to apply that practically to everyday life for it to become mainstream.

    • Fellhuhn says:

      The Devs are just focusing on the wrong genres. FPS don’t really work as conventional movement makes most players sick and the teleporting ruins the fun. Except they make the teleporting one of the key features (Budget Cuts, Portal clones etc.) but you can’t have that many of those games.

      Simulators are a good start but roomscale doesn’t really work here. What I want to see here is something like FTL but in first person and multiplayer. Multiple VR users (also conventional PC users should be possible) are playing on the same ship. They can move around here, go to different stations and do all the SciFi stuff like blasting cannons, repairing damage and so on. That would be great.

      Also games like Final Approach work very well. You are kind of a god looking down at the game area and giving commands with your hands. Black & White style games. Like Populous. Or even the tycoon genre, something like Movies or Theme Park. Even Dungeon Keeper.

      Dungeon Crawling games can also be great. Imagine games like Dungeon Master which are tile based. Movement isn’t that big an issue then.

      Combined games should be great too (VR users combined with conventional players). Battlefield had something like that with the Commander mode where one player could use a tablet or such to help his team. Standard RTS games where single VR gamers could join any game and take control of a single unit… the possibilities are endless.

  3. Stevostin says:

    FTR learning to work with your arm behavior when doing your painting gesture is not VR specific. It’s also an essential feat on real life painting, inking, etc.

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      Philippa Warr says:

      I draw IRL so I’m used to the motions in relation to a 2D plane and I tend to be guilty of moving the wrist and not the whole arm despite what you’re always told but in 3D space the experience was very, very different. Part of that is the lack of a 2D plane to press against. There’s no resistance so you are that much more aware of the natural sweeps of motion and momentum as well as gravity.

  4. AutonomyLost says:

    Those Parakeets look exceptional to my eyes. Also: solid tree effort, Pip.

  5. Doogie2K says:

    Am I the only one who saw the title, saw the birds, and thought it said “Tit Brush”?

    Anyway, this looks like a real cool art tool. If we could afford VR kit, I think my fiancee, who’s an art student, would get a big kick out of playing with this.

  6. Aitrus says:

    Wow, great job. This inspires me to actually try Tilt Brush out again. I initially just put it down after playing around for about 10 minutes.

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    It's not me it's you says:

    This looks like great fun and I can’t wait to try it out when my Vive arrives.

    On a note related to this article – I’m really enjoying this series of “Pip here, I’ve been playing a thing and here’s what it looks like!”. The Subnautica base was awesome, the ship building thinger was well good and this looks great as well. It’s always nice to see what people actually do / build in games. Probably at least as interesting as a normal review.

  8. Don Reba says:

    Sparth recently posted some Tilt Brush paintings. I thought they were very impressive.
    link to sparth.tumblr.com

  9. zipdrive says:

    FROZEN mango? Why would that even be a thing?

  10. Pebblerocker says:

    Now THIS is the sort of thing that makes me start to believe VR will change the world. Painting a tree in three dimensions like that is absolutely mind-blowing.