‘Like finger painting’: Google’s virtual reality painting app Tilt Brush targets professional artists

Google is announcing new features to its virtual reality painting application that will allow for a better and more practical use by professionals wanting to adopt it into their workflow.

Called Tilt Brush, the app allows people to use the HTC Vive virtual reality system to “grab” a paintbrush or other drawing tools and create fully three-dimensional artwork. Users can use brush strokes in the air to create their art, but then physically move around the piece in virtual reality to continue drawing from all angles in greater detail.


“We really built it for anyone to pick up and play”

Though the application already had the ability to export created images to professional animation software such as Maya — or even for more consumer-purposes like Snapchat or GIF creation — Google said as of Thursday’s update artists are now able to import their own artwork and use Tilt Brush to add fine details.

“Now [production studios] can import models to create storyboards or different sketches using existing assets,” said Elisabeth Morant, product manager for Google VR and head of Tilt Brush. “It has been our number one requested feature.”

For artists, using virtual reality to draw has its advantages to using a digital pen or a computer mouse. Not only can it provide greater detail, such as drawing individual strains of hair on a character model’s head, but it can also be more efficient and feel more natural.

“It’s like finger painting versus chiselling,” said Morant. “You’re using your hands very intuitively and fast.”


She added Tilt Brush isn’t meant to be a full replacement for professional programs, but is a “great place to people draft out ideas and get a skeleton or rough idea for where to go.”

Lorne Kwechansky, a Toronto-based visual effects supervisor who runs his own animation studio, said he has already been using Tilt Brush for his business before the new features were announced.

“It’s great because you get to draw by hand, otherwise without that you’re limited to trying to interact with a screen in a 2D way with a mouse,” he said. “Imagine trying to style an entire head of hair on a character, it just doesn’t translate very well.”

Before Kwechansky’s workflow would include using a snowman model template in Tilt Brush and, say, draw strains of hair on it but then export the hair out to his final character model. Now he’ll be able to draw directly on his character within the application.

“The fact that you’re in the room and [use your hands], it’s very powerful,” he said. “And even better is you don’t really need technical aptitude to do it either.”

Also coming to Tilt Brush on Thursday is the ability to scale and translate scenes, Morant said. Before if artists wanted to paint a huge scene in virtual reality, they would have to use tools such as a step ladder to physically reach the high pieces of the artwork. Now people can resize their scenes to make them as big or small as they want, without physically having to change their surrounding.

“Ultimately, we decided we should give people a way to do this that doesn’t involve risking breaking their necks,” she said. “Now people can scale their scenes and rotate them. It also allows people who have really small spaces to create scenes as big as someone who has an entire lobby at their disposal.”

Though these new features are aimed at professional users, Morant said that Tilt Brush is ultimately designed to be a fun application for everyone to be creative.

“We really built it for anyone to pick up and play,” she said. “For a lot of people this is even their first introduction to VR, and so we made sure it is really intuitive for anyone, whether you are a professional artist or just someone with a big imagination.”


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