There is a child-like wonder in creating something out of nothing. Where there was empty air is now a kitty cat. It may be lumpy, with a mouth that looks like a bubble, but you made it. And that is the joy of crafting art, delighting in the creation itself. That joy finally comes to the Oculus platform with Medium.
Medium is a free program that works with the upcoming Oculus Touch motion controls in which you can sculpt art. Created by Oculus, it allows you to create objects big and small, sculpting and coloring digital clay into whatever forms you desire. Though the program uses clay as a metaphor, the results feel more like the foam you would find at a craft store, with a rough texture, though some of the tools treat it like a fluid-esque solid of clay.
This is an art program, so it’s effectiveness comes down to the tools and user skill. Your main hand is your sculpting tool, the right hand in my case, and your off hand is the support hand. With the main tool you are adding or erasing the “clay”, of different shapes, sizes, and colors. The buttons on the right hand let you change the size or the color of the clay. Another button opens a menu to change the shape.
The support hand lets you add, merge, and manipulate layers, letting you create separate objects in the same space. It also lets you go back to the main menu to save, load, or output files (more on that later). Most importantly, the left hand lets you switch the tool you are using in the right hand. From the basic clay tool, you get an airbrush to paint, smooth out surfaces, smudge shapes, flatten shapes, cut shapes into separate objects on different layers, etc.
There are 10 basic tutorials to teach you the controls, the menus, and all the ins and outs of using the basic clay tool. It will take you about five minutes to run through them and start making things. There are another 6 tutorials that are longer, applying those skills to create specific objects — a tree, a house, and the aforementioned kitty cat — and other lessons on all the intricacies of using layers to create and manipulate separate objects. It all helps to give you a handle on using Medium.
It feels like Medium was made by Oculus to serve as a demonstration of the power of the Touch motion controls. Your gestures shape this digital art, pulling the trigger to activate tools, holding the grip button to hold the sculpture, using the analogs and face buttons to modify the tools and layers. You see a digital version of the Touch controls in the virtual space you stand in. These tools move smoothly through the space, letting you delicately create, erase, or shape things. You can walk around the space and the objects as well. You are virtually there with the art.
The art you can create is pretty diverse: my first project was the same thing I did when I first tried the demo of Medium in 2015: Pac-Man with a few pellets, which is essentially a handful of colored balls, with the yellow one missing a wedge. It is quite doable with the initial clay tool. I also wanted to make some polyhedral dice from tabletop roleplaying like D&D to get into more complex, but still orderly, shapes.
I also made a model of my childhood home, a more complex project that required using multiple tools, layers, and colors. It came out as a lumpy mess. That has a lot to do with my patience to get things right and my limitations as an amateur artist. But it also has to do with the limitations of the program itself.
Medium is a cool demo for motion control tech and the usefulness of the Oculus Touch, but it is not a very precise art program. It is hard to make truly perfect and flat shapes. It is difficult to get things so exact. This makes it more useful for organic and curvy shapes, which I guess makes sense considering you are doing digital clay and not line-drawings, such as you would in Quill.
Unfortunately there are other limitations. There aren’t any tutorials for the tools beyond the basic clay tool. You can record your process of creating an object, but it saves it as a .REC file, which requires a third-party program to convert to another format like an .MP4 to be really usable. Why Oculus doesn’t let you choose what kind of video you want is beyond me. I wound up using a different screen-capturing program all together. You can take 2D photos of your work, choosing the angle and distance and exact composition, which at least gives you .PNG files to upload to sites or share with others.
And then when you do actually finish your virtual object, you can’t do much with it. You can upload it so other Medium users can check it out and you can download an .OBJ file to use with 3D art programs like Blender or even game creation software like Unity, but that’s about it. It’s compatible with some 3D printers, but the .OBJ format is not even the industry-preferred format for any of these uses. More file format choices in general would have been useful here.
What really surprised me is that Oculus didn’t even connect Medium to its other software. You’d think that you’d have the ability to put the object in some kind of gallery or trophy room you can walk around in within Medium — or possibly a shelf in the virtual home screen room within Oculus Home. Or how about creating a 360 photo of the object to use on Facebook or share socially in other ways?
And what if you want more than a static object? There are no tools to add a skeleton and add animation within the program, which does make sense because it was only designed to make sculptures, but it feels like a missed opportunity. Additionally, there weren’t any tools beyond creating separate layers, to create a background or setting for the object to reside within. Of course, if they did add animation tools, they would have to add film editing tools, sound tools, etc. Maybe they feel the upcoming release of Quill covers that for more advanced use cases.
So Medium is a fun program to demonstrate Touch and to experience creating objects from scratch. But it is not the best for making something useful to use beyond Medium itself. Of course, this is just the launch of Touch and Medium. Oculus has room to add more tutorials, more tools, more functions, more output files, and build Medium into something more than a curiosity. It is a meaningful experience to create art, but it is also wonderful to share it with the world so others can delight in it as well.