The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is one of the largest film festivals globally. Unlike Cannes, Sundance, and Tribeca, all of which have incorporated VR into the events, TIFF has been a bit of a holdout. Well, at least until now. The first event of a VR-related series running through September is POP 01, and it took place this past weekend, June 24 – 26. The theme of the show was “VR + art + music” and it featured VR content co-curated by Gamma Space Collaborative Studio founder Henry Faber and TIFF’s Digital Director Jody Sugrue.
One of the most notable aspects of POP 01 is that unlike many VR “festivals,” it wasn’t just a bunch of Gear VRs in a temporary space – POP 01 featured all of the major VR platforms, including Gear VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift with Touch and even PlayStation VR. All the experiences were presented in a beautiful art gallery-style setting, and organizers limited the number attendees allowed in at once to reduce the wait times to try VR.
One of the most exciting “pieces” at the show was Oculus Medium, the VR sculpting application for Oculus Touch that debuted at Oculus Connect 2 (OC2) last fall. It was quite a coup for TIFF to get Oculus to bring Medium up to Canada because, outside of OC2 and other industry-facing events such as CES, GDC, and E3, Medium hasn’t been demoed by Oculus. Along with allowing attendees to try it out, Oculus also sent one of its concept artists, Raz, to Toronto, and for 40 minutes each day he created an amazing sculpture.
— Brian Sharp (@bhsharp) June 26, 2016
Brian Sharp, the Director of Medium at Oculus also came up to Canada, and we were able to talk to him about Medium and what Oculus’ plans are for this powerful artistic tool.
Upload: Do you have any updates you can share as to where Medium is now since its announcement at OC2 last fall?
Brian Sharp: We’ve been actively working on building it since then, and one of the big things we did recently is that we started releasing builds of it internally within Oculus. We’ve seen a lot of the Oculus artists, on the team that built Farlands, at Story Studio, the Medium team, and they’ve started to create a lot of stuff that’s surprised us. This has definitely driven the development of a lot of the hand tools.
We are working really hard to strike a balance – at Oculus Connect we found even someone who’d never been in VR before, within 5 – 7 minutes they could be using five different sculpting tools. Maybe not sculpting [Michelangelo’s] David but they’re drawing their name in the air, having fun and loving it. We’re holding onto that and making sure Medium is never some kind of obscure professional tool.
There’s this balance between that it’s a thing that anyone who enjoys making sandcastles or snowmen [in real life] is going to have a blast with, but also I’ve been pretty blown away at the fidelity of the work some of the professional artists have created…
Upload: Until I saw some of the professional Medium work you showed me I didn’t imagine you could create very detailed work like that. Because I hadn’t tried Medium until today, I was under the impression that it was just a creative and fun, yet simple sculpting in VR application. Just like Tilt Brush, which on the surface seems pretty basic, it’s hard to grasp how powerful “creating in VR” tools like Medium can be. Professional-grade content can be created with them.
Brian Sharp: One of the things we love about VR is that it removes some of the basic obstacles. You don’t have to learn how to do camera control. You don’t have to learn how to use a mouse and keyboard and a bunch of hotkeys. However, sculpting is still a very skilled craft and one of things that we still see a lot is that people go into it [Medium] without an intention.
They kind of doodle, have a lot of fun, then stop at a point where they are “I don’t know what to do now?” We’re thinking about a lot of ways to work on that [problem] – ways for people to teach and learn from each other. Ways to give people some guidance to point them in certain directions and encourage them to explore more stuff. We have a bunch of ideas we are working to implement for Medium’s launch.
Upload: Can you talk about the social/multi-person component?
Brian Sharp: We think about social a lot, and it means a lot more than just that you are in VR at the same time working on the same sculpture. We have a swath of different plans that we exploring for what we do there, and I think it really comes down to how do we build a sense of community because that’s a lot of what encourages people to practice.
Upload: From the educational and training side, I know you can take screenshots, but can you record the sculpting process [in VR]?
Brian Sharp: We’re still just starting to implement a lot of [social] stuff…
Upload: If you could record the sculpting process someone could then go back and watch the recording in VR, or even watch it live, that would be very powerful. Also, with mixed-reality recording you could create some very compelling mixed-reality videos using Medium.
Brian Sharp: An example I would use is the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro – you see all these Procreate time-lapses on Facebook if you follow artists. It’s cool to see the finished work but seeing the time-lapse and having “how did they draw that” answered by seeing their process is super intriguing. I think there’s definitely an appetite for that kind of stuff for sure.
Upload: Why did Oculus decide to bring Medium to the TIFF Pop VR exhibit. Also, what does an arts-focused VR show like this means to the Medium team?
Brian Sharp: The Medium team has always felt like art and VR was going to be a really big deal so when TIFF got in touch with us and mentioned that they were doing Pop as a first experiment towards a showcase of art projects in VR, that felt like home. We are super happy to be here, and a lot of the other [VR] projects here have high production values and look really nice. It’s nice to be able to show Medium to different communities – we did some livestreaming at E3 of artists with video game backgrounds doing live sculpting and then here we get to talk to a different kind of audience too, people more into traditional art.
— Lydia Choy (@choy) June 29, 2016
Upload: This is the first time Medium has been in Canada, correct?
Brian Sharp: Yes, I think it is. TIFF was super psyched about that — it’s the first time Medium has been up in Canada.
Upload: Medium hasn’t been widely accessible other than at industry events, so this exhibit is [was] a rare opportunity for the public to try it.
Brian Sharp: We’re figuring out our event schedule still. We announced last September, but Medium obviously is not coming out until Touch ships later this year. However, we’re starting to spin that up [promotion of Medium], with the livestreams at E3, this event and others like it. So there will be increasing opportunity as we approach ship, but we’ll still be selective, and it will only be accessible at events like this.
Upload: To finish things up, what’s you impression of this TIFF Pop exhibition in comparison to some of the other events that you have shown Medium at?
Brian Sharp: They told us that they were going to build it out as more of a gallery space, and I didn’t know what that meant at first. I think that aesthetically it’s [the exhibit space] is beautiful – it’s a great experience walking through the exhibit, and it’s awesome to see all the different VR platforms together in one space because it’s really celebrating the creators who are making the art for them. I love working in VR because it’s this medium where basically everyone wins. We all just want VR to succeed.
Although Tilt Brush has been getting the lion’s share of attention where it comes to creative VR tools, both because it’s awesome and because it is available today, don’t discount Medium. Although Oculus didn’t give us any specifics, it’s clear that Medium has evolved substantially since it’s debut at OC2 and is capable of much more detailed results. And it’s only going to improve further. Oculus’ creativity application is just as awesome, yet also very different.
Parts of the above interview have been edited for clarity and flow.