When you clicked on this piece you may have been expecting something a bit more…adult. Don’t get me wrong, the VR industry is hard at work to provide supply for that particular demand (NSFW). This article, however, is about BUTTS, not butts. BUTTS is a colorful, bizarre, and downright hilarious VR film created by Tyler Hurd. Hurd recently made himself available to me for an interview about BUTTS, the world of virtual reality art and Old Friend, his soon-to-be-released follow-up project.
My first question is the one I consider the most obvious: why? Why make a cartoon VR experience featuring a character who pulls confetti gleefully out of his rear end? Hurd’s answer to my one-word question is fitting for someone who undoubtedly has had to answer it many times in the past:
“I don’t like this question so I’m not going to answer it.”
Such a blunt response rules out the possibility that Hurd created BUTTS as some sort of attention-seeking shock piece or juvenile prank. He goes on to explain that it actually spun out of a very real emotional source:
BUTTS I think was directly inspired by a long relationship I was in. When either of us were depressed and/or anxious the other could do stupid things to make them laugh. While it doesn’t necessarily fix anything I think the laughter creates a connection and they might feel less alone in it, which is huge when you’re in that state. I certainly did not have any of that in mind while I was making it. I just was making myself laugh while I was working and that came out.
Creating that sense of irreverent hilarity was one of Hurd’s major goals when designing BUTTS, and it is still what he appreciates about it today:
It’s just a ridiculous cartoon that makes me laugh. It’s really dumb and I love it. I also like to mention the “taking ridiculous things seriously” angle that became the main theme of the humor in the project. I took something that a lot of people dismiss or scoff at and I spent a lot of time lovingly crafting it. The response can be a bit polarized because of it, and I like that.
BUTTS began as a 2D animation piece that Hurd explains was made to simply fulfill the creative desires in his life. After it was finished, VR-savvy friends at Skillman and Hackett (of Google Tilt Brush fame) convinced him to port the animation to headsets and helped him with the process. The VR version is now available for both Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Samsung Gear VR.
Pricing his experience was a carefully thought out process for Hurd:
I was going to give it away free, and did for a long time, but everyone I know is trying to get away from the “race to the bottom” that happened with the mobile platform. People undercutting each other, making money from ad revenue, micro transactions, blechgk! “But it’s only 2 minutes and it’s linear,” one might say, well this content takes a lot of time to create and support, especially for an independent artist.
Hurd brought BUTTS to VR in late 2014. Since then he has been working on a follow-up experience titled Old Friend:
It’s a reactive linear music video experience that is meant to create lots of overwhelming joyous feelings with happy characters, bright psychedelic colors/imagery, and ridiculous dance moves and bouncy character animation.
The development cycle for Old Friend differed significantly from BUTTS, according to Hurd:
I had VR in mind from the start this time whereas BUTTS was a port from traditional film-making techniques. Some of the moments in BUTTS get lost because they were designed as a film, not as a stage play… so with that in mind I think the experience in Old Friend is more impactful. I took a lot of the things I learned from showing BUTTS to people, what worked and what didn’t, and applied them in this project. I also had a better understanding of Unity this time around, so I was able to design better from the ground up and work much more efficiently. Also there are way more things happening in it so it was a LOT more work. Hah.”
Old Friend captures the same sort of in-your-face energy and borderline insane visuals that are quickly becoming calling cards for Hurd’s VR projects. No release date is set for the title but fans of BUTTS should expect a similarly enjoyable ride.