I’m not an artist. I mean sure, in my day I’ve been known to doodle a killer cube and my wildlife paintings have been called “What is this supposed to be?” and “Seriously, your mother and I are worried about you,” from time to time. For the most part, however, I am hopeless with a brush or pencil in my hand.
I didn’t think someone like me would every be able to truly enjoy artwork beyond commenting on how real the landscapes looked in the latest Pixar movie, but here we are. Fortunately for me, and people like me, a new virtual reality experience is being released by Oculus. It’s called Quill and it is changing how the world creates, views, and enjoys art. Welcome to high society, right in your living room.
Quill is a creation of the Emmy-award winning Oculus Story Studios. It was reportedly developed as an in-house design suite for the group’s upcoming VR animated feature, Dear Angelica. As production on the new film progressed, the studio realized that they’d stumbled upon a creation program that the whole world could enjoy and so they decided to spin it out in beta as one of the many free VR titles releasing alongside Oculus Touch tomorrow.
The Touch controllers give you unprecedented control in the creation of three dimensional artwork. By simply holding down a trigger and moving your hand you can birth your creative visions into existence in a fully immersive digital environment. Quill is not the first VR art program to hit the market, but it differs significantly from competitors such as Tilt Brush and its brother Oculus Medium when it comes to style.
Medium is more like a sculpting tool and Tilt Brush is similar to 3D painting, whereas Quill is like stepping inside of a sketchbook. Relatively two-dimensional, pencil-esque lines are the standard for Quill creations. The set of options in Quill is simple but powerful. You can change the opacity and size of each tool you’re using as well as the color. There are also dedicated undo and delete buttons that make creating in Quill feel speedy and intuitive. Serious artists will also enjoy the option to choose different layers, a la Photoshop, for even more detailed creations. The most important and versatile feature, however, is the “scale” ability.
Everything you make in Quill can be gripped and rotated using your controllers. Once you grab the world you’re creating you can also shrink or grow the scene by tilting the analog stick up or down. Scaling means that you can draw a simple rectangle at one size, and then scale down until that rectangle is the size of a house and start building the interiors, for example. All of these tools combine to give Quill creations an immediately recognizable appearance that looks impressive on your flat computer monitor, but becomes downright enchanting inside of a VR headset.
Creating will always be the main thrust of Quill, but the most enjoyable part from my perspective was simply loading up already made artwork and ogling at the unbound creativity of others given life by the power of VR. There are a few snippets from Dear Angelica that are included in the files section of the experience and loading these up was one of the most emotionally stirring moments I’ve ever had inside VR.
What makes the striking visuals of Quill even more powerful is the program’s ability to natively import sound files to run alongside your artwork. Booting up an underwater reef scene while the sounds of the deep ocean play all around you turns incredible art into an incredible experience that you’ll remember long after you take the headset off. Quill is smartly designed and surprisingly powerful as a VR creation suite, but it also represents a potential shift in the way we view and enjoy artwork as well.
I’ve been to art museums and for the most part I struggle to find myself discovering what others seem to feel when they look at a few geometric shapes dotted with color on the wall. Inside Quill however, my emotions were activated in ways I didn’t think possible by static images. Art was something that has escaped my understanding my entire life, but after using Quill, I finally understood.
Final Recommendation: Must Try
VR has the potential to change just about every type of media and with Quill it now seems that high art is firmly on the table for that platform shift as well. Art exists to move people and after thousands of years of two dimensional attempts to do so, Quill and programs like it are showing how much more powerful the 3D space can be for creativity.