Hey! I’m Naam, animator, designer and technical lead at Happy Ship – a small 3D animation and VR studio in the cold northern parts of The Netherlands, which I run together with Martin Venema. I’m coming at VR from the Visual Effects, animation and film angle, though the stuff I’m making with Quill (like the pieces here in my Sketchfab gallery) harkens back to my comic-drawing days of yore. I mean, really, it’s just drawings!
VR as a medium is incredible, and we’re blessed with tools that open up creativity like this. Painting in thin air, then walking around in your own creations is incredibly empowering.
A big part of the fun and power with VR painting is how, just as with paper, it’s often best to simply start working from a feeling or concept in your head. In 3D modelling I often take to sketching first, planning things out more, but in Quill the sketch is already the model.
In the case of Lunch, it started with trying to depict a feeling of injustice I was left with from something stupid at work – negative feelings can be a great starter for pieces, really. Though I must admit I started from the vengeful side of me being the jailer Knurft character, serving some figurative troll tough, crude justice, but during making the piece I slowly turned to identify with the troll character.
It’s probably because I drew the apple too small.
In this case, I wanted to do a relatively ultra-quick piece of being swamped in work – which I was at the moment. Just the image of being covered in ink-stained paper as a shorthand for “work” seemed like something I could do in 30 minutes! The fact that I forgot to set the alarm and spent a good hour on it, then got to work late, we’ll leave as just a nice ironic touch.
It’s hard to describe how the process of a particular piece went – just as hard as it is to recall the mental process of making a particular drawing – so I best try and summarise some of the tricks I learned to deploy. These will be mostly Quill-specific, although I’m sure a lot will translate very well to other VR painting apps.
To begin with, I always try and remember that I’m drawing volume. In two dimensions (like paper), you can draw out lines to demark your shapes, but in VR lines don’t really limit your shapes very well. So I tend to simply draw the volumes from the inside out. Like painting color immediately, without having a line sketch to work off. Continually moving about to judge the shape from all angles.
With the more convoluted, larger shapes, I “wireframe” them out haphazardly, the line of the spine, the crease in the belly, building a cage shape that I later fill in the parts of, leaving larger swathes of color where the bigger volumes should be. These aren’t sketch lines to be removed later though, they’ll be part of the shape. I fill in the empty parts between the lines, alway curving my strokes with the shape, building up just the outer shell of the volume. Of course the Nudge tool is a huge boon to this process, allowing you to subtly nudge, or drastically push about your shapes, sometimes feeling you’re softly hammering them into shape.
This whole process works especially well if you’re planning to reshade the shape afterwards – because it’s now made up of relatively thin lines, close together, the reshading process has a lot of detail to work with, which you wouldn’t have if you filled out the large shapes as big single-stroke blobs.
Because Quill requires you to do all shading by hand (which I love it for) and is otherwise just displaying flat colors, it’s essential to vary the drawing color a little with almost each patch of color, so the flat colors don’t fully destroy your sense of depth here. By continually varying the shade a little (I simply poke at the palette imprecisely) you’re building it up like a sort of quilt pattern, giving you a good sense of how the shapes work in all dimensions.
Thinner, long parts (arms, fingers, broomsticks) are almost always built up of a few strokes as well, to make it possible to shade them differently at different angles.
After that step you’re left with a crudely stitched together frankensteinform of colored patches. Though it helps to already keep the light direction and shades you want in mind when building it, the shape really comes into its own in the next step, the reshading step. With the recolor tool I softly paint over the whole shape in big broad strokes, pulling all colors closer together, but not entirely. Again I keep changing the color – sometimes to wildly complimentary shades, sometimes arriving at completely different shades than I started out with. If I need to fill in more bits with new patches, I immediately recolor them over to match the full shape.
Only when putting in the final details – highlights, blemishes, tiny little objects – I tend to work without the recolor step, just picking the right color immediately, not trying to blend them. This makes them pop out satisfyingly, something you definitely want for things like highlights.
Here’s the whole process described above in a sped-up screen capture:
The fact you can immediately upload your Quill creations to the web via Sketchfab, by means of the FBX export, is an essential part of what makes working in VR so satisfying. Imagine only being able to share screengrabs, or only with people that own a Rift! Instead, you can have your viewers experience the little works as they were intended – in full 3D, heck even in VR. I’m not sure if I would have fallen in love with VR-painting as much if there was no way to share things like this.
And sometimes, like in DeSeeer above, you’re left with a quillustration that actually looks good when lit, instead of using Quill’s own flat color shading! Put the above to Shadeless (Settings->Rendering->Shadeless) to see how it looked within Quill when i made it.
Quill pieces can still look amazing as a still, but well, then we’re back to where it all started – they’re just drawings, why work in VR? But orbit around them, or watch them in VR, walk around them, within them, and there’s an extra layer of magic to it all.
Do you have any questions for Naam? Leave them in a comment!