Category: Virtual Reality

TIFFxPOP: Hands-on with Oculus Medium and Google Tilt Brush

The POP 01 exhibit at TIFF featured a wide variety of different VR experiences focusing on art and music, here’s a rundown of the art tools I tried out after the featured keynote panels:

Oculus Medium

The Oculus developed 3D illustration tool with the Touch controllers is incredibly precise, allowing me to create a labyrinthine free form structure with deformations, contours and colour in a few minutes with minimal guidance from the Oculus guide (who did provide a lot of insight when I quizzed her about the advanced features). Each controller has the look and feel of a flight stick segment, pairing a remote form factor with triggers, high hats, joysticks and motion tracking to create a light and intuitive illustration tool

The 3D body positioning was striking, using a pair of the Oculus tracking cameras on tripods that were placed next to each other at different angles instead of in opposing corners as the HTC Vive requires. This setup was just as accurate for movement and illustration for Medium specifically; it didn’t have a bounding box to warn users when approaching the perimeter, but it works surprisingly well considering the lack of space required for this approach.

Google Tilt Brush

Illustrating in 3D with a full range of physical movement is really cool. I did this before the Medium demo and the biggest advantages that Tilt Brush has over the Oculus version is the bounding box and the heavier Vive controllers to simulate the feel of holding an actual spray can or painting tool. It takes some adjustment to figure out the inertia and aiming particularities of the controller, but it only took me a minute to dive into adding star backgrounds and whip around to add and subtract various geometry from my artistic work.

The Vive headset has a slightly lower visual quality in the sharpness and contrast of the on-screen image, but it doesn’t have an impact on the user ability to create or navigate the freeform world while creating structures that the guide informs me can be easily exported to leading tools like 3D Studio Max or Maya.

Unlike Medium, the Google Tilt Brush app is available right now and affordably priced: if you already have the hardware, don’t hesitate to get it.

TIFFxPOP: The Intersection of Art, Music and Virtual Reality


Virtual reality is really starting to take off in the public conscious as stable platforms in the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and the upcoming PlayStation VR become available at high end but still consumer accessible prices for home use. The maturation of the medium also provides an opportunity for exciting collaborations such as the TIFFxPOP series as The Verge and TIFF joined forces on a series of art installations in June, July and August at the TIFF Lightbox Theatre in downtown Toronto.


The expanded POP X on Saturday night featured a pair of keynote talks, starting with a panel on VR + Art moderated by Joseph Patel from the FADER and speakers Henry Faber, Adam Robezzoli and other distinguished guests (confession: I was scoping out the room to plan my experiences for part of the talk). Adam was excited to see new creators in VR that traditionally didn’t work in digital media and as a collorary, Joseph spoke about seeing a wide range of people who are engaging with VR in recent times.

The most memorable story came from Henry, when he spoke about a woman in a wheelchair who tried VR and was delighted when she looked down and didn’t see anything (rather than a wheelchair in the real world). She had an out of body experience that only those in her situation could relate to, which resulted in excitement in the virtual ability to walk up and down stairs and a story that really stood out in my mind.


The following talk focused on VR + Music with panelists Connor IllsleyJon Riera, Karen Vanderbourght and the return of moderator Joseph Patel. This panel spoke about the new challenges for creators to plan and capture musical performance in 3D; Joseph stressed that pre-production had to be on lock and that the crew had to think about not just what’s in front of you but also what’s around you. Jon spoke about filming OVO Fest with a RED VR rig and how he had never before experienced a representation of being on stage that was at as empowering in his career.

Using these techniques and tools to create a sense of discovery and the desire to explore is really important according to Connor which I emphatically agree with. Karen also emphasized that content is king, 360 will not make bad content better.


Coming up in POP 02 on July 15-17 will focus on VR + Empathy + Real World Storytelling and POP 03 shifts over to VR + Experimental Film on August 19-21 to conclude the series. For both entries, there will be a POP X version that includes keynote panel(s); we’ll have coverage of all 3 shows and much more in our new Virtual Reality category, be sure to keep your browser locked on Play With Pixels to learn more about this exciting new medium!

PAX East 2016: The Virtual Worlds of PlayStation VR

While the hype for the newly released Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets continues to light up the gaming world, there’s still another contender in the PlayStation VR display for PlayStation 4 (and potentially 4.5) scheduled for the fall of 2016. The main demo experiences for the headset so far are mostly built around action with titles like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and The London Heist on the show floor at PAX East 2016; there’s a broad selection of experiences on Sony’s virtual reality hardware at PAX East 2016 and I got some hands-on time with some of them.


London Heist

My experience with this game was similar to my PAX Prime 2015 session, an inconsistent shooter that couldn’t consistently recognize my grabbing of loose magazines from the car dashboard or my insertion of ammo into my submachine gun during the extended combat sequence. It’s unfortunate that the visuals were very blurry and exacerbated by the high rate of motion in this particular demo, resulting in a thoroughly dissatisfying experience where I approximated movement and aiming rather than making precise actions.

My experience with other PlayStation VR software suggests that the issue is a combination of hardware design, software design and my personal perception of 3D through this specific headset, but there’s definitely room to improve on the visual fidelity and interactive tracking before London Heist is released as a consumer product.


Harmonix Music VR

I swung by the crew at Harmonix to try out their Music VR program, a 3D creation tool combined with a selection of licensed music tracks that continues the company’s history of being an early adapter of new gaming technology. The demo is built around a virtual easel, a free form illustration experience that pairs a background track with a 360 degree illustration palette that can be drawn on and moved around with the Move controllers. The experience was comparable to Google Tilt Brush, with a little less precision compared to that program which may be the result of using the re-purposed Move sticks rather than a VR designed device in the HTC Vive controllers.

The selected song changes the hue and luminosity of your 3D creations as the song progresses, it was surreal to illustrate a mix of cubist exploratory art and jagged musical notes in free space as Metallica’s “Battery” thrashed in the background and visually shifted my doodles in luminosity and chroma from time to time. The game is expected to come with some starter tunes and eventually incorporate selected DLC tracks from Rock Band, an unexpected bonus for those who chose the PlayStation 3 or 4 as their console of choice for Harmonix’s flagship music game series.




I also drove through 15 levels of Thumper at breakneck speed, a wild ride through TRON inspired racing levels with a series of trigger points on the track timeline paired with audible cues to trigger attacks in a style similar to rhythm game Amplitude. The levels are segmented into looping chunks that run back if the audible triggers are missed, providing multiple chances at nailing the entire sequence to proceed. It became quite challenging on the 10th level, requiring precision curve bounces and a fair degree of memorization to navigate through the later stages.

The game has a striking neon style that looked consistently crisp even during rapid motion, but the stark contrast between the lit car and stages with the black void environment became slightly headache inducing in the 45 minutes it took me to clear the demo stage.