VR Academy Part 4: Art Direction in VR Environments

Posted on 28 June 2016

Art direction in virtual environments offers artists a chance to direct experiences previously thought impossible. With the right team, an artist can create anything imaginable in virtual space, as they are not restricted by real-life materials or real-life situations. Anything we can imagine is now possible and can be brought to life.

The amazing art team at Archiact :)
The amazing art team at Archiact :)

Unfortunately, this newfound freedom also comes with new design restrictions. Direction, angle and dimension must be carefully considered from the perspective of the viewer, as the player could look in any direction at any time, or move somewhere the artist did not expect. In some cases an artist might expect a viewer to look at the brilliant fireworks display they have set in the virtual sky, but instead the player is occupied with the virtual flowers in the opposite direction. Artists and designers must now design not only to impress, but to draw attention to the correct location at the appropriate time. The more thought an artist puts into how to best create these experiences, the more immersive the experience can become.

Drawing attention to virtual points of interests is one part of the puzzle, but allowing the user to understand how they can interact with the environment is another challenge. The art director must work closely with interaction designers and user experience experts to make sure users can jump into a virtual environment and understand what to do without excessive hand-holding. For example, Archiact's on-rails experience titled The Ghouls is a horror environment where users explore a cursed Chinese tomb. Because the software is designed for the Oculus Rift, the player cannot physically move out of their chairs. And so how do we allow for users to explore the tomb if they cannot move?

Artists and user experience designers worked together to install waypoints throughout the tomb, which animate when the user gazes at them. The waypoints visual behaviour is much more animated than anything else in the space, which helps draw attention. Curiosity compels users to gaze at these mysterious waypoints, and when they do, the user begins to move forward. From that point onward, all users intuitively understand how to move through the rest of the tomb. This simple experience allows various players of all backgrounds (gaming and non-gaming alike) to understand how to move through an entire virtual environment without requiring assistance. Art direction for these sorts of critical functions becomes not only about compelling aesthetics, but about the intention and function each asset conveys to the player.

To make art direction even harder, the artists also need to ensure the artistic vision doesnt become so overblown that the performance of the device is compromised. Artists could theoretically stuff in as many beautiful effects and assets as they would like, but the device performance could become so poor that the frames per second (FPS) of the virtual reality device would plummet. Poor FPS causes simulator sickness in many users and is universally considered unacceptable by professional VR developers. As such, art directors must prioritize core art assets first, have their teams optimize and test to confirm a high FPS, and only then begin work on additional optional assets. This workflow methodology allows us to deliver high quality virtual experiences without compromising artistic integrity.

Written by:
Jared Barber & Amber Choo
Archiact Interactive - Art Department

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