By: Lauren Bratten, with Jim Intriglia
For many of you finding your way to this article, you’re probably at least familiar with the idea of using virtual reality in a professional setting. But if you aren’t a virtual reality creator yourself, you have some questions about what it’s like to work and create in virtual reality.
I had the opportunity to talk with Jim Intriglia, a virtual reality consultant, about what it looks like to work and create in VR, and how professionals are going to rely increasingly on VR in the years to come.
Lauren: Thanks for talking with me Jim! Let’s begin by talking about the creators that make VR experiences. What is the process like for them?
Jim: Well, to explain what it’s like for VR creators, I’ll back up a bit to explain an important stage in the life of VR. I wrote a series of articles on my website, jimtrilgia.com, about Google’s Daydream Team. In those articles, I talk about how in 2016, the Daydream Team was on the cutting edge of developing low-cost VR for the consumer marketplace. The Team’s Google Cardboard product—an inexpensive cardboard VR headset that used a smartphone running cardboard VR apps—provided a near approximation of a virtual reality experience.
One of the lessons learned by Daydream Team members was that graphic artists need to be creating virtual reality art assets while engaged in a VR space, rather than creating assets using 2D applications in the real world, with the expectation that assets would successfully migrate to a 3D virtual reality space.
These days, virtual reality content creators meet and develop in virtual spaces like AltSpace or Neos. When creatives meet in virtual workspaces, they can begin to craft ideas and concepts into experiences within virtual spaces.
Newly crafted virtual objects can be resized, rotated, and moved around a virtual space. Experienced designers can think about what users will see when they engage in a virtual space that’s been created. They think and brainstorm as a group about visual and audible cues.
Lauren: So, for professionals engaging in VR, do they need to be immersed in a VR environment for most of the workday? What does that look like for them?
Jim: VR creatives do need to be immersed in the environment that they are creating in, and that can be really challenging at times. Imagine that you’re working with a team of people, or a partner in a virtual space. Alternatively, you could be solely engaged in a virtual workspace (I use vSpatial), planning your day, and reviewing the status of VR projects that are already in progress. In my real-world workspace, I have several hi-definition monitor screens positioned on a large, wraparound desk. I have keyboards, trackballs, tablets, webcam, a studio microphone, and my photo/document scanner.
In my VR workspace, I have all the above hardware rendered virtually. I can enter my virtual office and I can have as many stacked display monitors as I need at the time. In the real-world, the cost of a hi-res monitor begins at about $350. Choosing to have multiple monitors in a physical workspace can get expensive, when you factor in desk space and/or mounting equipment, cabling, display ports/docks, etc. In my VR space, I can freely spawn additional display monitors as I need them, based on what I’m working on.
In VR working spaces, I can host both VR and legacy 2D video/audio meetings and working sessions. There is a new VR environment called Spaces, which is helping to bridge the gap between the 2D meeting world, like Zoom or other video chat apps, with the VR world. The bottom line is, if I am planning to invest most of my time for the day working on VR projects, I’m going to be working mostly in virtual spaces.
Now, can I work there if I don’t have VR work? I can, but would it make sense to do so? Probably not, because I prefer to work in the real world when it makes sense to do so, reserving my virtual space time for projects that benefit from working in a VR environment.
What’s coming into play for more practical use for business professionals in early 2021 is mixed reality, better known as XR applications. In the consumer market space, Pokemon GO was one of the first augmented reality applications that gained a lot of popularity.
In the Pokemon AR game, you walk around in the real world, looking through the camera of your phone, and characters appear overlaid in real-world space. And that’s a perfect example of augmented reality—enhancing the real world with digital assets and experiences.
Another example would be how new vehicles today are featuring AR Heads Up Displays (HUDs), that project navigational information on the windshield, along with turn-by-turn audible prompting.
Drivers no longer need to take their eyes off the road and look at a dashboard-based screen display navigational map.
Lauren: And what other ways might you work in VR?
Jim: This morning, I met with a prospective client, a professional actor, in VR, who was seeking career advice. It was the first meeting that I’ve had in VR for providing career advising services. Although he was in California and I am in Florida, we met in an ENGAGE for a working session that felt like we were sharing the same space as if we were meeting face-to-face.
The VR space I chose for our working session was a beautiful mountain home that I absolutely love, because it reminds me of my former home in the Front Range mountains of Colorado. We had the meeting in my virtual mountain home, which made for a pleasurable experience.
VR meetings can be much more engaging as compared to 2D meetings facilitated via Zoom or a MS Teams meeting. It takes about 20 or 30 minutes of being in a VR space before you realize it isn’t just a simulated 3D experience. You feel like you’re talking to the person in that space! We used a virtual screen to share things with one other—I shared my Patreon and he showed me his actor’s reel. It was great!
My partner, Kim White, recently told me about a helicopter designer/manufacturer Bell, used VIVE virtual reality hardware and Computer Aided Design (CAD) software to create a virtual mock-up of a new prototype helicopter.
Bell saved millions of dollars in prototype production costs and created a full-scale model of the futuristic FCX-001 in just 6 months – a process that usually takes 5-7 years.
Lauren: You and I have talked before about how, at least in the interim, you don’t need a headset to do VR, but you can also participate from a 2D screen. Is that correct?
Jim: Right, and that’s important and I’m glad that a lot of developers of these spaces were smart enough to realize that.
One of the interesting things that I witnessed when I was moderating some of the seminars at the Educators in VR Summit was that you can access the virtual world via your PC using software.
You’re seeing a 2D rendering of the 3D space, and it works well. You can use the cursor to turn around and interact with people. I was using a headset, but there were many people attending the summit using 2D monitors and it worked well.
With COVID-19, many business owners/stakeholders and the professionals that support them are working remotely. There are a plethora of educational programs and training courses conducted in VR, which can be attended whether they have a VR headset or not. And what we’re watching here like the beginning of YouTube. Remember when YouTube launched? I initially thought, “Who would want to sit around and watch other people’s home movies? What a silly idea!”
Well, we judge things very quickly, and we’re watching the same thing happen with VR. It’s the next generation of personal devices—phones, tablets, the personal computer, the internet—all rolled up into the next big thing. That’s what we’re looking at. The COVID-19 situation just put it on afterburners, big time. And there is no looking back.
So it’s exciting. It does have challenges, just like the internet does. There is always a dark side to things, right? There are challenges with VR just like there are with the internet. But they’re manageable.
Lauren: You said VR is going to be the next generation of personal devices which is going to be a big deal. For those wanting to be at the forefront of creating virtual reality, what do they need to keep in mind?
Jim: For those of us who experienced the mass adoption of the Internet and web, it’s interesting to note that the mass adoption of virtual reality is engaging people in a significantly different way as compared to how the Internet/web engaged people in the early days.
When the World Wide Web was born in 1989, it provided a means for universities and research scientists to share hyperlinked text-based information via the global Internet. Creating content for the early Internet and web consisted of creating hyperlinked text-based information.
During the 1990s, web technology progressed, making it possible to integrate and embed visual, audible, and application-oriented assets with hyperlinked text-based information. For visual, audible, and kinesthetic learners and communicators, the integration of visual, audible, and web applications into text-based web pages led to a much greater adoption and use of the web by global business, education, and consumer users.
Virtual reality, in comparison, was born in the 1960s as a primarily visual-spatial environment.
Over the decades, the quality of the visual experience has improved significantly. Improvements in spatial-audio technology now provide sound that matches what the brain is interpreting visually. Coupled with hand and body tracking, we now can also physically engage with virtual experiences.
Creating a VR experience involves imaging a visual experience, along with other elements of life that we sense and engage within our physical world, like sound, touch, and even our sense of taste and smell.
Web-oriented content creators that want to create VR experiences will need to switch their creative focus to visually imaging content and experiences as a starting point, rather than by writing a lot of words to describe the experience that they are imagining.
For experienced computer technology users, VR represents engaging our eyes, ears, and verbal communication skills to drive the technology, much in the same way as we do in the real world. The days of physical computer monitors, desktop, laptop and tablet computers, keyboards, trackballs/mouse, and even smartphones, are numbered.
We are truly at the advent of a new era in how we learn, share information, and engage with one another!