VR as a Design Tool: A Conversation with Matt Schaefer / by HIGHWAY101

Matt Schaefer is a multidisciplinary interaction designer who loves the challenge of uncovering, unraveling, and solving problems by creating solutions that live at the intersection of digital and physical. His last Quill piece inspired by the works of Alex Martin triggered near 2k new members on the fb virtual animation group two weeks ago. Merging 2D and 3D elements, this animated scene takes us somewhere between Roger Rabbit and Blade Runner in which each of the (many!) characters seem to have their own story to tell. I recently asked some questions to Matt. Please find below some excerpts from our conversation.

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A: Do you remember when you first heard of painting in VR and what was your reaction?

M: I was introduced to VR painting when HTC shared a video featuring Glen Keane. I knew right then I was going to get into VR painting. Things really changed when Goro Fujita posted his “Worlds in Worlds” video. I was intrigued by Tilt Brush at the time but everything about Goro’s video blew my mind! The infinite canvas feature, the one to one translation from his Photoshop style to VR, and so on. I saw enormous potential. After spending intimate time with Quill I can say it’s a truly revolutionary creative tool!

A: How much time have you spent in VR so far learning how to create immersive environments? What do you think of the tools available right now (maybe dive a bit deeper into the different UI, pros and cons of Quill’s interface VS AnimVR’s, or else) and what would you have to say to new comers?

M: Having spent countless hours with various creative tools, in and out of VR, I have formed a general idea of what works. I will spend time investigating everything but will quickly gravitate to my go-to tools. In VR I’m mainly working in Quill, Unity, Gravity Sketch, and Google Blocks. Quill is my most used tool. I average an hour a day in VR on my personal, and sometimes professional, time. Somedays I might even spend 2–3 hours in VR. I love the UI patterns in Quill. This is something I explore professionally and often look to push VR UX past established 2D UI conventions. However, I often reference Quill for its successes in usability and speed. It’s designed for pro users who are familiar working with other creative tools like Photoshop. Fancy UI in Quill would only create friction and slow down the workflow.

M: My advice for newcomers would be to explore everything and see what works for you. Don’t let anything hold you back. Jump in, have fun, and you will discover completely new avenues of expression. It’s thrilling! A great place to start is the VR animation, painting, and sculpting Facebook groups. This is a thriving community where artists from all levels of experience and style contribute on a regular basis. It’s a great place for inspiration, even if you don’t have a VR headset.

"I love the UI patterns in Quill. This is something I explore professionally and often look to push VR UX past established 2D UI conventions. However, I often reference Quill for its successes in usability and speed. It’s designed for pro users who are familiar working with other creative tools like Photoshop."

A: using VR as a creative tool allows to create in ways that have never been possible before. How are you taking full advantage of this in your practice?

M: I like to be conscious of all the affordances VR provides and play to those. I’m always thinking “how can I use the head tracking (camera) in interesting ways?” “How can I take advantage of the motion controllers?” One example of this thinking is on display in my baby announcement video. Before Quill updated with animation features I stumbled on a way to animate characters without keyframe sequencing. I “puppeteered” layers in Quill, with the motion controllers, and screen recorded the performances. Here is a “behind the scenes” view of that in action.

A: It looks like VR is currently finding his way as a designing tool. Do you see creative agencies, studios, and advertising agencies, all using VR/MR devices to create content ( Might it be to create prints, 2d video, immersive environments, etc. ) in let’s say five years?

M: VR has yet to hit mass market for various reasons. Hardware, computing, and development cost to name a few. However, It’s still in its baby stages and needs time to mature. Imagine if someone delivered a baby and the next day expected that baby to drive a car. Eventually, that baby will grow up to race in F1 but it needs time to grow. My guess is that a combination of the factors like the overall cost dropping, accessibility for users to generate and share 3D content, and a few “must have” use cases could be the secret recipe to bring VR to the masses.

"VR is perfect for creative disciplines. This is not a bad strategy to bring VR to the masses either. Apple made a big push to reach mass market by focusing on creativity when they were in their early stages. I’m not saying this strategy works for every technology leap but VR is ripe for creativity."

A: Your last piece (inspired by Alex martin’s sci-fi work) generated a crazy number of new members on the Virtual Animation Facebook group (+2136 members in 7 days). Did you expect such a positive feedback?

M: The feedback has been very positive and I’m grateful for all the kind words. I’m just happy that I’m able to contribute to such a stellar community and possibly inspire some to start making their own creations in VR.

A: Do you have a dream project you’d like to tell us about?

M: I have a few dream projects/jobs! One is to apply my professional experience in UX, VR, and architecture to design digital VR products. The other dream would be to work at Pixar, just down the street for me, as a concept designer/artist using VR painting/animation as my main tool. I think every designer/artist at Pixar should be using Quill if they aren’t already! In terms of a dream project I would like to work with my friend Alex, and a game developer, to fully realized “Alex’s Sci-Fi World” into a kick-ass VR game. Maybe even use Quill files as assets in the game. Seems like people are interested and I have been thinking a lot about it.

A: At ANNY (animationnights.com), we’re currently exploring how to work from our virtual office in High Fidelity with office hours, meetings, workshops, exhibitions -hosted inside the virtual space. What are your thoughts on this? Is it something that inspires you as a future model? As an artist would you be interested in such a platform?

M: Absolutely! The impact of telepresence and teleconferencing is HUGE! For artist and especially enterprise/workplace. With this technology, you can reduce travel, cut down on carbon footprint, create more efficient “face-to-face” collaboration conditions, and augment your team with superpowers. This is one of my favorite use cases for VR.

A: What percentage of your professional work do you think will be VR related in five years?

M: I'd say 100%!

A: Awesome! Thank you Matt, you’re a true inspiration! Looking forward to chatting with you again soon!