Although Virtual reality is a place thought for games and experiences in general, every time there's more interest in it as a medium for creativity. In fact, Art as a discipline has always been linked to innovation. Hence, renowned galleries are increasingly incorporating virtual reality in their exhibitions. Specialized artists in a multitude of genres are now exploring this new and inspiring medium.
For this reason, different apps and tools has been created to allow users to paint, sculpt, model, and even animate in virtual reality. The fact that several tools are being developed is not a matter of trend or fashion; virtual reality truly presents an important advantage for artists.
Virtual reality allows artists to draw in 3 dimensions, as they are working with controllers that can track their movements with six degrees of freedom. That means they can draw directly in 3D and view the model from any angle, rather than having to animate each side of the object individually.
I looked at these VR painting and modelling tools a little further to explain you exactly what’s on offer right now. Although the tools alone are not expensive to purchase, but buying a headset and controllers will set you back quite a bit if you don’t already own them.
In this article I've brought together ten of the best VR apps for artists whether you want to paint and sculpt full artworks, or model 3D characters, vehicles and props for later use in other applications.
1. Oculus Medium: The VR character creation tool
Medium is a tool that is appealing to character designers. Launched on the Oculus platform in 2016; it allows users to sculpt, model, paint and create objects in a virtual reality environment using the Oculus Touch controllers. Medium was acquired by Adobe in 2019.
Although creating models can seem daunting for those who have never done it before; Oculus encourages everyone including beginners to try Medium. For this reason, Medium provides helpful forums, tutorials, and guidelines for its users. A community platform is also available to save and share the work done on Medium.
Medium is only available on the Oculus platform. It can be purchased for 30€.
2. Masterpice VR: Sculpting in virtual reallity
MasterpieceVR is another sculpting tool released in September 2017. It combines the best aspects of Tilt Brush and Medium in one tool.
It allows you to sculpt and paint using intuitive and dynamic functions to build tangible objects, colorful environments, and high-quality models with ease. It is also a multi-user platform that allows the collaboration of up to four users and twenty viewers. In this context, its main characteristic is its social character.
In 2019 MasterpieceVR launched Masterpiece Studio — a set of virtual reality creation tools that artists can utilize to swiftly sculpt and animate characters from the virtual reality headsets. These features allow users to speed up their work up-to 10 times faster than traditional tools.
This software offers rigging, skinning, posing as well as implementing pre-made animations to a model.
It is currently available for Oculus Rift, Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality platforms for 27€.
3. SculptrVR: Create worlds in virtual reallity
SculptrVR is a 3D creation tool that allows virtual reality users to build and manipulate 3D objects in real-time.
This software gives users the ability to create, sculpt and share sculptures with your community, allowing a zoom-in up to x10000 for greater precision in the detailing.
Those who may be intimidated by the idea of working with 3D sculptures say that it only takes “about 5-10 minutes” to get used to the tools. SculptrVR has been built to give users the ability to create detailed sculptures in an accessible and streamlined manner.
SculptrVR will be available for PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus headsets and Valve Index for around 20€.
4. Blocks: To create low-poly style 3D objects
This tool created by Google, allows low-poly 3D modeling to become a child's play! This is because you require zero knowledge of 3D software to create models on this platform.
Few developers began to create virtual reality applications with this specific objective, however, none of them have come close to the simplicity and power of editing vertices, edges, and planes that Blocks can do. Hence, it is an extremely productive tool for a brief exposure or learning curve.
It is also simple to upload and share your models through the platform’s associated website called Poly. This has created a community of people who share and remix each other's patterns.
It is available for the Oculus and Steam stores. The best part is that it is free.
5. Gravity Sketch: Immersive 3D design
The Gravity Sketch originated as a VR sculpting tool for car and shoe designers. It evolved into an intuitive and cross-platform 3D creation tool with a reimagined user-experience for mixed reality. This makes it viable for both virtual as well as augmented reality.
This application allows you to create 3D models and manipulate control points on surfaces, integrate materials and cameras, and perform many functions such as freehand sketches in three-dimensional space. It can be used in conjunction with technologies such as Leap Motion that allow us to work with our hands.
All these creations can be drawn out on a real scale which is not possible on the screen unless you work exclusively on smaller models. This tool is so useful that it is used for product designing by Ford manufacturers.
The latest update enables designers to use Gravity Sketch on their tablets, create a 2D drawing, and switch to VR headsets to turn the 2D sketch into 3D work. This way, the developers of this application catered to the designers who felt more comfortable working with 2D rather than 3D sketches.
Gravity Sketch can be purchased for 30€ and is available on the HTC Vive, Oculus headsets, and Windows Mixed Reality platforms.
6.Tilt Brush: Illustration in virtual reality
Tilt Brush, without a doubt, is one of the best-known virtual reality painting tools. After its development, it was quickly acquired by Google in 2015 and was launched on the Vive platform in 2016.
Its greatest strength is its highly intuitive design, which allows it to be used by both professional as well as amateur artists. Essentially, it allows you to paint in the 3D space without a canvas using a big variety of brushes including ink, light, snow, or fire. Additionally, this tool allows us to interact with our creation, walk around it and share it as a space at virtual reality scales or as an animated GIF.
Besides exporting, it allows importing 3D models, images, and capture a 360º video. Moreover, the YouTube streaming functionality has recently been added to enable you to share your work while you are creating it.
On the internet, you can find a large number of tutorials as well as incredible works created by artists. We recommend that you view the works created by Anna Zhilyaeva and those of the resident artists of Google's Tilt Brush.
Tilt Brush can be purchased for 20€ and is available for HTC Vive, Oculus headsets, Windows Mixed Reality, Valve Index and PlayStation 4 platforms.
7. Mozilla A - Painter: Paint VR on your browser
A-Painter is not a virtual reality app, but rather a Mozilla web-based rendering interpretation of Tilt Brush. A-Painter is an example of how artists can paint using online VR on all platforms without software installations. However, you will still need a headset and controllers, connected with a Windows operating system to use A-Painter to its full potential.
To use A-Painter, make sure you have a WebVR-enabled browser before visiting the website. If you don’t have a headset, you can still view other artists’ creations using a mouse and keyboard, or even your mobile.
Artists will create 3D illustrations with a choice of over 30 brushes. Paint on top of other people’s drawings, or import images and OBJ models from your desktop to the browser. Artists can save and load local binary files of their illustrations.
The benefits of this web browser VR experience are the ability to create a custom brush (although this involves coding) and viewing 3D drawings without a headset.
A-Painter is a little nerdy, and perhaps more for those who have a basic understanding of coding, or who wish to play around with a simple VR painting tool without having to purchase an app. It’s part of a range of web-based VR content by the Mozilla VR team available for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
8. King Spray: Graffiti simulator in virtual reality
Developed in 2016 by the Infectious Ape studio — King Spray is a multiplayer simulator that allows you to paint graffiti in virtual environments emulating the real world. Its strength lies in its ability to reproduce the sprays as well as the environments realistically.
For instance, the amount of paint that comes out changes according to the pressure with which you "press" the can. Factors such as the distance from which you paint on different surfaces as well as the metallic or matte finishes of the paint itself are also realistic. So much so that the can may also leak if you look for it.
The paint also varies depending on the surface on which you paint; rough brick-like walls, smooth or metallic like those of trains, etc. Hence, there are several realistic target locations for every good graffiti artist. All these benefits come without two of the biggest drawbacks of doing graffiti in real life: illegality and the inability to erase/correct the graffiti.
Another interesting feature of this simulator is that it allows you to record yourself while painting and therefore showcase your work. You can take out your virtual phone or the 360 camera, and take a selfie with your artwork. You can also project your real images and reproduce them into the virtual world.
King Spray is available for Valve Index, HTC Vive & Oculus Rift for 15€.
9. ANIMVR: Hand-painted VR animations
ANIMVR provides a set of tools based on the concepts of traditional animation, thereby allowing users to draw and animate in virtual reality. It was developed by the NVR MIND company and released on December 20, 2018.
ANIMVR lets you jump straight into storytelling, without worrying about "rigging" or "skinning." It gives you the freedom to move the camera wherever you want and to record and edit audio directly in the application. Compatible with many other tools, and exportable to be shared on SketchFab. It also integrates with Unity3d and can be used either on individual or multiplayer mode.
ANIMVR is available for 25€ on Oculus, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality platforms.
10. Quill Theater: Animation in virtual reality
Quill is well-known for being the art tool that Oculus Story Studio developed for creating the first animated illustration experience made entirely with virtual reality: "Dear Angelica."
This tool offers an amazing range of options and styles such as watercolor, pencil, oil paint, and comic format among others. Artists can experiment with brush shapes and brush strokes that are sensitive to fairly precise pressure from the touch controls. Designed to be expressive, precise, and to let the artist's "hand" show through clearly.
To export the work, users can choose between high-resolution screenshots, 360 photos, and animated GIFs or videos with 360 video support.
Quill has been recently updated to become a 3D animation tool and is designed to support frame-by-frame redrawing. It also supports copy and repositions animation and an animation brush among other features.
The Quill tool is currently free and is available on the Oculus store. In principle, it can be used with the link cable on the Oculus Quest, but the performance may not be as expected.
So far, we have seen the top 10 tools to create art in virtual reality. These are just some of the tools that have been mentioned. There are many other options such as Unbound, ShapeLab or Cool Paint VR for 20 euros developed specifically for PlayStation VR.
There are also applications to create art in augmented reality such as HoloPaint, World Brush, SketchAR, and Vermeer’s Lens. The interesting aspect about these tools is that beyond assuming an artistic revolution in themselves and raising virtual reality as art; they are useful in the creation of objects and environments for video games.
To sum up, art has always been linked to innovation and modernity. It is also intricately connected with the urge to break the rules, flee from the conventional, and pursue the unknown. For this reason, virtual reality can be a key factor in the search for new forms and supports that revolutionizes what has been seen and created so far.