WENSHAN DISTRICT, TAIPEI CITY — As we gear up for the scholarship ahead of us for the next six months, I’ve been pondering one aspects of my fellowship: an art installation in the Foundation for Scholarly Excellence offices here in Taipei.
For a social scientist who largely engages publishes research based on statistical analyses, art installations and exhibits are somewhat of an uncharted territory. Fortunately during my time at West Virginia University, we were encouraged early and often to engage with (for us) alternative forms of scholarship. In partnership with WVU Libraries, Jaime (Dr. Jaime Banks, my partner and colleague at TTU) were given two opportunities to showcase artistic elements of our research: an exhibit on avatars in video games, and an exhibit about players’ experience with speculative Appalachian futures while playing Fallout 76 (this one with Dr. Christine Rittenour of WVU Communication Studies a third collaborator).
I’ve already written on different applications of virtual reality and related technologies for artistic expression in a previous blog post, such as HTC’s work on interactive artwork. In my most recent academic work, I’ve been fascinated by the historical relationship between communication technologies and the modalities that we use to tell our stories (a summary of this, in the first paragraphs of this 2019 editorial with Media and Communication). A lot of my thinking here was influenced by a 2013 presentation at the Game Developers Convention by noted designer and Carnegie Mellon University professor Jesse Schell, who spoke about the relationship between medium and narrative.
For folks new to virtual reality, one of the early leaders in 3D painting is Google Tilt Brush. The program is compatible with most VR headsets, and allows users to draw, paint, and sculpt — perhaps there’s a new word for it? — using their handheld wands, their headset, and some very dusty and novel parts of their imagination.
The program fascinates me, as it represents some of the very highest levels of immersion in a digital space — and is one of the best examples of co-authorship and co-creation that I can imagine. The artist has near-complete control of the tabula rasa presented to them, and every motion can create a visible and immediate impact. The video above might exaggerate the “ease of creation” in this space, but it presents with the highest fidelity what is (to me) most exciting about the program: with a quick arm movement, drawings hang in the air, anywhere, without restriction, and on-command. Surely there are implications here for how we understand the cognitive, emotional, and physical demands of interactive environments … and with live-streaming and could-storage features, even social demands could be considered.
A few quick hits on Google Scholar turn up some emerging scholarship on Google Tilt Brush, including Chittenden’s (2018) overview of the program’s implications for contemporary painting, So and Lu’s (2019) discussion of using 3D painting to facilitate creative mindsets, and Ho, Sun, and Tsai’s (2019) work suggesting Google Tilt Brush can improve attitudes towards learning other artistic technologies, such as animation software. Most of these studies tend to focus on the motivational benefits of the work, so I’m curious to know how the perceived demands of the technology might mediate these relationships.
Below? My first attempt with the system’s ink drawing and object rendering. I learned quickly that painting in three dimensions requires a remarkable attention to depth if one hopes for any of these lines to match up, but a slight cheat: create a solid shape guide, draw directly on the side of the shape, and then delete the shape. =)
NOTE: Please forgive the narcissism of drawing out my name. I’ve really got to keep practicing.
I suspect that I’ll need a lot more time with Google Tilt Brush to master some of the finer points. We’ve already begun talking about some collaborations between our lab and faculty who teach and research transmediation, back at TTU and in a few other locations. Soon, I’ll hope to share details of those collaborations and their results.
For now? Expect a few more sketches and shares, as I work to hone my craft. I took a few attempts at landscapes, but I’m a bit too bashful to upload those ones. Fresh art, (near) daily over at Google Poly: https://poly.google.com/user/54M_jvJBQHz.