SAN JOSE, Calif. — A picture is worth a thousand words. This especially true with virtual reality. As the medium grows, people are finding many different ways to tell those stories. Oculus Story Studio is on the forefront of the movement, working on a new tool to let artists create their own unique immersive tales.
If anyone knows how to tell a virtual story it's Oculus as evidenced by its recent Emmy award for Best Animated VR short for Henry. Rather than rest on its laurels, Oculus Story Studio continues to push the envelope with its next project, Dear Angelica. Voiced by Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis, the animated short tells the story of a daughter writing a letter to her movie star mother.
MORE: Best VR Headsets
Shown as a series of breath-taking, digitally hand-picked scenes, the letter writer's memories meld with her mother's past roles, creating a fantastical pastiche of love, loneliness and longing.
llustrated by artist Wesley Allsbrook, Dear Angelica is a watercolor masterpiece, made of deliberate yet delicate strokes. In order to allow Allsbrook to achieve the look she wanted for the short, the Story Studio team had to create a custom tool which would let her paint in virtual reality. That tool eventually evolved into Quill.
Quill utilizes the Oculus Touch controllers, similar to Google's Tilt Brush app on the HTC Vive. I used the right-hand controller to add colors to Allsbrook's black-and-white illustrations -- sort of like a virtual color book. (Which, by the way Oculus, you should make a virtual-reality coloring book for kidults like me.) The left controller held all the menus, including color palettes and pen and brush styles. In another part of the demo, I squeezed the bottom-mounted triggers on both controllers to scale the size of a car in the background.
That was impressive, but what really blew my mind was the ability to apply that effect to entire scenes. One minute. I was standing in a the middle of a battle between a brave warrior and a dragon. The next, I was holding what looked to be a beautiful, swirling ball of purples, greens, pinks and oranges in my hand.
MORE: Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive
When I spoke to Dear Angelica director, Saschka Unseld, he mentioned that Allsbrook wanted to ensure that Quill didn't become "opinionated." Meaning that she wanted to make sure that the tool wouldn't take on her style. The tool should remain just that, a way for artists to express their own vision as more people begin to embrace virtual reality as a viable storytelling medium. To that effect, Unseld said that Quill is capable of letting creatives affect their own personal style.
Although Oculus has yet to announce whether the company will keep Quill as an in-company tool or allow everyone to access it, I'm hoping for the latter. Even though I'm not artistically inclined, those who are can use Quill to create incredible virtual landscapes that could grow into a large library of user-generated content, which can only help Oculus in the long run.
Overall, Quill and Dear Angelica are clear examples of virtual reality's ability to deliver stories that are just as beautiful and emotionally evocative as traditional media.