In 1986, I was on the cutting edge; UC Santa Barbara, through their MacLab, held one of the first classes in cutting edge graphics programs MacDraw and MacPaint. I was skeptical; computers at that time were all MS-DOS and command lines, but as I watched the instructor drag the cursor across the screen, I knew I was seeing something rare; a brand new way of creating art. I could not wait.
Until I tried it. Hours of moving a mouse along a pad and watching my ordinarily precise lines zigzag awkwardly, as the little rubber ball inside the mouse found every flaw on the mousepad. It was….excruciating. Most of all, I hated the tiny delay between the time I moved my hand and the translation of that delicate movement onto the screen. It jarred my creative process; the flaws were not my flaws, and the errors, which I could make and correct with a paintbrush, were nearly impossible to remedy. By the time my first project was due, I, officially-and-for-all-time, hated this new technology. I would spend minutes sketching my concepts using my pen and paper, and then spend days re-rendering them on the computer with the drunken slug of a mouse. On a rational level, I knew that the technology was just in its infancy and eventually, it could be an amazing asset to artists, but as an artist, the reward for the hours of labor was too nominal. I never took another class in it.
But computers still hovered around the edges of my artistic sphere. Several years later, my friend Bruce had a job with Sony, and invited me to the Sony office to try out their cutting-edge 3D art programs. I spent a couple days exploring the software and skimming the tutorials. What I found was a souped up version of what I first experienced; the software had more capabilities, and the results were amazing, but again, there was that tiny delay, and most important, the flaw in the system that created non-artistic errors. It was like working with a pen that occasionally ran out of ink, forcing me out of my creation and into the mechanics of the art. I work very kinetically; sitting at a desk to correcting flaws in order to create is – and I am not being hyberbolic here – the most frustrating thing in the world to me. Again, I could see the application, but in all honesty, computer art seemed like a technical skill more than a creative outlet.
I am, it is fair to say, a successful working artist, and have been for the last 27 years. It is also fair to say that my dislike of the ever-expanding world of computer based art cost me some excellent opportunities. I watched as this friend, or that friend, put down their paintbrush or sculpting blade, got good on a keyboard, and got lucrative gigs in the gaming world, or the online world. From time to time, I would interview for great opportunities – LucasArts was probably the one I wanted most – but was passed over because although my renderings were what they were looking for, they needed someone with more computer experience, and familiarity with this program or that suite. By about 2004, I gave up; I was getting plenty of quality offers, and went back to using my hands to express myself creatively. This has served me well in design, fabrication, painting, sculpting, and drawing, and I have been content to continue my avoidance of computer art programs.
My longtime friend, Mark Caldwell, invited me down to his company Apmetrix, an industry leader that tracks customer response, streamlines business practices, and provides tools to maximize customer engagement in apps and games. He told me he had a device that I had to check out, that it was a game-changer when it came to computers and art. I’d heard it before, with MacPaint, and Sony 3D, and all the rest. It was always going to be a game-changer, but it never was.
And then I worked with my first TiltBrush. Holy S***.
Gone was the delay. Gone were the translation errors, and the feeling of mechanics. It’s simple, like a pen or a paintbrush is simple – a controller to operate the brush and another controller as your selection screen. The controls are sensitive and respond quickly. Color selection is like dipping into a palette. I went through all the brushes and found “paper” to be excellent for creating surfaces, and set to work. I loved being able to simply adjust the angle to decide on what sort of plane to render. The Oil brush was cool and allowed me to feather the edges of a plane, but if I had to pick a favorite, it’s the Fire brush; the control over animation is marvelous, and I intuitively found that dropping strokes at different angles gave a more realistic effect.
And “teleport”. I love love love teleport. If you render something, hit “teleport” and select another vantage point on the grid; instantly, you see your entire creation from a distance. For mistakes you can either use the “undo” button or the eraser, without – and this is crucial – intruding on the creative process. Background selections ? Check. There is “space”, evening landscape, white, and black as templates to use. You can call up a pedestal, a dress form, or a blank snowman. The snowman comes complete snowy hills and a light snowfall. It was….I’m gushing, aren’t I?
I am now officially in Tilt Brush withdrawal. Taking off the headset after my final sketch last night was a surreal experience. The little world I had created was filled with neon lights of shows I have worked on, a chair with a beer on the armrest, and a delicately lit palm tree. It disappeared in an instant and was replaced by four blank wall, two desks, and a monitor with my memory. I felt like Mike TeeVee’s mom in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, looking at my precious little creation on a sterile screen that was, moments ago, life size and tangible(to me).
I am so grateful to Mark and Apmetrix for letting me into their office to create, experiment and, at the end, jump around a room with a helmet on my head screaming at zombies. While I spent most of my day working on Tilt Brush, I couldn’t resist at the end of the day getting the crap scared out of myself with the Brookhaven Experiment from Steam. Apparently I would not survive being bum-rushed by naked zombies. Good to know.
Most of all, I am amazed at the power of Tilt Brush to level the playing field for artists like me. What I was told all those years ago in a lab full of Macintoshes has come to be, and I love it.
If you get a chance to try this new technology you won’t be disappointed. It is super intuitive.
Of course a picture tells a thousand words and a video tells a million so I will let the video speak for itself.