Standing atop a building emblazoned with Superman’s iconic “S,” Bernard Chang is running down the history Batman’s cowl. The Batman Beyond artist started by using his hands to sculpt a model of Adam West’s mask from the 1960s, but now he’s moved on to the late ’80s.
“What about Michael Keaton?” Chang says, as he starts reworking his model into the mask from the Tim Burton era. But he’s not using clay, or any other physical material. He’s doing it in VR. Standing on a small stage at Comic-Con International, wearing a Rift headset, Chang is using Oculus’ sculpture tool Medium–along with the company’s forthcoming Touch controllers–to create his sculpture in a virtual 3-D space.
He’s made a couple of nice-looking cowls in under 20 minutes, thanks to Medium’s various capabilities. He can, for example, use the “symmetry tool,” which mirrors everything he does to one side of Batman’s face onto the other, and zoom in and out on his creation. He also, as Medium’s project director Brian Sharp notes during the presentation, is able to some things “better in virtual reality than you can do with clay–like undo and redo.”
Medium wasn’t made specifically for comics artists like Chang–illustrators will probably have more fun with Oculus’ forthcoming Quill–but rather for anyone who just wants to make art in VR. The tools are simple and intuitive; just about anyone can learn it in under an hour.
“When I draw comics, I’m very traditional, it’s still pen and pencil on paper, but then I scan it in and then with a Wacom tablet I do some more drawing and finishes,” Chang says. “It’s very much the same [as working in Medium]. I could really see it being something that could be a lot of fun to play and toy with.”
And giving people something to toy with is the point. Sharp and his team at Oculus have been working on Medium for nearly two years–since not long after the company was acquired by Facebook–and while there could be commercial uses for Medium at some point, the hope is simply that it’s enjoyable enough that people will make stuff with it when the Touch controllers come out later this year.
“It’s important to us that professional artists like it, and that seems already to be true,” Sharp says. “But we also have to be able to give anyone a five-to-seven-minute demo and be able to use it. We’re trying to get rid of all the not-fun struggle to figure the software out so that people can worry about ‘oh, I just drew a little dog, now I want to draw a better dog next time.’ That’s what’s exciting.”