THESIS - Dream Review


Following is a pure exercise in organized wishful thinking:

The dawn of Virtual Reality has been long in the making, and while we might not be spending most of our days with plastics headsets in our faces, a NYU student believes that future VR killer app is already here and could unleash a new wave of creativity and totally change how we interact with our computers.

Gabriel Brasil’s graduate Thesis “Creativity is where you are – immersive creative tools”, caused a sensation at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program when viewers, students, and teachers were immersed in a virtual environment that joined most of the current creative digital tools in one seamless and natural 3D environment. “I believe that creativity doesn’t happen isolated in the dark corners of our heads, but is a conversation between ourselves, our bodies and the world around us…even if it is a virtual world.” – explained Gabriel to the panel and outside guests. When putting the headset and entering what he called “the creative environment”, the user – or “artist” as Gabriel prefer to call – sees himself in what it seems like a large New York Soho artist studio. There are modern sculptures, books and unfinished canvases lying without any apparent order. Everything seems very realistic, if not for some floating spheres with little places inside, like avant-garde snow globes.

“This place is my “workspace”, the VR equivalent of our ‘windows desktop’. It was designed to be an inspiring place where my eyes and body can wander freely through objects that inspire me. Todays ‘flat’ computer interfaces are focused on efficiency and fulfilling specific goals, but I don’t believe that this is how creativity works. Our current interfaces still treat us like accountants or fighter pilots. I want to be an artist”.

With a flick of the wrists, a glob of clay appears floating in the middle of the room, realistic lit by the big windows and table lamps. During the demonstration, Gabriel started pushing and cutting the clay, mixing precise movements with energic swings that used his whole body, until the clay was modeled into an abstract human figure. At some moments he grabbed the table lamp and used it as a stamp and as a cutting tool, using its shape to model the piece of digital clay. “At this moment I have no clear plan of what I want to create. I’m not even sure if this is going to become an actual sculpture, an illustration or a fully animated character and I’m totally fine with it. I want this experience to be a jam session and not a checkbox to check.”

Looking around, Gabriel picked up a doll-size skeleton and stretched it with his hand until it had the same size as the sculpture. He pushed the skeleton into the sculpture and makes some minor adjustments with his hands. Then he claps and the sculpture comes to life. He claps again and opens his arms and the sculpture follows his movement.

Gabriel stops and looks around the room, walking in circles and staring at the snow globes. He picks one of them and sticks his head inside. The demo is being shown as if a camera was in the room with him, so nobody can see what he is seeing. “I was checking if what I was looking for is here” – by saying this, he stretches the snow globe with his hand and the Soho Studio disappears. A gallery of dancing statues takes over the whole environment. Some are dancing the samba, while others are walking in place. He stops and stares at the statue. He stares a lot during the demo. The idea is that being immersed requires time, “and being productive as an artist and creator is to allow you time to think and feel when you have to while being nimble and precise when handling tools. I could have grabbed the statue when I had my head into the snow globe, but I wanted to take time to choose the one I wanted.” With that, we are back to the Studio. He pushes the tiny dancing statue toward the sculpture standing in a T-pose. The statue disappears and now it is the sculpture that’s making strange samba moves in the room.

He stops and look around the room and walks over a bookshelf. He grabs some books and throws them around the floor. He picks one of them and opens the page with what looks like a collage of pictures “or a Pinterest page”. He grabs the pictures and resize them and spread them around the work area. “some people call this a ‘mess’, but I’d rather say it is a dynamic chaotic organization”.

In one of the tables, there is an old super-8 camera that Gabriel uses to record the dancing statue. When done he removes the “tape roll” of the camera, opens it and a floating screen with the video is floating next to him. “I’m aware that my vision for VR is very Diagetic – one where the interface is part of the world – and also filled with nostalgia for an analog time when we had different tools for different arts and not just the same screen with windows and tabs. This might change further down in the future when we get over this transition between media. Maybe we’ll see a shift to more abstract and conceptual representations, like what happened to art in the 20th century or mobile interfaces in the last decade.”

At the time he finished that sentence, he had cut the video into several clips, all floating around and combined them with the pictures that were lying on the floor, ending with a newly edited video with transitions and effects. During this entire process, there were no floating texts or checkboxes in sight.

The Demo ended with Gabriel removing his headset and grabbing his phone from his pocket. There he played the video he just edited.

The whole experience lasted a couple of minutes and was followed by a series of questions, mainly “how did you do this?”. Gabriel answered that what they saw was a carefully choreographed proof of concept. Beyond grabbing and moving around the environment, most of the interactions were previously animated using traditional “flat” software like Autodesk Maya or Premiere. There was an audible “aaww” coming from the panel. “But the ideas on this demo came from my experience of months using readily available VR creation tools like MediumVR, Tvori, Quill and Gravity Sketch. These apps are still a few years – or maybe months – from being fully capable professional tools, but they already changed how approach computer interfaces and yes, it made me more productive when creating for flat 2d screens.”

From his presentation, it was clear that Gabriel had not only a clear goal but was also very passionate about the subject. He provided the panel with hundreds of sketches and pictures picked from his detailed thesis diary. “I might not live in a Soho studio, but I do try to make my tiny new York workspace as ‘dynamic’ as I can…or as my family allows! I can barely wait to turn this vision into reality and bring my mess whenever I go using VR”. If Gabriel is still so excited about this subject after 14 weeks of grueling Thesis work, then he clearly fulfilled his “dream thesis”.