Art in VR

1. Overview

The rise of consumer VR headsets over the last decade has lit a fire in the minds of the most technical, creative and artistically inclined people from all around the world. For a long time VR was a fantasy confined to science fiction, the idea that a computer can immerse the viewer in a virtual universe, where all ideas are possible, constrained only by the imagination of the creator. This is one of the reasons that VR has a great appeal to people working in arts, in particular, visual arts. 

Some of the examples for implementing artistic expression in the medium of VR include, VR music videos, games of various kinds, fully immersive VR movies, VR art galleries intended to be a convenient simulation of art galleries in the real world, and taking existing creative works and re-imagining them for this new medium, such as being immersed in a painting.

There have also been some extremely experimental art projects where the universe around you can change based on where you look and how you observe things. All of this is just starting to unfold and will accelerate in the decades to come, as artworks of unimagined creativity await us in our coming future.

Below I briefly go over 2 examples of different approaches to representing art in VR: The night cafe which is a fully immersive VR re-imagining of a Van Gogh painting and the VR museum of Fine art, which is a great early attempt to translate the experience of going to an art museum into virtual reality.

2. A brief review of The Night Café: a Tribute to Vincent Van Gogh

The Night café is a brief virtual reality experience designed as an imaginative piece of immersive art, and attempts to answer the question, what would it look and feel like to be immersed into the expressionist world of a Vincent Van Gogh painting, most famously, his well known 1888 painting called “The night café”.

This experience was originally developed for Gear VR, but has since been ported over to many different virtual reality platforms including Oculus Rift and Vive. Depending on the platform, movement can be achieved by room scale walking in virtual reality, or by look-to-teleport to a new location style movement, such as with the original Gear VR.

The inception of this project began when Oculus VR ran a development jam for Gear VR development kit that saw hundreds of studios flock to create innovative, fascinating experiences for the mobile virtual platform. In the end, there could only be a handful of winners, and the grand prize in the experiences category of the jam went to The Night Café: A Tribute to Vincent van Gogh. Trying out this free software, it’s easy to see why.

My personal experience viewing it:

This is one of those VR projects that’s often shown to people who are new to virtual reality, to give them a short demonstration of what the newly popularized technology is capable of. Some people who are passionate about art are sometimes slow to realize the enormous artistic potential brought about through technological progress. As the viewer enters the experience, they are often visibly stunned or impressed by what they see; its an incredible first VR experience to show to someone unfamiliar with VR.

It really is like being drawn into a fully immersive Van Gogh painting. As you look around, all the things visible in the 2D Night Café painting suddenly surround you in full 3D, yet the brush strokes and the style remain identical. In the versions where you are free to walk around, you can walk around the café room, and see the details and brush strokes up close that make up the people, the bottles, and the pool table. The whole experience is brought together by an incredible late night atmosphere, that is implied by the stillness and calm of the environment. The rays of light emanating from the lightbulbs overhead, represented by still brush stokes in the painting, suddenly become alive and animated as they radiate from the 3D lightbulbs, it really is incredibly immersive.

As you walk around the area, you are free to explore the relatively small environment of the café room but also some passages in the surrounding areas. You can find many references to Van Gogh’s other works, as you explore, such as when you look out of a window you can see a beautiful animated reimagining of his “Starry Night” painting. You can also see a pipe resting on a chair, and a masterful 3D recreation of his most famous painting, the “Sunflowers” in the vase. As you look around you find Van Goh himself sitting down in the room adjacent from the café smoking his pipe, all created masterfully with animated brush strokes, yet fully immersive and in 3D. The sense of scale you get from VR is really well represented in this experience, a sense of scale that you can never get from looking at a screen or a video or painting: objects, environments and people really are the size you would expect them to be in real life. Its especially impressive for someone new to VR who has yet to become familiar with it. This experience merges the old world of art with new technology, and really proves to people the power of this new artistic and creative medium.

Music and sound:

The only sound in this experience is a very mellow and relaxing piano track that conveys an incredible sense of late-night peace, stillness and introspection. It is quite meditative in that way. One of the most relaxing and comforting VR experiences I have ever tried.

Educational Value:

This experience has incredible educational value for any art student, or any student interested in artistic works or artistic mediums; similarly, any student who is even slightly curious or technically minded and has yet to be familiarized with VR technology, would benefit enormously from this enjoyable, yet very short, VR experience. It has potential to benefit and be enjoyed by everyone, not just students, a great short introducuary VR experience which will leave everyone impressed, inspired and wanting to see more of what this technology is capable of.

What are other people saying?

This experience is universally praised by critics, frequently getting rates 4/5 or 5/5. its easy to see why everyone loves this work of art that combines the old with the new.

VRFOCUS says : A simple yet involving experience The Night Café: A VR Tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, lets viewers get inside Van Gogh’s paintings and appreciate them in a whole new way.

Concluding remarks:

If you are at all interested in the history and future of art, or in technology, or just enjoy beautiful experiences, don’t miss the opportunity to have a look at this. It wont take a lot of your time, hardly more than 5 minutes, nor is it challenging, confusing, complicated or difficult in any way.

Even if you are not someone who considers themselves interested in art or technology, give this experience a chance, it might just change your mind.

3. VR Museum of Fine Art will have you virtually touching the most famous artworks of the world

Museums are enjoyed by people all over the world, but they come with a few downsides, they can be an expense and take time and effort to travel to, they’re often packed with tourists blocking your view, and the security guards never let you touch the art or even get close.

But if you have a virtual reality headset you can skip the fees and the crowds and get right up close to the famous artworks of history from museums all around the world, and all of this from the convenience of your own home.

About the experience and its educational values:

This project is a free-to-play simulation that celebrates the joys of tourism and art education. Players are encouraged to get close to perfectly captured and recreated digital replicas of ancient Greek statues, peer deep into the cracks on the Mona Lisa’s canvas, and stand next to Mayan carvings as the you take in the real life scale of such objects.

All sculptures and paintings depicted in the VR Museum of Fine Art are to the same scale as their real-life counterparts and of course appear in stunning 3D.

The VR museum’s exhibit is a more limited than you’d find in some real museums such as, the Louvre, or Tate Modern. To date, the four rooms feature simulations of just 15 sculptures and 2 paintings, but the pieces represent cultures from around the world, including the Qin Dynasty’s Terra Cotta Army, the Great Buddha of KamakuraShiva the Lord of Dance, Lintel 25 of Yaxchilán in Mexico, and the A’a Pacific islander god figure. If the 17 high-fidelity simulations still doesn’t seem worth the free download, you may be convinced by the detailed educational plaques that accompany each piece.

The VR Museum of Fine Arts is an amazing VR experience. If you are an art or history lover, then it’s definitely for you. Finn Sinclair, the developer behind it, made sure it all looks very real, and the result is remarkable. As the exclusive visitor of this virtual exhibit, you will have as much time as you wish to wander about with nobody else pushing behind you, taking pictures or getting in your way. You can even get so close to the paintings you can see the cracks in the polish. You can explore the artworks from a never-seen-before angle and move freely around statues to see them from all perspectives.

The purpose of the 3dRudder system of movement is to offer free locomotion to any virtual reality experience. The restrictions of the days of teleportation and room-scale are gone. The 3dRudder gives you the freedom to move through the museum intuitively all while comfortably seated. You can walk the aisles seamlessly, approach the artworks at your own pace, go up and peer at the 12 feet paintings from bottom to top, literally turn around the giant status and discover all the details from an exceptional point of view. 

This free experience is a must see for anyone who enjoys museums, and the history of art and sculpture from all around the world. Its anticipated that in the future this concept of VR museums will take off and become something much larger than what this is now, which is still an early implementation of this idea, although it is a really well thought out and well polished implementation.

Music and sound:

Music and sound are not a focus of this experience, the only sound to hear is a few echoes and ambient noise in the distance designed to recreate the experience of being in a real museum. To this extent it works well, however I probably would have like to hear some relaxing background music. 

What are other people saying?

“This is fantastic! It captures the feel of being in a museum perfectly, there is a surprising amount of content given that it is free too. Definitely one to demo to friends and family.”

Concluding remarks:

As a free experience its a must see for any new owner of a VR headset and really prove the value of one of virtual realities use cases. Its also an excellent way of demonstrating to newcomers the value of VR who might not understand it at fist.