We have been following the development of Virtual Reality (VR) imagery within our world of design visualisation for a while and have been excited to research and experiment with the latest VR technology.
We already produce computer generated (CG) imagery such as animated walkthroughs, fly-arounds, short films, real-time environments using game technology, Augmented Reality and QuickTime VR (QTVR) 360 degree images.
Since most of the still and animated CG imagery mentioned above could be called virtual reality, we commonly associate the term VR with viewing a spherical panorama image or video with a headset.
Our challenge has not been in adopting VR technology, but how do we use VR in a creative way that benefits our client's design, planning and marketing projects, while satisfying our own artist aspirations.
Therefore, we have been looking beyond currently available VR entertainment content to question how we use VR effectively within the design process. For example, can VR help develop design ideas, is it a better way to present, is it an effective marketing tool, or is it a current entertainment novelty? What will be our long lasting and meaningful use of VR - we want to avoid using VR just because it is available and fashionable.
VR headsets that use the latest smartphones and YouTube have attracted our attention because they have great high resolution screens, the headsets are widely available, and since these headsets are untethered, our VR imagery is easily distributed.
We have recently produced VR imagery and video for projects at design development and presentation stages. VR is proving to be an immersive and effective way to experience the 3D environments. One great example is using VR headsets to present design ideas for a new school project which is proving to be an ideal presentation method to excite pupils, parents and teachers and show design ideas in a memorable way.
We are currently using fixed location 360 degree stereoscopic images and video. A fixed location allows us to control and compose the VR views from the most effective viewpoint and present each space in its best light. Viewers’ attention is therefore focused on the aim of the VR image.
We continue to assess the effectiveness of each VR project. The technical challenges of producing and distributing VR imagery is under continuous review. As with all of our imagery, VR workflow and render times need to be creative and responsive enough to fit within our challenging design process timescales and deadlines.
We would like to share some of our user experience feedback:
- Initial response to VR imagery and wearing a headset is mostly enthusiastic - particularly from pupils experiencing images of their new, yet to be built school.
- Wearing a headset simultaneously immerses the viewer in the virtual world and detaches them from the real world. This can be a problem during meetings if the headset wearer is seeing things others are not.
- VR videos which incorporate sound increases the headset wearers' detachment from their surroundings and team members. Viewers are reluctant to wear headphones and a headset.
- VR imagery has a limited attention span, particularly in meetings. This is possibly due to the sense of human detachment, embarrassment of wearing a headset, the need to take off the headset to communicate thoughts to team members and the discomfort of placing a bright digital screen a few centimetres from your eyes.
- VR imagery is effective in portraying the sense of scale. When the virtual camera is set to average eye height above the floor, smaller than average viewers feel too high and taller viewers feel too low. This can disturb viewers.
- VR headset use is widespread but not mainstream – few of our clients have their own compatible headset.
EYELEVEL VR methodology following user feedback:
- Keep it simple, streamlined, creative, comfortable and effective. There needs to be a reason to use VR imagery instead of still images, video, walk through, real time environments or QTVR.
- Carefully composed fixed location VR imagery which focuses attention is proving successful rather than free roaming environments which can divert attention during meetings and presentations. When there is a limited time period to portray design ideas there is no need to waste time roaming aimlessly around the 3D environment.
- Give the headset wearer time to adapt to what they are seeing. Give them time to concentrate, observe and experience the project before they relate to team members and take a break before moving onto the next scene.
- Produce short bursts of effective content to minimise the time users need to wear the headset so they can take off the headset to discuss design ideas. Provide a meaningful and useful experience so they want to put the headset on again.
- Use VR technology which allows other design team members in the meeting to ‘share’ the headset view on a large screen which encourages inclusion and discussion.
- EYELEVEL VR imagery is produced with the same high quality artistic thought and rigour as our 'traditional' still images.
It would be great to hear your thoughts and feedback about VR technology in design visualisation and how you react to viewing content VR headsets.