Virtual reality has become more and more popular in recent years, especially in the realm of video games and the emergence of a metaverse, both spaces where animators can flourish and take advantage of new animation technology.
Animation has come a long way in terms of its uses as it is no longer only used as entertainment. It is now being used in the film and gaming industries, as well as in the fields of advertising, education, and more.
With the popularization of virtual reality comes endless opportunities for animators to expand their repertoire and become involved in the ever-changing landscape of animators.
Virtual reality animation is truly the future for animators because it offers opportunities for education and job creation. This is especially important for animators as there is an extremely high job demand, and getting your foot into the door of something new can make you stand out from the crowd.
Virtual reality technology is being used in different fields, and every one of those requires animators to help convert 3D media into interactive virtual reality objects.
In this blog, we discuss what virtual reality animation is, what its capabilities are, and how you, as an animator, can take advantage of virtual reality animation to improve your skills and benefit your career.
What is Virtual Reality Animation?
Virtual reality is often confused with augmented reality, but it’s generally a much more immersive experience.
Virtual reality is a fully immersive experience for the user without interaction with the physical world around them. It can be described as a computer-generated simulation of a 3D environment that the user can interact with.
This interaction is done through the use of special virtual reality gear such as a headset, special digital gloves, and sometimes even toggles. Headsets can range from being completely wireless to a combination of tethered and wireless, and there are even standalone headsets.
This immersive experience means that virtual reality can be rendered in an extremely realistic way to mimic real life. Most virtual reality developers opt to create fantasy environments of places and things that can’t be found in real life.
This helps users to get fully immersed in a 3D world where they can play, learn, make art, interact with others in an alternate reality, or just explore. Virtual reality offers unlimited opportunities to create interactive 3D environments in any visual style.
No matter the virtual reality environment that is being created – whether it be a video game or an interactive cartoon – there is a whole team of people responsible for conceptualizing and programming this environment. This is where animators come in.
Animators are responsible for bringing these virtual reality environments to life by rigging, skinning, and posing characters in a way that fits the story. Animators also flesh out the environment by creating vibrant and life-like surroundings.
The type of surroundings usually depends on the type of virtual reality experience being created. For example, the game “Moss” features fairy tale surroundings with lush, vibrant foliage, medieval houses, and magical characters.
There are different types of virtual reality animation, including CGI virtual reality animation, stylized virtual reality animation, mixing virtual reality animation with live-action, and whiteboard virtual reality animation. Each of these is unique and offers different benefits to animators.
CGI Virtual Reality Animation
GIF via Giphy
This is the visual style that resembles what most 3D animated films and video games have come to look like. Check out this animated short film that was specifically created to be experienced in virtual reality.
Another example of CGI virtual reality animation is “Playthings,” a musical experience that lets users create music within the game. Just like in these examples, CGI virtual reality animation is often used to create fantastical worlds.
Many animators opt to create computer-generated experiences for potential animation clients of things that aren’t normally represented in virtual reality because of the cost of creating such experiences.
For example, when you need to demonstrate the science behind some cutting-edge technology, creating an interactive 3D world is entirely appropriate.
Stylized Virtual Reality Animation
Image by CARLOS FELIPE LEÓN
Stylized virtual reality animation has a lot of uses, and it is particularly useful if you want to market your brand in a way that relies on engagement and is targeted at a specific audience.
If you want to engage and mesmerize people and make them consider your message seriously, then one way to achieve that would be to make your stylized virtual reality animations look as unusual as possible.
Artist Carlos Felipe León uses this type of virtual reality animation to create interactive virtual reality paintings. Another example of stylized VR animation is “Dear Angelica” – an animated virtual reality experience.
Mixing Virtual Reality Animation with Live-Action
This is possibly the simplest and most valuable way to use virtual reality animation.
If your animations rely heavily on realistic, live-action visuals more than it does on animated and cartoony characters and environments, combining virtual reality animation and live-action might be the best choice.
This mixed-style of virtual reality animation solves an important problem that marketers, storytellers, game designers, and artists who work with virtual reality face: to make sure an audience interacts with your animation in the way you intend.
Combining virtual reality animation and live-action solves this issue by injecting animated cues at certain points in the experience. By doing this, you can direct the audience’s attention to certain things and maintain a cohesive narrative within an otherwise open and interactive experience.
Combining virtual reality animation and live-action footage is one of the most valuable ways to promote your business. Even something as simple as recording your public speech with a 360-degree camera and overlaying some animated cues in post-production can result in a piece of engaging, on-brand content.
Check out this trailer for the short film, “Afterlife,” which gives an excellent example of an interactive 360 live-action virtual reality experience.
Whiteboard Virtual Reality Animation
Whiteboard animation, like any other kind, can be used in virtual reality to tell a story, explain a complicated idea, and sell a product or service.
Whiteboard and cartoon animation videos are similar to time-lapses, and they represent recordings of the drawing process done by an artist while the visuals themselves remain static.
Because of that, rendering whiteboard videos in a virtual reality environment adds another layer of engagement and immersion for users.
An example of a whiteboard virtual reality animation can be seen in this video, where the curator demonstrated the possibilities of interaction when using whiteboard animation in virtual reality.
The video is called “The Concept,” and it demonstrates how virtual reality technology can be used to create a completely 3D space and how users can utilize this space to create pictures and drawings.
Short Films and Interactive Virtual Reality Animation
Virtual reality animations usually fall into one of two categories: short films or interactive animations. The narrative of these animations is what drives both of these approaches, but short films usually take a more traditional viewing approach, wrapping you in a virtual world where the story plays out around you.
On the other hand, interactive virtual reality animations actively encourage the involvement of the user. This interactivity can range from simple elements to move the story along, like turning a page, to fully-blown control where decisions by the user will offer alternative endings.
This interactivity tends to blur the lines between what’s considered an animation and an actual videogame. Check out this list of amazing virtual reality animations not to miss!
Included in this list is a dynamic game titled “Agence,” which offers a highly interactive virtual reality experience. Some of the characters react in unpredictable ways, and users can even affect the world through their interactions with it.
How Animators Can Take Advantage of Virtual Reality Animation
Even with advanced software, creating animations still requires complex skills and consumes a lot of time. Virtual reality animation might help to address this by offering animators opportunities to enhance their spacial understanding, be more productive and collaborative, and transform the viewing experience for their audience.
Enhancing Spatial Understanding
Virtual reality animation is a big improvement over 2D or even 3D animations because it surpasses the limitations that come with 2D and 3D animations with functionalities that enhance spatial understanding.
Using virtual reality animation, animators can create more complex imagery while they are immersed in virtual environments. They can rig, skin, and pose characters with more intricate details and accurate dimensions. With the interactive space mimicking real life, they can also factor in lighting and staging for better impact.
Virtual reality also gives animators the flexibility to use various methods of animation. Virtual reality animation also offers flexibility as animators can create cartoons, photoreal graphics, live-action, or a combination of different themes.
Boosting Productivity and Encouraging Collaboration
One scene in animation takes several hours to create using traditional interfaces based on mouse and keyboard input. With a virtual reality-based interface, animators can cut production time significantly while maintaining the quality of work.
Animators now have access to virtual reality tools that enable them to rig characters and animate keyframes in 3D. They can integrate 360 videos and animation data with ease while also being able to record audio directly on the platform, saving even more time.
Aside from boosting productivity, virtual reality animation also fosters better collaboration among animators. It allows them to connect frames seamlessly, and this streamlines the entire production process of animation.
Transforming the Viewing Experience
Virtual reality animation completely transforms the viewing experience by offering a multi-sensorial experience that heightens emotions and makes stories more relatable.
Virtual reality animations completely immerse users in the stories and enable them to interact with the characters. With virtual reality animations, stories go beyond linear narratives, and viewers gain more control of the story.
This is a powerful marketing tool as you can offer to create specialized user experiences for your animation clients. In an industry where creativity is key, specialized animations are important to attract animation clients and promote your animation studio or freelance business.
The Possibilities for Creativity
There is a lot of potential for animators to use virtual reality animation to create more realistic and intuitive animations.
And best of all, these virtual reality animations don’t have to look “real” at all since virtual reality lets you create and inhabit whimsical worlds that look like dreams, cartoons, works of art, or your favorite animated movies.
Virtual reality animation lets users experience things that don’t and can’t exist in the real world. This opens up a world of possibilities for telling stories, delighting potential animation clients, and marketing your brand in new and exciting ways.
The Accessibility of Creating Virtual Reality Animations
Virtual reality animations can be created and animated through many software nowadays. For example, Google has created a Daydream Lab that allows you to animate 3D models inside of digital software.
Another animation software capable of creating virtual reality animations is Tvori. Tvori allows you to easily puppet objects and characters around in virtual reality, effectively saving you time during the animation process.
However, while the software for creating virtual reality animations is very accessible, the gear is not. Not to mention, virtual reality gear and games are generally very expensive. This is because the content creation for virtual reality tends to be customized, and this makes it very expensive to produce.
The pricing of virtual reality headsets can range from about $15 USD to $1,500 USD. Not only that, each headset and its accompanying gear have widely varying capabilities and compatibilities. Virtual reality standards are in the early adoption stage, and content created for one platform will usually not work with another.
The software needed to run virtual reality simulations also needs to be powerful enough to do so. Unfortunately, the platforms that cater to virtual reality users, such as video game consoles and powerful gaming computers, come at a steep price.
Virtual reality is also an often isolating experience because only one person at a time can use the gear and engage in the game or film. The last few years have seen a significant rise in the number of multiplayer games, and people enjoy having these experiences together. The need for a shared community experience is something that virtual reality has yet to address.
The biggest accessibility issue facing virtual reality is the exclusion of people with disabilities. The reliance on physical movements can be a deterrent for many users with motor disabilities, whether those be minor vision issues to users who are constrained to wheelchairs.
The headsets and often low screen resolution can lead to numerous barriers for low-vision users, so much so that games without appropriate features or accessible design are completely unplayable.
How Virtual Reality Animation Represents the Future for Animators
Virtual reality animation is truly the future for animators because it offers opportunities for professional growth.
Animators can take advantage of virtual reality animation by using it as a tool for marketing. This is because virtual reality animation offers your animation clients unique and specialized user experiences.
Virtual reality animation can also boost productivity, encourage collaboration, and encourage animators to be more creative.
Although there are accessibility issues when it comes to using virtual reality, it’s still a great way to market your skills as an animator and attract animation clients. By expanding your repertoire by creating animations for virtual reality, you can create another avenue for job creation and income.