T-SQL Tuesday #108 – Oculus Medium – Virtual Reality (VR) Play-Doh

This month’s topic is being hosted by @sqlmal – thanks Mal!

“So the challenge for this T-SQL Tuesday is – pick one thing you want to learn that is not SQL Server. Write down ways and means to learn it and add it as another skill to your resume. If you are already learning it or know it – explain how you got there and how it has helped you. Your experience may help many others looking for guidance on this.”

My topic is playing around with Oculus Medium.

A highly pixelated reference image imported into Medium, building a clustered index seek, exporting out from Medium and importing into Unreal Engine:

First, one will need an Oculus Rift headset, an adequately powered PC like a decent gaming rig, and some physical space to “dance” around in. Expect to spend $1000 to get into VR for the desktop and a lot more for a VR-ready laptop. This is a serious hobby for me. Second, one will need to buy the $29.99 software.

https://www.oculus.com/experiences/rift/1336762299669605/

What is it? From the Oculus website:

Sculpt, model, and play in virtual reality. Oculus Medium is an immersive VR experience that lets you sculpt, model, paint, and create tangible objects in a VR environment. Medium lets you create expressive works of art, whether you’re a total beginner, an aspiring creative, or a professional artist. Medium uses Touch controllers to enable intuitive hand gestures and movement for a natural, tactile experience.

Basic Alternative to the Expensive Stuff…

All of the desktop 3D modeling programs (Maya, 3ds Max, or the open source Blender which I like, or desktop sculpting like ZBrush or Mudbox) are either very expensive or really hard to learn or both. Think of them like a musical instrument- one has to practice every day in order to get any good. My goal is to be able to create things and import them into Unreal Engine (UE4) quickly. From UE4 I can then build or cook the project and install it on to something like OculusGo and in 2019, Oculus Quest.

https://www.oculus.com/quest/

Side note:

While Medium has not been announced for Quest, being able to take a VR headset with you anywhere and be able to create, ANYWHERE, is going to be simply incredible. I can’t wait to see what my amateur self and artists can do. Imagine an art studio that is with you all of the time. For creative people that is going to be the killer VR app- you and your studio. Being able to sculpt, draw or whatever in VR when the mood or idea hits you. Carrying multiple studios with a variety of projects in them with you. Did I mention you can cast your creations to a screen to show people what you are seeing in VR? Ya, this is going to be awesome when Quest comes out. And yes, I am thinking of how to do Quest presentations/performances as topics for SQL Server. Goodbye PowerPoint.

Getting Started

I didn’t want to wait years to create things. I wanted to play now. Much like Play-Doh or Legos one just needs to learn the basics and jump in. One uses this VR software standing up so be prepared to be standing for a while and try not to get tangled up in the headset cables or knock things over. What one creates in Oculus Medium are called sculpts.

How has it helped me?

Escape. A chance to experience Flow for hours on end. Get out of my comfort zone. Something that doesn’t involve coding.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0061339202/

Flow. Ideation. Creation. Those are the goals of playing in Medium.

I have ideas for all kinds of inventions. A soft spot in my heart is about food, water, clothing, and shelter, with drinkable water being most important for survival and development. Topics for other time but being able to try and build things in my mind’s eye inexpensively is an expression of my creativity and imagination. Medium is a constructive outlet for me.

How to Learn Medium

Recently Oculus has updated Medium to 2.1 and has made a lot of great, free tutorials. Start with the tutorials INSIDE the software. Then, try these out. Even if you don’t have a VR set-up, watch these anyway to get an idea of what one can do with the software:

https://www.oculus.com/medium/learn/

It can take a while to learn the basics. Watch a short tutorial then try to duplicate what the artist is doing. Watch and try again. And again.

Note this is the first version of the genre of sculpting software using VR so it can be buggy at times. SAVE OFTEN!!!

The smallest resolution is 1 cm. Which just happens to match the smallest unit in Unreal Engine, the Unreal Unit (UU).

So if one is trying to build a fine mechanical watch using digital clay, prepare to be disappointed. One can “zoom” in super-close to the clay and do some fine-detail work but realize this is still clay, not micro precision molecular assembly like nanotechnology. Not yet anyway.

I have found the triangle/polygon count to be ridiculously high for imported sculpts. There are some tools to help with that (reduce number of triangles while maintaining visual fidelity on final exported .obj file) but I have not learned how to use those yet. Here is one I read about, MeshLab:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MeshLab
http://www.meshlab.net/

As far as exporting sculpts into UE4, I have found exporting as .obj with textures at the 2048 setting will generate good WYSIWYG. Import into UE4 then re-size as needed. Some of the colors can be a little off but I have been happy with the results. Please note VR is a resource intensive application- only have one thing running at a time. This means don’t have UE4 running while trying to use Medium and a web browser with a tutorial. Just one at a time. And yes, one will be re-starting your desktop often.

Just so happens that on the day I post this, I am also giving a presentation on using Oculus Medium at the Unreal Engine Meetup in Denver which I run. Starting a new user group is hard…

Hobbies on Resume

At what point does one add skills developed as a hobby and put them on a resume?
What I have heard is only if professionally relevant to a job one is applying for.

I don’t consider myself qualified for this position but it does have things I am interested in:

https://www.unrealengine.com/en-US/blog/jobs-in-unreal-engine—technical-artist

My dream job would be working with data and virtual reality. We’ll see what next year has in store.

I hope this post helps get some creative juices flowing. Feel free to hit me up on twitter:

@toddkleinhans

Thanks!

–Todd Kleinhans

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