Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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When VR decides to do art, it goes absolutely wild

When VR decides to do art, it goes absolutely wild

The warped imaginations behind Adventure Time (2010–present), Invader Zim (2001–’06), and The Venture Bros. (2003–present) have found their way to the virtual-reality sandbox, and it’ll never be the same.

Google VR has partnered with Emmy-winning animation studio Titmouse to offer HTC Vive users an art exhibition, dubbed “Two Weeks of Titmouse,” in the wilds of cyberspace. The joint effort brings together 11 of the cartooning world’s most talented artists to show off the creative potential behind Tilt Brush, the three-dimensional painting software acquired by Google last year and released on SteamVR in April. From now until June 24th, Google will be releasing all-new works of digital art every weekday. These will be available both on social media and on the Vive, where the 3D image files will be not only viewable but also manipulable.

“Using Tilt Brush is like holding hands with your crush when you’re 12 and you’ve never experienced a feeling anything like this before, and you don’t know what to do, so you just roll with it,” says Chris Prynoski, president and founder of Titmouse. “When I went into my first Tilt Brush session, I kind of had a plan. That plan quickly evaporated as the emotion and sensation of being surrounded by a world I was creating in real time erased any notion of a predetermined concept from my brain.”

When asked whether the pieces in the Titmouse showcase can best be described as installation art, virtual sculpture, or something entirely novel, Prynoski says it’s “definitely something new,” adding: “My brain doesn’t wear pants, but if it did, those pants would need to be removed and immediately washed. It’s so new, it’s disarming. It’s pure experimentation and delight. It’s not an installation, it’s not sculpture—it’s an experience you can’t know until you try it.”

“What if you had magic crayons made of fire and leaves when you were a fetus floating in your mother’s womb? It’s probably just like that.”

Prynoski is one of the animators behind Adult Swim’s hit series Metalocalypse (2006–2013), as well as the creator of Disney XD’s Motorcity (2012). He also directed the hallucination sequence in Mike Judge’s 1996 film, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. It’s probably no surprise, then, that his Titmouse compositions feature such subjects as a winged skeleton driving an Ed Roth–style hot rod and a demonic-looking Russian doll. “I went for crowd-pleasers,” he explains. “I used a lot of the fire brush. I used a lot of the mirror tool, too.” By combining them both, he was able to paint illusory fire that stretched beyond the boundaries of the app’s virtual space, seemingly infinite.

“It’s a technique Peter Chung developed,” says Prynoski, referring to another of the Titmouse exhibition artists. “I use it all the time, now. I’m not too proud to admit I totally stole that trick from him. He is very smart.”

The participating artists at Titmouse created all 20 of the works in the exhibition using the Tilt Brush software, Vive head-mounted displays, Lighthouse tracking sensors, and motion controls—the exact same way early VR adopters can use the technology at home.


“You don’t generate any art assets ahead of time,” Prynoski tells me. “You can import images as reference, but they’re not part of the final art. I sometimes drew stuff on post-its, took pics with my cell phone, and imported them as a rudimentary road map. But it’s not at all necessary to do so. Plus, it’s much harder to draw a demon vomiting animated fire on a sticky note than it is in Tilt Brush.”

Aside from the fundamentals of design and composition, the process of making art within the world of Tilt Brush is “a whole new experience,” according to Prynoski. “The feeling of truly being inside the work you’re creating is so exciting, it’ll blow your brains apart. Seriously, it’s like nothing else I’ve ever done—it’s addictive.” When I ask him about applying techniques from traditional media to VR, he replies: “What if you had magic crayons made of fire and leaves when you were a fetus floating in your mother’s womb? It’s probably just like that. Can a dog talk to a lamp? The answer is ‘nope,’ and a paintbrush can’t talk to a glowing, animating, three-dimensional rainbow brush, either.”

Prynoski describes working in Tilt Brush as a perfectly natural, intuitive experience, and says there’s “no doubt” the Vive will soon find its way into children’s art classes. “My three-year-old kid tried VR, and the first thing he said is, ‘I love this!’” The possibilities, he says, are limitless. “[Virtual reality’s] obviously going to be great at a lot of things: Training—yep. Travel—you betcha. Gaming, of course. Porn, obviously. Medical—yes. Horror—uh-huh. Sports? Indeed.”


So what’s the one thing Prynoski most wants to use VR for?

“Comedy,” he says. “I want to do comedic, weirdo animation. It’s going to be really tough to crack! But I’m not afraid. Some people are doing comedy and doing it well. Ever hear of [VR filmmaker] Tyler Hurd? Check out Old Friend.” Prynoski confesses that he hopes to collaborate with Hurd in the near future, though he can’t promise anything yet. “We’ve been talking a lot,” he says. “I’m trying to track what folks are doing in narrative. Patrick Osborne’s Pearl is great. It’s kicking down the doors of what can be done with VR storytelling. And I think there are plenty more doors to kick down. I think most of the doors haven’t even been built yet.”

He welcomes the challenge, however. “You remember the end of Monsters, Inc. (2002), with the crazy, giant room full of doors? There’s at least that many—and I’ve got my kicking boots on.”

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