A Brief Review of Quill VR

So I finally tried Quill VR for Oculus (though I actually tested it using my HTC Vive using the ReVive project).

I’ve written previously about my experiences using Oculus Medium and Google Blocks, and thing I was most excited about when pre-ordered the Vive at 8 o’clock in the morning was Google’s Tiltbrush.

Ironically enough, the reason I was so excited for VR was because I hoped it would finally open up the world of 3D art creation for me, and it has, in that, wanting to be able to develop for it more fully, I’ve become a pretty decent hobbyist 3D artist on my normal 2D desktop. This has effected my perception of the new VR tools, though I think it has mostly grown the depth in which I have thought about 3D as a medium and user experience.

Tiltbrush always felt like a toy to me. The focus on glowing fiery paint-strokes and glittery particle effects made for a great demo to show my parents, and a peek of what might be ready to come in the future, but I couldn’t personally use it as a tool in the ways I wanted to. Obviously there are super talented people who use it very well like Elizabeth Edwards who I’ve mentioned before in previous articles:

But I found it limited and finicky. When people asked me if I thought of Oculus Medium as Photoshop and Tiltbrush as Microsoft Paint, I said no, as Microsoft Paint is simple in it’s presentation but it nails the fundamentals (A quick shout out of course to the passing of Microsoft Paint this year. Did you know people have done some absolutely insane speed paints with it???) Instead I’d probably relate it to the old Kid Pix art games from the 90s/aughts (no offense to the devs. I loved Kid Pix!):

Quill seemed like a much more tool oriented program, and so I was curious dive into it more. Quill seemed serious in it’s presentation. Almost boring, like a *real* application! There were brush shapes you could pick, layers, and it came out with the ability to export almost immediately, while Tiltbrush took awhile to get around to that (and even then doing so is a bit problematic since the presentation of a lot of the brush strokes is highly dependent on the shaders/materials being used on the stroke). Artists like Goro Fujita have done some amazing stuff like this:

which has a more painterly look, a style more in line with the kind of art I generally like over the sci-fi Tron-glow of Tiltbrush. So I decided to take a crack at it and see what Quill had to offer!


I bounced off it hard.

While I could throw out some critiques on what I think could be done better or differently, I think my bouncing off Quill and Tiltbrush might reveal something interesting about the metaphors that underly these different methods of 3D modeling in VR. In my Oculus Medium article I talked briefly about the difference in metaphor between Tiltbrush and Medium, and in my Google Blocks article I talked about the difference between CAD modeling and vert box modeling. I find it pretty difficult to get what I want out of Quill. Oculus Medium just seems very immediate and obvious. It’s like playing with clay. The voxel based data structure of Oculus Medium, allows for intuitive undifferentiated way of dealing with mass. Quill, unlike Tiltbrush, has more three-dimensionality to your strokes, but like Tiltbrush treats each stroke as a singular object. Using Quill is less like sculpting and more like 3D painting in the air. But I think much more literally it might actually play into a similar approach towards creating art as drawing rather than sculpture. My background is in 2D painting, but I’ve personally always struggled with the clean graceful ideal that figure painting, and animation classes have strived for. I’m a bit clumsy I guess, but I managed to figure out what worked for me and that was largely by being able to pile paint up upon itself and sculpt it down with later refinement. I think that VR art programs like Quill and Tiltbrush might provide an approach to modeling that work better for some people over others, and in particular plays into the skillsets of draftsmen.

Even so, I think the metaphor and ideas of Quill can be pushed farther while at the same time keeping it’s distinctiveness. Treating these strokes as individual objects can get mess fast. Due to the way that color information is stored on the strokes, re-colourizing models can sometimes be a bit hapahazard, because you don’t always know what shape the strokes being interacted with are going to react to the tool. The addition of an eraser is nice. but it only makes parts of the brush stroke mesh created invisible, unlike Medium where the process of selectively carving away at a figure actually deletes the clay.

The Nudge tool hints at a possible avenue that could be pursued. The Nudge tool acts sort of like a 3D smear tool that allows you to edit and move the strokes around after you’ve laid them down. You nudge the strokes, and it feels cool, but you’re basically just deforming a finite tube snake around. I think something mushier and more liminal would be an interesting approach. It would be much more interesting if you were pushing bits of goo up around each other, kind of like that scene in the Robin Williams film What Dreams May Come where he wakes up inside an impressionist painting (between that movie and Hook, and Flubber, there are a lot of Robin Williams joints where he plays with colorful goo, eh? RIP).

Rather than homogeneous clay, the ability scrape out pats of paint and then smear them together and mix a little would be a powerful tool for creation. I imagine doing something like this would be computationally intensive but I don’t think it’s too bizarre to think that this might be something that opens up eventually.

You have projects like Adobe’s Wetbrush which simulates oil paint in 3D:

Or the already commercially available Rebelle Paint which simulates the wetness and diffusion of watercolors using real physics:

If any Quill devs or designers are reading, I think this 2015 SIGGRAPH paper might be interesting and the basis for the Adobe stuff.

Anyway the point is, I think there are some ways that the distinctive metaphor can be kept but maybe pushed farther. I also want to give a shout-out to the layers system which allows for a much more organized way of dealing with and replicating objects. In fact, so much so that I am unable to upload my painting because I cloned the bluebonnets I made too much! The final FBX was nearly a gig in size, and wouldn’t open up in Blender for some reason (said something about the binary being formatted wrong or something). You have a lot more control over how things are placed into layers and that allows for some very interesting and unexpected techniques. The artist Jamil uses simple lines drawn and duplicated over and over again to create these magical and surreal abstract sculptures:

This is possible because you can easily create a new layer, draw, duplicate, merge it into another layer, duplicate, draw, put that into a layer group, duplicate that a couple of times, merge it together etc etc. I think the clarity of separation of concerns is one of the most powerful features of Quill and really shows a maturity of approach that I think should be expanded on.


Also wanted to link Joe Daniels work which seeing it on Sketchfab finally inspired me to buy and try Quill. It’s one thing to see a video but it’s another thing to be able to examine a model up close. Seeing it again is making me think about giving Quill another crack! Even though now, I’ve become so much more accustomed to modeling and sculpting on my desktop. Here’s hoping we see even more sophistication and growth in the VR sculpting applications sphere.


Oh yeah and I don’t have an entire article’s worth to write about this but ya’ll should check out this crazy cool Maya plugin that some guys in Japan are developing:

I think it actually does an interesting job of demonstrating some of the things that Oculus Medium was really lacking in surface manipulation (rather than pure paint and destroy capabilities). It’s also along the same lines as the Mushy Nudge stuff I mentioned with Quill. I’ve just realized that I think the primary thing that informs Quill’s ability to have valuable “distinctness” in that stroke and color information are used together more tightly and seem to interact between strokes. Oculus Medium also can have the brush color set but it really comes off as multiple lumps of clay that are different colors while the man separated strokes of Quill allow for optical mixing. The distinctiveness of Quill strokes is in fact has the effect of creating a more painterly effect. I think the thing I’d like to see is that it go beyond optical mixing, to actual mixing, as per the mushy nudge stuff.


I decided to give it another crack, and got better results when I took into mind the problems I had last time. Would still like some of that gushy stuff but it didn’t come out too bad… well except for the export. Export still didn’t work. But here are some pictures!

And here’s the failed export put on Sketchfab. Quill models are meant to displayed shadelessly but I figured if this thing was going to be broken I might as fiddle around with PBR and see how that effected things. Neat effect!

Design technologist. Civic hacker. I talk too much. Sometimes I write it down. Sometimes I publish it here.

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