REVIEW: Gravity Sketch
Paul Chambers gives us his expert opinion on the VR tool
Fairly or unfairly, to review Gravity Sketch is to review the current state of VR and some of the challenges this paradigm can bring. Thankfully, it hits more than it misses and provides arguably the most featurecomplete VR 3D creative tool for serious concept and early-stage production work we’ve seen. We tested it on the HTC Vive.
The application – recently updated to version 1.5 – started in 2014 as one of the first touch-based 3D content creation tools on IOS and no doubt the experience of bringing complex tools to a simplified interface helped lay valuable groundwork as the company shifted focus towards VR.
Like traditional 3D software, Gravity Sketch benefits from reading its manual. Not to say it’s not intuitive to jump in and start creating, but what initially appears familiar to anyone who’s used 3D creation tools in VR belies a good deal of power under the hood that’s not immediately apparent.
The major point of differentiation from other tools – and the true power of Gravity Sketch – is the editing power it provides. Once you’ve blocked in initial forms, everything you’ve placed is not just editable transformationally, but also parametrically. In addition to expected basic edits such as changing colour and material, control points can also be accessed, tweaked or even deleted to refine or dramatically alter forms after the fact. There’s some familiarity here to anyone who’s worked in a NURBS workflow.
Two of the standout tools here are Curved Surfaces (drawn in space with triggers pulled on both hands) and Revolve, a kind of digital lathe that allows you to quickly lay in circular forms from car tyres to wine glasses. In addition all the expected tools are there from line drawing (either free-form or point-topoint), dropping in primitives, and even pulling in poseable prefab forms or external meshes.
Gravity Sketch also supports grouping, layers, symmetry, reference images and a novel approach to optional grid snapping to help creators build some genuinely usable forms. Seemingly simple decisions like leaving up a visual ‘ghost’ of a mesh’s prior position when you reposition it speak to many hours spent by the team on refining key interactions as does the pleasure of working with its VR keyboard – commonly a frustration in other apps. Finally, Gravity Sketch supports export to OBJ or Sketchfab, and FBX and IGES with a pro or studio licence.
But there are annoyances. To start, the tiered pricing model isn’t clearly defined.
While entering Edit mode is intuitive, changing colours or materials can be surprisingly frustrating as floating interface elements fight for visibility with the mesh you’re actively editing. The ‘turn back the clock’ approach to Undo History using the thumb touchpad is novel, but sharing this button with the far more commonly accessed Tool menu is a misstep. And functionality not just based on trigger pulls but also partial pulls can require a deft touch.
This brings us to our closing statement: while the team has done an admirable job bringing such a powerful toolset into VR, it does also come at the expense of using not just every controller button and trigger in some form, but in many cases, buttons and triggers performing double-duty. Are we starting to hit the limit of what current VR controllers can provide?
Quibbles aside, if you’ve been frustrated by the over-simplicity of VR creation tools, take a good look at Gravity Sketch. It provides some genuinely powerful tools and could well be what you’ve been looking for to lay in concept design and initial forms at a real-world scale in the early stages of your production pipeline. Paul Chambers
VR design with a robust feature set. But does it come at a cost? What initially appears familiar to anyone who’s used 3D creation tools in VR belies a good deal of power under the hood
BOTTOM LEFT The two-handed Curved Surfaces feature is one of Gravity Sketch’s standout tools
MAIN This race car design was made completely in VR using Gravity Sketch by senior designer James Robbins
BOTTOM MIDDLE After placing a form with the Revolve tool, parametric editing includes control point movement or deletion, thickness and profile
BOTTOM RIGHT The Undo History Rewind is a cool feature looking for a home, but unfortunately it gets in the way more often that it helpsBELOW Gravity Sketch even includes poseable mannequins, which is useful for showing real-world scale and ergonomics