RE­VIEW: Grav­ity Sketch

3D Artist - - CONTENTS -

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

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