Nick Ochoa curated some of the top artists producing work entirely in VR for the Magik Gallery show that happened in San Francisco, CA on May 20th. It was an ambitious effort to introduce VR creation tools for artists within a fine arts context in the Terra Gallery space. There were physical posters of scenes showed around 15-20 VR stations featuring an individual piece of art, as well as opportunities to try some of the VR art tools like TiltBrush. Most of the VR art pieces featured some dimension of scale or vastness that showcased some of the unique affordances of art within VR, and the intention was to inspire the art scene within San Francisco for how VR could be used as a medium for expression and storytelling. I had a chance to catch up with Magik Gallery founder Ochoa the day before the showing to talk about his efforts to get art within VR to be taken more seriously within the larger art world.
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The VR artists featured in the show were Steve Teeps, Vladimir Ilic, Liz Edwards, Sougwen Chung, Issac “Cabbibo” Cohen, Danny Bittman, Sutu, Wesley Allsbrook, Mike Jelinek, Abraham Aguero, and Edward Eyth. The write-up by VRScout’s Jesse Damiani features more information on some of the individual art pieces that were being shown, as well as in this twitter thread:
— Jesse Damiani (@JesseDamiani) May 15, 2017
Magik Gallery is going to be focusing on holding VR art shows in physical spaces as there are a number of other virtual art gallery initiatives and efforts for virtual spaces.
Other VR Art Initiatives
I’ve seen a number of recent gallery efforts including VR Chat’s Infinity: VR Art Gallery. No Proscenium has a great write-up about the Alejandro González Iñárritu piece Carne Y Arena that is showing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (and it is sold out until September).
Acute Art VR aims to be Contemporary Art’s Virtual Reality Home & features work by Marina Abramović, Jeff Koons, and Olafur Eliasson
The FLOAT Museum pilot @ SFMOMA featured some VR art during GDC
The VR Society’s The Art of VR Show at Sotherby’s just happened a few weeks ago.
Zach Krausnick’s VR Galactic Gallery showed at VRLA and should be releasing on Steam soon
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[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. I think one of the biggest boons of virtual reality is that there's new tools to be able to create 3D content using virtual reality. We've had Tilt Brush, which premiered at GDC back in 2015, was acquired by Google and has now gone through like 12 different versions with increasing amounts of features and functionality. There's the kind of the equivalent to Tilt Brush and Oculus side is Quill, which is like these 2D illustrations. But they also have Oculus Medium, which is to do 3D objects and sculpting. And just today, Google announced that they're releasing Blocks, which is their equivalent to Medium. It's like a sculpting tool, but it's more low poly. It's more akin to like building with like Lego bricks and kind of designed for beginners to be able to create objects. But overall, there's all these tools that are available and there's been a number of artists who have taken to virtual reality as their primary medium to be able to create art. And back on May 20th, Nick Ochoa created the magic gallery showing that was happening in San Francisco. He gathered all of these different emerging artists that are using virtual reality as their primary medium to create art. And he wanted to bring them all together and for a show such that he could bring people from the outside who may not already have virtual reality headsets and could be some of their first VR experiences and he wanted those first experiences to be exploring some of these art pieces that were created in a number of these different VR art programs. So I had a chance to drop by the day before the showing. I was in town for the Google I.O. and I saw a number of different pieces and had a chance to catch up with Nick talking about what he was trying to do with the Magic Gallery. So that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this conversation happened on Friday, May 19th, 2017 in San Francisco, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:09.289] Nick Ochoa: My name is Nick Ochoa. I've been in VR for a little while now, since about middle of 2014. And we're doing Magic Gallery, which is an arts-first organization. But what we're trying to do really is change the dialogue of a lot of the industry, take the attention away from the games and the minutiae of the tech, and focus it more on the artists and the creators themselves, and allow their work, specifically their artwork, things that they're making in Quill or Medium and Tilt Brush and Mindshow and all these other amazing creative tools, put that front and center. Let's make that the first introduction to VR for most people. And that's why we're building out this gallery, Magic Gallery, because it's an art show. It's an art exhibition first, VR second. VR is the canvas. But the content itself is the story, and the artists themselves are what's important. So we're really looking forward to actually bringing people into VR without having to talk about VR.
[00:03:10.573] Kent Bye: Yeah, so I've been to at least one other exhibition for VR experiences, which is the Death and Dying show that was here in San Francisco, you know, that was focused on showing experiences and people getting together in physical space. But this feels like it may actually be one of the first art shows that is showing art that was created within VR. So maybe you could talk a bit about that dimension of what you're doing here.
[00:03:33.979] Nick Ochoa: Yeah, so the most powerful thing about VR to me, having been in this industry for a while now, is the way it allows us to author and create things that were before either really difficult to make, It required a lot of previous literacy, technical literacy. Take Oculus Medium, for example. To create 3D assets with a keyboard and mouse was really difficult. It took a long time, and you had to use expensive, bloated software like Maya or ZBrush. And now in Medium, people are reaching out with digital clay, and they're able to do what may have taken them weeks and minutes. And that, to me, speaks volumes to the power of virtual reality as a medium. So this event and the curation of the content is focused around content made in VR. I think that these tools above all are what matter in this space and enabling content creators to have fun making these types of 3D assets. and get more creative with the way they work with their imaginations is what I think in the future we're going to look back and recognize as the true powerful potential presented by this medium. And so the art show is intended to put that type of content from amazing artists like Wesley Allsbrook, who's showing a couple pieces, who illustrated every line of Dear Angelica, like Steve Teeps, who's doing some amazing work in medium and in Tilt Brush, and Liz Edwards, who's also doing amazing stuff everywhere. I mean, she's in Quill, she's in medium, she's in Tilt Brush, she's a total badass. And Sue Gwen, who comes from the fine art world, she kind of hops from one exhibition to the next, one artist-in-residency program to the next. and she's integrating virtual reality into her process of mark making and creating her different types of pieces. So, for me, this is... Also Danny Bittman, I don't know if you want to leave... Yeah, Danny Bittman as well. You can go to the website, check out the list, or if you're around, it's happening Saturday, May 20th, and the artists that we have are all truly incredible. and doing things beyond just VR, like Danny's exporting into Unity and he's adding new elements in his Tilt Brush scenes. Khabibo, he did an entire picture book, Delilah's Gift, where he illustrated his stories in Tilt Brush and then he, I don't know what other word to use, but Khabibified them and added all of his crazy shader loveliness and made it something that Otherwise, words can't describe it. That's why it's called magic, right? You can't believe what's in front of your eyes half the time. And this is something that once people step in, I think it's really going to give them not only a new appreciation of virtual reality, but of art and creative opportunities for themselves and people they know. This is really important to me, moving the dialogue away from gaming and more towards creators and this user-generated content, and I hope that we're able to prove that through this made-in-VR art show.
[00:06:44.751] Kent Bye: Yeah, as I had a chance to go through a number of the different experiences, I noticed a couple of trends of what makes VR art different than other art. One of which is the sense of scale that you get in some of these drawings of being able to see the giant nature of being fully immersed in a scene and seeing what you can do with that scale. but also Danny Bittman in particular in some of the worlds that he's creating that it's less about Doing it an individual like 3d model or something, but it's an entire world It's like the world-building and it's kind of like taking landscape photography but adding that sense of landscape to the world that you're creating to be able to create that volumetric sense and an ambiance that you get from the entire environment beyond just sort of a small object that you're creating and So yeah, I'm just curious to hear other trends that you were seeing as you were curating the show.
[00:07:33.943] Nick Ochoa: The scale is hugely important, especially for things like sculpture and medium. It's really, really, really expensive to make a giant sculpt in marble or in metal or really any medium that isn't digital because you have all the material costs. It's also really expensive to create a mural compared to being able to do it in something like Tilt Brush and you can instantly scale it up and boom, you got a mural or you got something that could fit in like your wallet, right? It's one of the more powerful pieces. The other thing is just being able to move through it, right? So something that we're doing for this show that I think is unique, at least I haven't seen it before, we're trying to get away from displaying the piece when it's being viewed through a monitor. Because for me, what I've noticed in doing so many different events, when people witness that through the monitor and they see that you can move through it, they kind of get a sense that they know what's going on and it doesn't really invite them to put the headset on themselves and try it. So to get away from that we're sort of turning the monitors the other direction and we have 2D prints that we've done. We've taken photographs in these scenes and we're using that as a sort of It's less of like a painting, it's more of a memory. It's like if you were to go on a trip to Paris or go on vacation in Australia and you're taking a photo of a moment that you had at a museum, that photo becomes your memory. That's what these prints are. When you look at that photo, it doesn't just stand for itself as a photo, it's actually a snapshot of that world that you were just in. So something like Danny Bittman's piece, his Atlas piece, this beautiful giant world and there's infinite perspectives that you can have on it through manipulation of scale, through bouncing around the different sections of the environment and being able to take some of those perspectives, print them, and share them as a memory, as an artifact that people who are attending this event can take home with them, I think is going to be incredibly powerful. Because when they hang that in their room or in their office and someone asks them about it, it's no longer just, oh, this is a painting. It's like, no, this is a... Let me tell you the story about when I was exploring this world and here's a photo that represents it. It goes much deeper. So that to me is crucial. It's very crucial because it proves that we can take this artwork that's made in VR, but we can extend it beyond VR. It could become beautiful photography. It could become beautiful paintings and imagery that becomes flat, right? Because the story component is so deeply tied to that experience. Once you step in, you have that memory forever. So it's exciting to see that, one, the prints look so good. They came out amazing. And two, now the artists have a way to give people a little bit more access into their work, even though they're making it in VR. And usually people can't, most people can't come see it in VR, right? The access is a real issue. That's why we're doing a gallery. But now there's a story and people can take that and they can look at this 2D print and say, oh, I can't wait till I can see that in VR. But I'm very, very, very interested to see what happens as a result of more artists coming into this event and trying these tools for the first time. Most events around VR are VR events, and it's just all VR. Conferences have all these different things. You get five-minute demos, and you don't really get a chance to play. What we're doing, we have 15 different riffs, we have a handful of vibes, and during the full day moments, people are going to be able to not only witness the work, but they're going to be able to create on all of those 15 stations, and we're inviting in a lot of local artists. So, who knows what's to come? Like, there's some hidden talent out there that we have no idea what they're capable of in VR because they've never been in VR. So that to me is probably the most exciting part of this. I can't wait to see what comes of it.
[00:11:40.027] Kent Bye: Yeah, another thing that I noticed as I was going through these different experiences and hearing how you're going to be setting up this gallery is that I often think about the VR ecosystem as having like three prongs of a stool. You have the technology, you have the content, and then you have the audience. And I feel like here we've had the technology out there. We've had the innovations with both Oculus Medium, as well as Quill, as well as Tilt Brush to be able to have the technology to give to the artists to create the content, and now this is sort of that third prong of having people watch and view these experiences, but yet this may be their first experience, they don't know how to use a controller, so they don't even know how to necessarily see the content yet, which is limiting what kind of content is being created and what can be shown. It feels like you're kind of closing that loop and being able to give access to some of these experiences, but yet we're still iterating on that process of the technology with the content. Instead of iterating between the technology and the content, that's being stabilized. Now we're going between the content and the audiences.
[00:12:42.449] Nick Ochoa: So true, you nailed it. The controllers, I'll harp on the input a little bit because that's something that we're doing for this. Input's important, don't get me wrong. Without it, we couldn't make any of this work, right? But when it's a first time in VR, Putting on the headset is enough. Trying to figure out, okay, how do I use this controller? Oh wait, I just clicked a button. What do I do now? It becomes this really long education process and that education process, the content itself sort of becomes secondary because your brain is so occupied. So what we've done is we've set up these benches, and they're about 10 feet away from the prints. And you're looking at this print, and then you have a headset on the bench next to you. And when you put it on, you can now step into that print. And we've set the scene, so you'll have 10 feet by 10 feet of space to navigate that world. But for these first-time users, we're not going to give them controls, because they don't need them, necessarily. They only distract from the work. And in trying to close the gap around the first experience, what's the story of that first experience? Is it my first experience because I was at some VR conference trying a demo? Is someone's first Tilt Brush experience, does it always have to be them creating something in Tilt Brush? I don't think so. There's a lot more opportunity in VR. then we give credit as a way of displaying it at least. So we do want to change that. We want to show that this technology is just as compelling when you're in it without having total control, but you're using it as a canvas. It is a canvas right and canvas is almost this archaic word at this point because it's more than a canvas But I don't I haven't found the word for it I guess magic is like the only thing that I could feel like encompasses this emotion that comes from these types of experiences, but
[00:14:30.539] Kent Bye: I think it's a little bit like awe, awe-inspiring in some way, a vastness. That's the sort of, some ways that I think about it at least.
[00:14:36.865] Nick Ochoa: The C-Corp is called Vast Group, right? Magic is the name of this event. But it is vast, it's infinite. It invokes curiosity, it excites wonder, it gets you really thinking about things in a way that you never had an opportunity to think about them until you've gained that perspective, that dimension that's provided by VR.
[00:14:59.301] Kent Bye: And so what is your intention of kind of the best possible outcome for doing this exhibition here with the Magic Gallery?
[00:15:07.420] Nick Ochoa: For this event, this is the first event that we're doing, and the expectation really is get people thinking about this when they think about VR. Like, I want people to share their experience, their first experience of VR, not just talking about how cool some game was or some 360 video that they saw. But I think that these tools really do encapsulate the full potential of virtual reality as a medium, 100%. Nothing does a better job. There's no better demo than like a Tilt Brush demo or a Quill demo or a Medium demo as a first demo. And everybody knows that. and yet we still don't provide opportunities for people to go and witness and experience these things like Tote Brush as their first real experience. It's really disappointing to see what a lot of the industry has done in that sense, especially on the event side. It's not about just everything related to VR, I don't think. Like, if we really want to drive home a point, if we really want to get people paying attention and listening, let's put a little bit more focus and more story around the true potential. And these artists are the ones who are expressing that. So we're here to help tell their stories. And the best possible outcome is to help those stories go as far as we possibly can. And in return, we'll bring more people into VR. And hopefully this starts integrating into existing galleries and museums and goes international. But we don't know what's going to happen as a result. I can only hope that people walk away with their minds blown with new fresh eyes on the world and a drive to jump in there and start creating something for themselves.
[00:16:45.960] Kent Bye: Yeah, because, you know, we're here in San Francisco in an actual gallery that you're having people come here in reality, but because it's virtual art, have you thought about exporting into, like, some sort of Unity project such that you could have, like, this virtual version of this art show for people to see all the art pieces in their own headsets?
[00:17:03.788] Nick Ochoa: Sure, yeah, it's an opportunity, most definitely. And some people are exploring that lately. Colin Northway, he has something called There, and he's kind of doing that with tool brush stuff.
[00:17:14.430] Kent Bye: Yeah, I actually had a chance to pop into one of their tests and saw some of the art that was there. It was super compelling to go to an art show gallery with these kind of like floating box heads that were running out. But it was really compelling to see the 3D art that was being shown there.
[00:17:28.974] Nick Ochoa: Totally. I had so much fun. It was actually the first time I saw Khabibo's Ring Grub Island, and I met Colin in Ring Grub Island. It was really just sweet. I couldn't pay attention to most of what he was saying because I was so taken back by Ring Grub Island. But it's a great example of how that can go. But for me, it's not about pandering to the people who already own VR. It's about reaching new people. And it's about getting artists who are less likely to experience virtual reality because they're not going to show up to some tech conference to get them into these experiences and prove to them that it's something that they need right now and that's very useful. But yes, like putting it all into VR, there's definitely some problems to be solved there. They're built on different platforms and you can't just easily export. Sketchfab is doing a wonderful job of helping people take their scenes, put them up and let them become viewed in VR. But for me, that's not the focus right now. The focus right now is on getting this into real world spaces and aligning it with the fine art world, aligning it as a piece that could sit in the MoMA, in the Guggenheim, in the Met. These are the real opportunities to get people experiencing VR in a meaningful way. We have to align it with these types of organizations. We can't keep patting each other on the back. And so it's an opportunity. Maybe we'll explore it. But right now, that's definitely not the focus. It's getting real world people in real world spaces to check out art created in VR.
[00:18:57.314] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?
[00:19:04.140] Nick Ochoa: It's a giant question, Kent. It's a very big question. I think For me, having played with these tools, having spoken with these artists, the real potential does lie in the creative aspects, the way that we make things, the way that we experience each other's stories. It's not just 360 video. Like, the real world's really awesome already, and VR still has a long way to go. So capturing the real world and putting it into VR, it only goes so far. But these tools, I think, show the full potential. They show how vast of a canvas this can be and how many different types of content, unique types of content can come out of it. So there's not one way to tell a story. And I think that virtual reality is opening up more doors, more pathways towards telling these stories than anything else. And look, artists have been reaching for something like VR for forever. Like, humanity, technological evolution, our mediating tools and technology, it's all in the same little boat, right? We're only as good as the tools we have, and virtual reality is a toolset. And thinking about it as a creative toolset, as a way of working with our imaginations, that to me is the true potential of virtual reality. So I hope to see more people making tools. I hope to see more artists utilizing them. And I hope to see more supporters of those artists from individual level to the larger organization level. So yeah, I think that's where I'll put my hard stop.
[00:20:38.805] Kent Bye: Anything else left unsaid that you'd like to say?
[00:20:41.565] Nick Ochoa: I'm just excited that as long as we've, in this VR industry, meaning like anybody who's probably listening to this podcast, as long as we've been in this space, it's still so fresh. Like, these tools are V1s, right? Like, and already look at what they're enabling. Just imagine, imagine what's to come in two years, three years, five years, when we start integrating new technology, new inputs to help make these tools even more powerful. VR can feel slow sometimes when you've been in it for a little while. It could feel like we're just going down the same path, same old thing. It's not. It's just getting started. We just have to turn around and look at the other end of it because it's really easy to get that tunnel vision. But there's a lot of really amazing opportunities out there. There's a lot of artists who deserve to have access to this technology that have yet to have that access. And I'm personally incredibly excited. I feel like we're at the beginning again with all of this. And I hope it continues to feel that way, but yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Of course. Thank you, Kent. And thanks for stopping by today.
[00:21:51.113] Kent Bye: So that was Nick Ochoa of the Magic Gallery. And they had their initial art gallery showing in San Francisco on May 20, 2017. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Nick is a patron of the arts. He wants to support artists creating virtual reality. He wants to make it such that they're able to have a viable living of being able to create art within virtual reality. but also to use art and virtual reality to be able to promote VR as a medium and to give people some of their first experiences in VR by actually creating VR. And I think Nick is absolutely right. Some of the most compelling virtual reality experiences that you could have is in Tilt Brush of being able to actually draw around. It's just so natural and intuitive, and it's an experience that you've never been able to have before, which is like you're painting with light in three dimensions. Now, on the other hand, some of the controllers are difficult for first-time users to use, and I have also found that as well. Some of the experiences that were being shown at the Magic Gallery were a lot better if you were able to navigate around and kind of locomote throughout the scene and not having that I think there's something that is lost a little bit by not fully appreciating the full scale of the experience but also some of these art pieces were still in the native like Tilt Brush or Quill and the locomotion mechanisms within those programs are actually not very intuitive for first-time users and so In the future, though, as they get exported and put into something like Unity or eventually perhaps something like WebVR, there could be more natural user interfaces for being able to locomote. But also, I think it's just an education for people who are looking at these experiences to just have a number of experiences to know some of the teleportation mechanics. And then from that point, it's just going to be easier to create more and more complicated VR pieces. Because I the one common thing that I saw amongst all the different VR art pieces was the use of scale Because that's something that is just unique to VR I mean if you're gonna be looking at something in VR You're not gonna want to just look at a table that you could see in real life You want to see something that is so vast and awe-inspiring that you've never been able to see before in your entire life And I think that's the strength of art within VR is like this huge vastness and scale that inspires the sense of awe and wonder And I think that there's some artists like Danny Bittman. I've just been really enjoying some of the work that he's been doing in terms of world building, where he's really exporting things into Unity and really building out entire vast worlds that you can really start to explore around. And with Blocks that was just released, I'm super excited to start to dive in, because I have found myself facing this challenge where you go into even like Tilt Brush or Medium or Quill, and there's still a certain amount of artistic skill that you have to have. You can still kind of feel like you're awesome by being able to paint these lines around yourself, but when it comes to producing something that is aesthetically pleasing for a lot of people, then it is actually pretty difficult. And I'm excited for Blocks just as a program to be able to go in there and maybe prototype something quickly and to get it into a virtual reality experience that is actually optimized for VR. It's low-poly and it's going to just be a little bit better suited to creating these vast worlds. and not having to worry about drawing something that has too many polygons, and it's just not going to be performant or functional within a larger VR experience. But overall, there is this ecosystem that I think is developing for artists who are using these virtuality tools to create art. In a review of Blocks that was written up by Danny Bittman and VRScout, he said that there are a number of different VR artists who are able to make a living off of doing VR art for commissions. And there's also more and more different outlets for art within the virtual reality scene. The Magic Gallery is one of the first showings that I've seen that is featuring pieces that were created entirely within virtual reality. But there's also other art shows that just happened in New York City last week with The VR Society at the Sotheby's, they had the VR in New York art show. There's a number of different VR pieces that are showing at art galleries. I know that at the SF MoMA that was happening during GDC, there was a VR art program that was featuring a number of different pieces, including one by Kibibo. And Alejandro Gonzalez and Near2 has this Carne y Arena piece that's showing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And that is basically sold out until like September. And so starting to show these different VR pieces within a museum context, I think is going to start happening more and more. And I think there's like a huge demand to have these immersive experiences. There's a number of other different VR art things that I've seen within the last month or two. I know that at VRLA, Zach Kuznack had the VR Galactic Gallery. I think that's an application that's going to be being released on Steam at sometime soon. VRChat just had an art showing in the Affinity VR Art Gallery. And Colin Northway, as mentioned in the podcast, was also working on some applications that were kind of like a low-fidelity avatar representation that you're able to have a social experience, but you're in the context of looking at a lot of immersive 3D art. So the VR scouts, Jesse Damiani, did an excellent write-up of the Magic Gallery debut, called it a landmark event for immersive art. He did a more specific review of all the different VR art pieces that were there. I dropped by the day before and didn't get a chance to see every single piece, but he's got a pretty comprehensive collection of both the art and some of the 2D images that were produced that were being distributed at the art gallery. So keep an eye on Nick and the Magic Gallery for what's happening in the world of VR and arts and pushing that into the wider fine arts art world. So that's all that I have for today. Just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word. Tell your friends. If you know any artists that are interested in getting into VR, send them this episode that they can check out some of the pieces that were out there and check into some of the artists that are out there creating some VR art and posting it to their Twitter. It's highly recommended to check out and kind of keep abreast to what's happening in this realm. And if you'd like to support the podcast, then please do consider becoming a donor. You can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.