Have you ever watched a cartoon or looked at a painting and wished you could slip inside it? Well, that is exactly what Extended Reality (XR) Artist from Glasgow, Ian Crighton, does every day. The digital designer who put on a virtual reality headset a few years ago is now creating most of his artwork whilst standing right inside it.
From traditional art to graphic design and virtual reality (VR)
“I’ve been drawing and illustrating all of my life,” reflects Ian when asked about his career path. Experienced in traditional art, such as acrylic and oil paintings, as well as having done his fair share of graffiti murals, Ian studied graphic design and moved into advertising in the 00s.
It was only in 2016 when Ian first tried drawing in 3D space with virtual reality using Tilt Brush by Google. “I picked up the VR headset and controllers and its as if everything came to me naturally. I immediately realized the potential for it,” he recalls. “I remember saying to my partner soon after that I was going to buy a VR headset and create art with it, she thought I was crazy. But when I showed her what could be produced and she got to experience it first hand, she also realized that my expensive investment was worthwhile.”
As Ian dove into 3D art, he started to produce work in more advanced sculpting and painting tools like MasterpieceVR, Gravity Sketch, Tilt Brush and more, which has since opened up a lot of great opportunities. “I participated in and won a few competitions, which led to me being approached by MasterpieceVR to do some work for the company. Nowadays I work for them as a consultant artist which affords me a lot of great insight by directly working alongside other VR art enthusiasts and developers.”
Nature inspires virtual and augmented reality (AR) projects
The 3D work Ian creates can be exported and used in both virtual and augmented reality scenarios. But Ian’s inspiration remains in a mix of sci-fi and real-life environments. “I do a lot of cycling and I enjoy spending time outdoors, which is where I always look for inspiration. When I travel I take a lot of photographs and sketches of local landmarks and the natural scenery, When I return home I go through these in better detail and see what catches my eye for a certain project or piece.
“A lot of the work I do is commissioned, but I also do a lot of concept work for myself where I explore themes that are close to me. I get inspiration from popular culture and cinematic films. I have always been a sci-fi buff and like to think I have good spatial awareness combined with quite a mechanical mind, so I tend to lean towards the futuristic-looking subject matter.”
Ian cites Martin Nebelong as one of his biggest inspirations in the field and suggests that other extended reality artists should look him up for XR art inspiration and technique. Other worthy mentions are Kevin Ang, Mez Breeze and Lee Mason artists and innovators pushing the virtues of XR art and development.
Pros of drawing in virtual reality
“The process of creating art in virtual reality is quite intuitive. Objects that would take hours to produce otherwise, can be done in a matter of minutes using VR,” tells Ian. “Another great benefit is the fact that you can step into your artwork. If you are doing graphic design or real-life illustrations, you cannot slide into the landscape and explore it. In virtual reality, you can be a part of it. It is very inspiring and mind-blowing to me, to immerse myself in a piece that I have done.
“I honestly think that XR has great value not just for creators but also for those who appreciate art. Currently, it is early adopters, who are enjoying it but it is going to catch on within a more mainstream audience. A whole new generation is coming into the market now who are already switched on to virtual and augmented reality.”
Life of an XR artist
On average Ian spends around six hours a day in a virtual reality workspace.“I work on three to four pieces at a time in VR, but I do still produce draft sketches on paper to create story-boards and then take these concepts into the virtual environments.”
Constant learning is key to maintaining and growing skills in VR art tells Ian. “I am part of a global XR community and meet up often in virtual reality with my international colleagues to share challenges, artworks, and ideas. We give feedback and encourage ideas. The XR art is still fresh as a field and you can also get in touch with software developers and voice opinions on things that work and perhaps don’t work so well with the apps we use. I would definitely advise anyone trying their hand at VR art to let their imagination run wild and utilize and push the boundaries with as many of the tools available so that you can create the art that you and others want to see.”
Currently, Ian is working on one of his favorite projects for MasterpieceVR. He is creating assets for an animation that he has storyboarded, this is for an animated promotional piece that they are creating, and has been given pretty much free reign with the concept. “The guys are letting me be quite free with what I conceive and its both exhilarating and exciting, especially to be contributing to such awesome application development. I am currently building a character called the ‘Alien Walker’ as well as the scene and environment set pieces.”