Tyler Hurd’s Proto Award nominated “BUTTS: The VR Experience” is a VR masterpiece for the ages. How did this creative genius manage to distill such tear-worthy beauty into a VR experience of only two minutes? Not content to guess, we spoke directly with the visionary himself.
As the auteur behind the project puts it, “‘BUTTS: The VR Experience’ will make you laugh, cry, fill you with unimaginable bliss, and return you to that innocent place of child like wonder you’ve long forgotten.”
BUTTS is a two-minute animated VR masterpiece that will change your life. After a stealth nomination as ‘Most Innovative’ in the 2014 Proto Awards (how on Earth it didn’t win, we aren’t sure), BUTTS debuts to the public today for the first time in VR. Be warned, the essence of beauty contained within is so pure that your reality thereafter will seem dull simply by comparison.
I had the privilege of speaking with creative visionary Tyler Hurd directly in a rare interview to learn how he created this VR masterpiece.
“I started with just the idea of someone cheering someone else up by pulling confetti from their ass and ran with it,” Hurd told me, his every sentence like poetry.
Hurd said that the seeds of his masterpiece and his inspiration to become a 3D animator came after watching Toy Story (1995) at 13 years old.
“Straight from high school I went through an intense 14 month animation program at Expression in Emeryville, CA and 2 weeks after that I started working at Double Fine Productions in San Francisco on Psychonauts (2005) at 19 years old,” Hurd said. After being involved with award-winning Double Fine projects for 9 years, it was clear that Hurd’s brilliance was only being constrained. Thus he set off to New York City to freelance, giving him time to create his opus, “BUTTS: The VR Experience”.
“I had a lot of ideas, and quickly shot them all down because they would either cost money I didn’t have, or would require a team, or I didn’t feel confident enough in my own abilities to complete them alone,” Hurd told me. “The ‘BUTTS’ short film came about from having this desire to create something all my own, but feeling blocked by this self doubt… After always working on structured projects with teams, not having a plan felt great and while the ridiculousness made me happy, I really didn’t think I was making anything other people would care to watch.” It boggles the mind how Hurd could doubt something as glorious as “BUTTS”—like da Vinci doubting the Mona Lisa.
I worked with so many talented artists at Double Fine that I never had an immediate need to improve my own traditional art skills. I was focusing on being a character animator, rigger, and modeler so I decided if I was going to actually finish something all on my own, I would have to simplify those areas that I wasn’t confident in and just focus on what I’m good at, so for “BUTTS” I picked a look that required no textures or lighting, and I didn’t bother with character or set designs, but instead spent the majority of my time focusing on the animation.
“I tried to ignore any doubt and any expectations I had about what ‘good animation’ should be, although I realize I was heavily influenced by Ren and Stimpy (1991-93),” Hurd said. “I left everything open and whenever I thought of something that made me laugh I would go in that direction.”
Two years in the making, after having a friend (Matt Englund from WE Sound Labs) polish up the audio, Hurd released the 2D “BUTTS” experience to worldwide acclaim. But that wasn’t enough—he wouldn’t settle until he could share the “BUTTS” experience in immersive virtual reality, to enable his audience to truly experience the raw emotions of the animated short.
His friends and former colleagues, Drew Skillman and Patrick Hackett, had just left Double Fine to form Skillman & Hackett (the VR design studio behind the Proto Award winning Tilt Brush). The duo approached Hurd about transmogrifying “BUTTS” into the immersive virtual reality experience that Hurd knew it was meant to be.
“They approached me about porting it into VR so they could use it to demo to potential clients, which at the time I thought was a terrible idea…” Hurd said. “…but I had already started playing around with porting it to Unity so I could learn the program. I was able to give them some assets quickly and they had a rough VR version up and running within a couple weeks,” “BUTTS: The VR Experience”, was born.
The animated film’s genius was clear even before the project was completed.
“Then for months we would work on it here and there, and I would hear periodically from Skillman & Hackett about how much people love it in VR, even in its unfinished state.”
Although he’d been working on “BUTTS: The VR Experience” for some time, Hurd didn’t have an Oculus Rift DK2 to see it for himself. It wasn’t until a friend in NYC got a Rift DK2 that Hurd was able to witness the true magnificence of what he’d made—surely as glorious as God looking upon Creation on the 7th day.
“I was inside a cartoon that I made! It got me really motivated to polish it up as much as I could…” he said. “The reaction to ‘BUTTS: The VR Experience’ has been overwhelmingly positive. Granted, I’ve been showing it to people that have never experienced a Rift so I feel I’m taking some excitement credit from Oculus but it’s great to see people laughing, smiling, and just generally freaking out over it.”
And freak out you will. If BUTTS doesn’t make you shed a tear, you should head to the hospital so they can find out how you’re able to live without a heart.
Although Hurd’s greatest achievement is surely behind him, he says that BUTTS has inspired him to work on more VR content.
“I caught the VR bug. I figured with all the buzz in VR right now, my previous games experience, and my desire to create short films, meant this was a great direction for me to go in. I sold my BMPCC camera and bought a DK2 and I’m currently working on another VR animation project.”
We’re looking forward to what Hurd has in store, but it isn’t clear if anyone will be able to pull themselves away from BUTTS for long enough to pay it any attention.