VR-optimised 3D creation tool Gravity Sketch is now available on Steam Early Access. Developed by a group of design engineers at the Royal College of Art, the software is ‘for everyone’, but its feature set has particular relevance to creative professionals, and could become an invaluable tool for industrial design visualisation.
A quick glance at the creations on the front page of the Gravity Sketch website suggests that industrial designers, particularly in the automotive and product sectors, could have a very capable tool to add to their workflow. ‘Designer in Residence’ Mike Jelinek, for example, has demonstrated how Gravity Sketch is capable of replicating traditional automotive design techniques, such as tape drawing, or ‘Canson’-style rendering (shown above). This image might look like it has been hand-sketched on red paper with white chalk highlights, but it is indeed a 3D Gravity Sketch model.
While it might be considered ‘late’ to the creative VR party, the likes of Google’s Tilt Brush and Oculus’ Quill have a more artistic flavour, focusing on freeform brushstrokes, while Oculus’ Medium has a distinct ‘virtual clay modelling’ approach, so there is certainly room for a specific design-oriented offering. Naturally, there is plenty of overlap across these products, but Gravity Sketch may be the one that resonates with industrial designers the most, with its advanced control over surfacing and point snapping. This is reflected in the addition of ‘Pro’ and ‘Studio’ subscription options, with the ‘Studio’ licence aimed at “commercial use for SMEs and mid sized studios that make more than $100k USD a year”.
Starting life as a VR/AR sketchpad hardware prototype, a team of Design Engineering Masters students at the Royal College of Art unveiled the ‘Gravity’ project at an RCA Work in Progress Show in February 2014. At the time, consumer-level VR motion controllers were still a couple of years away, so the team developed a pad and pen that would be universally compatible with VR and AR headsets, allowing the user to generate 3D sketches in mid-air. However, as described in this Core77 article from October 2016, they were soon encouraged by the College’s incubator for start-ups ‘InnovationRCA’ to abandon the hardware and focus entirely on software.
As a result, Gravity Sketch iOS for iPad launched in March 2016, allowing the team to improve the software and add features through user feedback. The HTC Vive hardware arrived soon after, prompting renewed interest in motion-tracked sketching and modelling. The Gravity Sketch VR beta launched in January 2017, initially open to backers of the cancelled Kickstarter campaign. On August 2nd, the software launched on Steam Early Access with HTC Vive and Oculus Touch controller support.