Before we go any further, I implore you to ignore the utter aesthetic bankruptcy of my creation above. But do look at it, because it's the product of 10 minutes in Oculus' new tool Medium — a remarkably natural sculpting system that uses the company's Touch motion controllers. Medium was announced yesterday at Oculus Connect, and it's not just one of the first official Rift demos to use motion control, it's the very first to offer some kind of creative experience.
On stage, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe said that "every platform has to have a paint app, and this is our paint app," which positions Medium a little bit like MS Paint. Valve's competing SteamVR platform already includes a third-party app called Tiltbrush, a three-dimensional painting system whose brushes can create things like stars and fire alongside more traditional materials. Tiltbrush and Medium's control schemes both use the metaphor of a virtual palette and a virtual brush, but everything in Medium is made of a material that looks and behaves more like clay.
The other big difference is that Medium is explicitly collaborative, with two people able to work in the same space. As with Toybox, Oculus assigns someone to join you and explain the system's tools, appearing as a disembodied pair of hands and a featureless head — it's always a little surprising how expressive these simple features can be.
One of your own hands, meanwhile, grips a vaguely blowtorch-like object. In its most basic setting, you pull one of the Touch controller's two triggers, and the tool produces strings of clay that hang stiff in the air. You can use the second trigger on either hand to grab and move them, and pulling or pushing with both hands is the equivalent of "pinch to zoom" in a touch interface. (In otherwise empty virtual space, it's also perfectly reasonable to assume this is inflating or shrinking the object. That's apparently not the case, since the underlying mesh stays the same.)
.@_boogs Thanks for sculpting in Medium at @Oculus_Connect! Here's a screenshot of your masterpiece. #OC2 pic.twitter.com/coHDBGIRUL— Medium (@OculusMedium) September 25, 2015
There are a few simple variations — you can create square or round clay, and pressing a button on your other hand pulls up a color wheel. But as with clay, the real art is in shaping what's already there. The brush can remove clay as well as produce it, and it can turn into the equivalent of a spray-paint nozzle or a smoothing tool. Medium is organized so that you select a tool by using the non-brush controller, and you tweak the settings of that tool by hitting the analog stick on your brush hand.
As a final touch, you can move or change the intensity of a spotlight placed above your creation, which gives the whole environment a gallery-like feel. It's not totally clear how you can export these objects for outside use, but the lighting can make a big difference when you're capturing pictures of sculptures from inside Medium. At the end of a Connect demo, Oculus offers to screenshot one of the two images it feeds into the headset and posts it to a Medium Twitter feed. It's completely mundane, but it's also surreal to close one eye and adjust your position to get the right shot — it starts feeling like your eyes are literal cameras.
Unsurprisingly, most of what people make during their short demos isn't great. But Medium clearly has the tools for much more sophisticated work. Here, for example, is a piece made by digital artist Bay Raitt:
.@bayraitt sculpted this in Medium at @Oculus_Connect! Attendees, the bar just got raised... #OC2 pic.twitter.com/1IFJ3CLXoe— Medium (@OculusMedium) September 25, 2015
At this point, it's hard to say whether Medium will make a viable tool for serious 3D modeling, or how much time non-artists will want to spend in it, once the initial excitement has worn off. We don't even know what it might look like when it finally ships with all Oculus Touch controllers next year. But it's undoubtedly the best use of Touch I've seen so far, precise and immediately understandable. Consumer VR has yet to prove it can be a creation platform as well as an entertainment system, but Medium pushes that dream a little closer.