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Creating a Virtual Reality Tribute to

Vincent van Gogh




Creative Approach


Technical Workflow





The trailer for the experience can be watched here:

• recording gear VR videos is tricky, I used a paid app called “Recordable”



• no eureka moment, the idea was an evolution

• original plan was for a film, fictional painter inspired by van gogh, went into the woods and battled a mythical bear

• I usually know when I have an idea I want to pursue when it keeps popping back into my head.

• stumbled upon an artist named Alexa Meade that made me believe an idea like this could work

• doesn’t require toon shading techniques, just carefully painted objects and characters

Le Café de Nuit (The Night Café)

• I selected The Night Cafe because it was perfect for the technical requirements.

• It is an interior with a limited amount of space for movement.

many classic elements of VG style including radiating lights, skewed perspective, unusual combination of colors

• interiors are preferable because they are limited — no looking into infinity

Selecting the paintings:

• not all the paintings were from van gogh

• looking for objects to fill the spaces that needed to be imagined

• colors, shapes, and theme all informed painting selection

• mapping out the things I wanted to achieve with the demo

• initially the experience was going to have a lot of interactivity

• ultimately decided to focus on the visual experience due to time constraints / deadline

• I think the focus on atmosphere over interaction worked in the project’s favor for this experience

• although interaction could definitely add immersion as well



• What kind of lamp is this?

• What is an arc lamp? Is this an oil lamp?

• there are a lot of oil lamps.

• I also learned other interesting facts.

• Thomas Crapper popularized the flush toilet in the late 1800’s

Research = Authenticity

• researching history and visual references creates a more authentic world

• this charming place is called “Bandits Roost Alley” and inspired what you see through the window in the back


• laying out the floor plan was very important

• helped to figure out where people could stand and what viewpoint they would have

• here is the added section compared with the original painting

• trying to complement van gogh’s color palette was a challenge

• I wanted to create a shift in tone in the added room but it still needed to feel like a cohesive whole

• I wanted it to feel more serene in that added room. you should feel a sense of ease as you go from the clashing colors of
the main room to this area

• here’s the final look in the experience

Asset Production Workflow

Design Rules


Everything should look unique


Things should blend into each


Each object and character should
convey mood

1) Everything should have a unique look. Things shouldn’t feel duplicated.

2) All the objects and characters should blend into each other as if brush strokes are intertwining.

3) On a more abstract level, everything should work towards a particular mood of being lost in a moment in time

Software Used
Modeling base mesh, UV layouts, rigging, animation
Sculpting details, painting textures
Game engine
Sketching, texture clean-up
Sculpting characters


• the first step is to sketch out the object

• it is important to understand the form of what you will be modeling



low polycount very important


total vertices in scene under 100k

• it was important to give each of these props a sense of flow

• first I constructed them with rigid forms

• keeping a low poly count is a consideration for every object considering this is a gear VR game



low polycount very important


total vertices in scene under 100k

• I then used mudbox to warp the form to fit the painted style


• characters had a higher poly count so I had to use them sparingly



Handpainted in Mudbox


No overlapping UVs

• textures were all hand painted in Mudbox using a wacom tablet

• UV layout was very important, making sure there were no overlapping UVs so every surface area could be painted uniquely


• characters typically took longer to paint because they incorporated more details

Samples of the modeling process can be seen here:

• texture projection wouldn’t work because of the surfaces you don’t see from the painting

• a lot of trial and error and making creative choices about how to best render non dynamic style lighting in a painterly style

RapidRig = AWESOME!

• rigging is often tedious

• I discovered RapidRig on this project

• reduced rigging time from 6+ hours to 1

• caveat: you still have to paint skin weights


Kinect mocap is cool but low


Hand keyframing is slow but worth


Fewer animations overall


Animation adds life to a scene

• After doing testing with 2 kinects to get mocap data I discovered the animations were unusable

• feet drift too much

• automated filters to remove noise kill the life in the animation

• had to keyframe it even if it meant less animation

• animation helped to give life to the scene

Particle Tests

• I did some very rough tests using particles to draw the color instead of shaders (wavy, flowing look)

• would likely not have worked on gear VR

• it was very tricky to achieve the details I wanted

• messy and would have taken much longer to develop

Specular Bumped Shading

• next I tested Specular Bumped shaders that incorporated normal maps

• normal maps don’t look as good in VR because they subtle lighting differences you would see in each eye are not accurate

• this style made it feel more like you were walking around in a painted box than inside the painting

Flat Shading

• Finally I settled on a flat shader

• looked the best because the colors were vibrant and matched the painting’s color palette exactly

• very good for performance (no normal maps, no per pixel lighting)


Simplified controls


Oculus SDK character controller
was 90% there


adding crouching for more control
over viewpoint

• after going back and forth on controls I decided simpler is better.

• not everyone has a gamepad for Gear VR

• even my gamepad wasn’t working properly (cost $60 bucks!)

•the SDK controller had most of what I needed but I had to modify it slightly, it was having issues using tap and hold to
move forward, built in rotation had to be disabled

• swiping down to crouch gave slightly more freedom to the player so they could see the environment from more vantage


Texture atlasing


Mesh batching


Texture/Audio compression


Reducing particle counts


Triggers to manually hide/show
objects (homebrew occlusion

• I used scripting to manually handle some optimizations

• particle effects were one of the biggest performance hits because they use alpha cutout shaders

• manually triggering hide/show on these helped with frame rate issues



Characters in VR are really cool


Particles are awesome (obviously)


Movement is tricky


The Note 4 is pretty capable


Stylized worlds can still be

• as soon as I added characters to the environment that became my favorite thing to go check out

• there’s something about a moving, character that seems to have some life

• particles are really popular in VR. the blooming particle lamps are usually the first thing people comment about when they
try it.

• Movement is very tricky and I went through several iterations on control, speed, acceleration but settled on the most subtle
(slow, no acceleration, simple controls, strictly head rotation turning).

• you might isolate select players because they can’t handle any VR movement but it is a trade off.

• the Note 4 handled this better than I expected, it was originally going to be a DK2 demo

• stylized worlds without any shadows or per pixel lighting can still create an immersive experience that allows your mind to
day dream

Thank you!