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Night Café by Mac Cauley: lessons learned in creating a #VR experience

Posted on August 28th, 2015


08/27/2015 @Samsung, 130 Prince Street, NY

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Mac Cauley talked about the inspiration and development of his award winning VR app, Night Café. Night Café is an interactive VR experience based on the paintings of Vincent #vanGogh and specifically his painting #NightCafé.

Mac originally was working on a live action film of a fictional painter inspired by van Gogh. The project evolved into a virtual reality application. He was also inspired by the works of Alexa Meade who paints subjects and photographs them.

Night Café (van Gogh, 1888) was used as his starting point for its expressionistic colors and absorbing perspective. Converting a single point of view into an immersive world required 3-d modeling of subjects and items along with a reimagining of the corner that is not visible in the painting. For these Mac studied the fixture of that period and modeled the individual subjects in three dimensions.

He adhered to certain design rules. These included making each object unique and emphasizing the textures which is one of the distinguishing characteristics of van Gogh’s paintings.

He used many tools to the create objects, object skins, animation, etc.

Some of his main tools were: Maya, Unity, Mudbox, RapidRig.

He also talked about the challenges and dead ends as he developed the application

When animating, he initially used Kinect mocap which he considere cool, but felt that the quality was inadequate. He used keyframing and found the process slow but worth it.

He tried shading using particles, but found they did give sufficient detail and ran too slowly. He ultimately used flat shading with no lighting since he could take colors from the painting and it provided good performance.

He initially designed a complex set of controls to move through the space, but eventually realized that simple controls (such as tap and hold to move forward) using a touch pad worked best.

The VR experience was enhanced by optimizing-texture aliasing, mesh batching, texture/audio compression, reduce particle counts, etc.

He summarized his main lessons learned:

  1. characters are very interesting to see in 3d
  2. particles are awesome
  3. movement is tricky – slow down movement, simplify controls, eliminate acceleration (stay or move only)
  4. Note 4 is powerful enough
  5. Stylized worlds can still be immersive.

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