VR education company Lighthaus teamed up with artist and Creative Director Danny Bittman to bring the serenity of the coloring book into virtual reality.
For those in need of something calming in the face of surging COVID-19 stress levels, a new VR app might be the ticket: Color Space, a VR coloring book from Lighthaus.
Available on Oculus Quest and Rift for $9.99, the app was produced by David Sarno and engineered by Anna Krasner, with XR artist Danny Bittman serving as Creative Director and Composer.
Color Space offers 13 different scenes to color in. Users simply pull up the palette, choose their color and point at objects to begin bringing their own styles and unique color combinations to scenes.
How Color Space Became a Reality
While the timing might be serendipitous for those needing to drop stress levels now, Sarno explained the project has been in development for more than two years.
“It began as an idea to use VR to help medical patients if they’re in pain or distress,” Sarno said in an interview with the author. “A lot of adult patients use coloring books to pass time and distract themselves, so we thought, ‘What would that look like in VR?’”
As Lighthaus began discussing the project with potential users, the response led them to discover it might have broader appeal than just within the bounds of healthcare.
“We worked with a Bay Area hospital and discussed how we’d offer it to patients in chemotherapy to distract from pain and make the time pass more quickly,” Sarno said. “But we got such great responses from patients—and everyone we showed it to—that we realized that it could appeal to everyone.”
One feature of coloring books that Sarno and the team wanted to bring to Color Space was simplicity; accessibility was foregrounded as a design principle. This positions it as an experience able to help new Oculus Quest users with immersive environments, as well as a way for longtime VR users to relax—particularly in light of social distancing and shelter-in-place measures.
“You can master Color Space right away without any complex controls, but still have a really compelling and satisfying creative experience,” Sarno said. “So it’s great for all the folks who are getting Quests and trying VR for the first time, but also good for longtime VR users because it’s a great way to relax, chill out, and have fun—especially in these stressful times where a lot of us are cooped up and want a way to escape.”
The Creative Process
Translating a 2D format into VR naturally presents challenges; what is the best way to capture the essence of a legacy form while ensuring it works to the unique strengths of immersion?
“Our goal was not just to do a coloring book in VR, but to imagine what the VR version of a coloring book could be,” Sarno said. “It has to let the user enter the scenes—we say that instead of coloring in a scene, you’re coloring in a scene. You get transported into the middle of these lush three-dimensional scenes, and as you color them, they start to come alive. So it’s really bringing you into the coloring book and letting you bring it to life with your color.”
In order to reimagine the coloring book in this way, Sarno tapped Bittman, himself an artist who works in 2D and VR formats. Just as importantly: he has established workflows across many different VR creative solutions. This meant that not only did he bring an intuitive understanding to the creative needs of this translation, but he also knew how to jump across different toolsets to realize that vision. From there, Krasner engineered the experience for optimal tone and interaction.
“[Danny] really kind of invented a whole new VR art creation process; Danny created Color Space’s art completely inside VR—it’s made in VR, with VR art creation tools like Tilt Brush, Gravity Sketch and AnimVR,” Sarno said. “Then we imported the scenes and animation into Unity and our awesome engineer, Anna Krasner, made Danny’s art and music come to life and allowed users to color it in.”
In an interview with the author, Bittman went behind the scenes of his creative process, explaining how he used different platforms to achieve his goals with Color Space—as well as some of the unique hiccups they encountered in the process of exclusively using 3D tools.
“We landed on a great workflow where we’d loosely design the shapes of our scene in Tilt Brush to figure out how to break our objects up into fills you could individually color,” Bittman said. “We then remodeled our objects in Gravity Sketch and just extruded out their edges to create our outlines. That part was easy, along the way however, we ran into some issues that were only present since we were working in 3D space. For instance, we wanted all of our outlines to be relatively the same thickness, and yet the further away we placed an object in the scene, the thicker we would have to make the outline so it’d still be visible. So from the home position it all looks even, but in reality some outlines are only one centimeter thick, and others are meters thick.”
This elaborate process, including the obstacles, led Bittman to some new insights around how to simultaneously think cinematically and immersively; each scene needed to be rewarding as a VR world and from single fixed positions.
“We also had to play a lot with object size, and how to break up our fills, because it’d be impossible to fill in each petal of a flower that’s 50 feet away—but if that flower is right at your feet, you’d expect to be able to completely customize every aspect of it,” Bittman said. “Then on top of all of that, every object needed to be fillable from the home position; we didn’t want to make the painters have to walk a few feet just to see a bush behind a tree, but they should still be able to walk around if they wanted to without it breaking the composition. Overall, that was coolest challenge for me, because while we were working on a 3D scene, the composition of the scene basically needed to look like a still from a movie, with each object perfectly framing and pointing to other objects. I think it’s that unity that creates an overall relaxing feeling. Everything is where it should be.”
For more information about Lighthaus, visit the official website. Color Space is available on the Oculus Store for $9.99 on both Quest and Rift.