We’re in in the middle of a graphics renaissance. We’ve stopped scribbling on paper and extended ourselves into all three dimensions. We design in 3D. We’re not talking about the red-and-blue 3D glasses you get at IMAX movies. 3D, in this case, is about modeling: a computer-aided design (CAD) process that creates 3D content. Virtual and augmented reality—the shiniest new toys of the design world—use these models. And to state the obvious: all of the cool new gadgets in the world are worthless without cool content. So, where is 3D design right now?
If You Build It, They Will Come
Remember when the Kindle started being a thing? Or Spotify? If you’re willing to date yourself and admit you remember those first few shaky days of these new media platforms, you’ll recall that it took a minute for the compatible books and music appear. That’s where we are with the 3D content for AR and VR. But there’s a key difference here: unlike e-books or MP3s, 3D models are quite time-consuming to create. Since its invention in 1972 by Edwin Catmull, 3D modeling has evolved considerably, but the fact remains: 3D design is laborious and the learning curve is high. Luckily, our tools are only getting sharper: Autodesk, Unity, and Unreal Engine are right on the cutting edge.
The iPhone Effect
If it exists somewhere, it’s mobile. And now that most everyone has in their hands an extremely powerful computer, the iteration process has been accelerated to new heights. Something interesting is happening here: the complexities of 3D design are being democratized into a hub of user-generated 3D creativity. Features that were previously extremely time-consuming or required professional knowledge are now a simple button click away. As in, you don’t need to be a Photoshop whiz to use filters on Snapchat or Instagram. You’ve probably got kids or nieces and nephews that can work an iPad better than the ghost of Steve Jobs. And maybe you’ve peaked over their shoulders and taken note of the emergence of apps that can make truly incredible content quite easily. Utilities (like the camera or calculator) and games (lest we forget hard-hitting classics like Angry Birds) are old news; now, what’s hottest are highly-functional creative tools, like Sketchbook, ProCreate, and uMake. Not to mention literal 3D models: Lil Miquela is an ultra-popular Instagram influencer who is entirely computer-generated.
The Big Five
Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. The race between these big players continues to heat up: as we previously mentioned, the things that iOS developers have made for the apple store are fabulous. AR and VR apps are only starting to explode in the App Store. Amazon’s Sumerian 3D creation platform was released last year, Google bought SketchUp in 2006 to get 3D maps incorporated into Google Maps. TiltBrush was another key acquisition, especially in combination with the release of its hardware, Daydream, and the development of the all-new Blocks. We all heard about Facebook’s purchase of Oculus from a teen tech genius, and the new AR/VR features on your feed are hard to miss every day. More recently, two easy-to-use, consumer-focused design apps—Quill and Medium—are Facebook’s shiniest new 3D toys. As far as Microsoft goes, it’s main edge is no longer 2015’s HoloLens, but the 3D makeover that Microsoft Paint is getting: Microsoft Paint 3D.
Who’s Ahead in This Race?
Besides the battle for profit between VR/AR companies and platforms, we’re seeing something really cool happen right before our eyes. The 3D users are the ones supplying a hefty portion of the 3D content. VR and AR are flashy and impressive. But what’s more impressive is the idea that we might have a future ahead of us where people are more creative, productive, and interested in filling the world with 3D content. That’s about as close as we can get to changing reality itself!
There’s an ever-expanding 3D design ecosystem out there that’s piggybacking off the rise of VR and AR. When we want to create and consume 3D content with ease, what do we turn to?