We’re at the beginning of a new computing revolution, called Augmented Reality.
As always (and like most revolutions before it), this revolution isn’t arriving to everyone, and to every field, at the same pace, and only bits and pieces are revealed to us, while it happens around us: Instead of 2D screens simulating 3D environments, and 2D metaphors (e.g. Desktop), we’ll have 3D virtual objects integrating with the reality around us, using 3D interface metaphors that still needs inventing...
As designers, we’re used to change, to embracing challenges, and assimilating new technologies as they appear, thus we continuously prepare ourselves to adopt new tools and skills.
How to become ready for the upcoming 3D design future?
Here are some of my takeaways from my experience in the AR field in the past few months:
Hardware: Some things are simple, like buying a new 3D graphics card for your PC. With everything becoming 3D around us, a good graphics card, could make a difference, and help us design and render faster. However, the range is wide (from less than $100 to thousands of dollars), so the right balance is important – If you’re planning a deep dive into the AR field (or VR, MR or even XR, whatever flavor or branding it will take), a relatively strong card, from a former generation, like Nvidia’s 1080ti, could be just enough for the time being (sold now at less than $650 in the US).
Going for the Nvidia RTX-cards is an overshoot for a designer’s pocket (and current needs) right now, to my taste (and my ‘best practice’ suggestion, is always looking for a the sale price of one generation prior to the current one – a good practice for many products, from computer products to vacuum cleaners like Dyson... 😉).
AR goggles (like MagicLeapOne, or Microsoft Hololens) are currently still quite expensive (a few thousands of dollars each, and are currently hard to purchase from here, i.e. Israel), and for the immediate design needs aren’t a prerequisite to start experiencing 3D content with a stereoscopic vision.
Using simple VR goggles, like what Microsoft is pushing under the Windows Mixed Reality standard would be enough (e.g. Acer sold a pair, at less than $200, during the last Black Friday). Facebook’s Oculus Rift (their Windows VR gogles) currently costs $350 (and the upcoming Oculus Quest, will be released soon at less than $400), could also do the trick.
This will enable you to start playing in VR and enjoy 3D games, like BeatSaber (above), or FruitNinja (below is the VR version), experience the power of 3D and stereoscopic vision, and start thinking about designing products for such experiences.
But hardware is only a part of it...
Software: 3D modeling and animation software could also cost a bundle. I’m sure Adobe is already working on a competitor to Maya and Houdini (the leading 3D design packages in the market).
But just to begin, you can start small – use a freeware, like Blender (which improved its interface tremendously in the recently to enable newbies to learn how to use it much quicker with a revised user interface), to learn the basics, of how to model and animate 3D objects.
For those who prefer Web applications, I tested a nice Web SaaS 3D modeling tool called Vectary – it's intuitive and quite fast, and there's a free account, which is enough to start exploring it…
Learn a little about low-poly models, rigging, textures, shaders, etc. so you’ll understand how to prepare your ideas and illustrations for 3D use within other platforms (mobile games, Web interfaces, AR glasses, etc.)
Re-use of ready-made assets: Download free 3D low-poly samples from 3D sharing sites (like SketchFab), and try to understand what makes a 3D model great – not just pretty, but also useful.
This is a real 3D model taken from SketchFab, which you can interact with using your mouse...
Use those takeaways for your work, and share your models with the community too, while expanding your modeling capabilities. Some designers are making a bundle from modeling objects for others (similar to selling WordPress themes in online marketplaces, like ThemeForest)
Coding: If your coding skills are developed enough, you can download and play with some of the leading 3D development environments, like Unreal (hey, Fortnite is running on this platform), or Unity.
Unreal has a development interface called Blueprint, that doesn’t require actual coding for basic stuff (just dragging objects around a flow-chart), but when you go deeper, you’ll need to learn how to use C++…
Unity is supposedly simpler to use, supporting C# (a more modern language), so coding is simpler, and you can create or modify simple games (that can be easily downloaded as open source, from the platform’s own market place).
Design Experience: Try using simple tools, like Microsoft Maquette, to create 3D environments, within VR, to understand how color, proportions, and 3D models could be used within a 3D environment.
When creating actual products, it is important to understand the qualities and nuances of the platforms and see which fits you more: Unreal’s advantage is its cinematic graphics quality, while Unity simplifies 2D games. The learning curve however is much steeper in Unreal.
Entering the 3D design field will take you time and efforts, but the potential is huge and inevitable.
Don’t get despaired at the first obstacle – be persistent and pursue it diligently.
Creating 3D content is a hard labor that requires talent, creativity, and lots of hard work, and if you’re a good designer, with proper skills, and some luck, there’s a place for you in this field too.
How do I know?
Did you notice that at the end of the endless roll of credits that every blockbuster movie that involves heavy use of computer graphics (from Fox, WB, Disney, Pixar, etc.) they recently mention that 'The movie supported over 15,000 jobs'?
Even if the actual number of the direct employees (without the distribution chain) is only a few thousands, and the actual CGI (Computer-generated imagery) team is a few hundreds, it’s still a lot (and those numbers are growing every year…)
FYI. Games are usually much harder (and job-wise, much more intensive) to produce than movies…
So, let me know if your experience in getting into 3D (AR/VR/XR) design was different than mine, share your tips with me and other designers that might want to enter this field too...
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