Behind every great virtual reality application exists a great developer. Over the course of year, we will be highlighting members of our in house team to throw out some street cred! 2017 is slated to be the year of the virtual reality takeover and we’re kicking it off by chatting with Don Pham, TH SF’s 3D artist and VR guru. Don joined our team about a year ago and with his background in architecture and gaming, his contributions have been invaluable throughout our creative process.
Morgen: What is the first VR app that you worked on?
Don: It was one of the faculty family homes that we did for Stanford [University]. Originally done as traditional photoreal renders, I was dying to see what it would be like to be able to virtually experience the living space.
M: Awesome! When you are creating an application, what is your first step?
D: The first step is always cleaning up and optimizing the geometry, but still retaining as much detail as possible. Realtime VR relies on gaming engines, and gaming engines have limitations, so it’s important that whatever content we create, it has to be able to run smoothly in it. Usually nothing straight out of the the source files we get will ever import cleanly inside Unreal Engine 4, so this step is very important.
M: And from there what are the basic steps for application development?
D: Once the the optimization and cleanup is done, I export it from 3ds Max to Unreal Engine 4, and begin assembling the space together inside the editor. Materials need to be created, as well as light setup, so that it looks as realistic as possible. After that, it’s making sure the player character is set up properly for VR. There are now templates created, which makes this step a whole lot easier. In the past I had to manually set it all up through visual scripting (blueprints) inside Unreal Engine 4, and that was quite a learning experience.
M: Moving on to your most recent project, tell us a little bit about the idea behind Lithium Motors?
D: The idea was to take an original design concept that we did and to turn it into an automotive showroom VR experience.
M: What were some challenges you faced during the development process?
D: The original model of the car was very detailed and had many subparts to it, so planning how to optimize and organize was pretty challenging. Aside from that, I’d say that the most challenging parts were the back end visual scripting that allows users how to change the color of the car, seats, and navigation. Creating good user experience and UI will always be a challenge as we create more complex experiences as well. It could look like the best thing ever, but if it’s painful to use, then that could ruin the entire experience for the user.
M: So, what does the Lithium app offer people that is different from other app’s out there?
D: This app features our own original concept, from the design of the car all the way to the branding. In addition to creating high quality VR experiences, this app also demonstrates our creative and design expertise as well!
M: Can you point our readers to where they can download the app?
D: It can be found on the Viveport app store.
M: And lastly, what advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in VR?
D: To start, one would need to know how to 3d model, create textures, and export it all into a game engine. I recommend 3ds Max or Maya, but there are some free modeling software out there as well, like Blender. Photoshop would be a good to know for texture creation and cleanup. Lastly, download Unreal Engine 4 or Unity. They are both free. There’s actually tons of free learning resources on Youtube for any of the topics above. I would definitely take advantage of that. Of course there are different schools out there that people can enroll in, and I’ll leave it up to them to do their research on what fits them the best, but anyone can learn these things right away. Just need to be passionate for it!
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